Ireland has had many episodes of mass emigrations in order to avoid circumstances like the Potato Famine and English conquest. Eveline's story is one centering on her decision about whether to emigrate or not, in this way, Eveline symbolizes Ireland. Further, because of English conquest and disdain for the conquered Irish, the Irish people have been second-rate citizens in their own homeland. Eveline was a second-rate member of her family and was used for financial support and family chores when, as a young woman of nineteen years old, her family should have considered her future happiness as the primary objective. In this way Eveline also symbolizes Ireland as both are second-rate and those whose duty it was to care about their well-being, didn't care.
Finally, emigration is a form of escape. The Irish people who chose to emigrate to escape unbearable circumstances were nonetheless torn by the resultant abandonment of their duty to their homeland; many more Irish people chose to stay and remain true to what they felt was their responsibility to their duty. Eveline had a similar need to escape unbearable circumstances and a similar compulsion to honor what she was taught was her higher duty. Eveline symbolizes Ireland because of the presence of a feeling of duty.
Joyce may have been posing the idea that just as Eveline's sense of duty was misguided (abuse absolves much of the demand of duty) and based on paralyzing confusion, so was the general Irish sense of duty to a homeland that couldn't care for them. On the other hand, Joyce may have been suggesting that just as Eveline was compelled to obey her sense of duty even though it paralyzed and tormented her, so the Irish people had to obey their sense of duty to Ireland even if such adherence to duty destroyed them.