James Joyce’s Eveline tells the story of a young girl, Eveline, who has become a prisoner of her own life. Now that her mother has died, Eveline is in charge of caring for the family, as her mother did before her.
One of the main themes of Eveline is that of loyalty and expectations. At what point does a person’s loyalty mean they must adhere to the expectations of their loved ones, even when it’s not best for them? This is something that Eveline wrestles with from the beginning of the story. As she sits at the window, watching people pass by their window, she is thinking about never seeing any of this again. She has met a man, Frank, who wants to marry her and take her to Buenos Aires. This is her way out of the duties she is expected to perform, but has no desire to. Her father is a mean alcoholic, one brother is dead, and the other is in Ireland but is not expected to help. She works all day and uses her money to support the family. She dreads this existence, she feels hopeless, and yet she is afraid to leave.
Eveline decides to go—she must!—but she isn’t comfortable with her decision. As she and Frank arrive at the ship which will take them Buenos Aires, she is filled with fear and regret. As Frank boards the ship, Eveline watches him go with no expression on her face, seemingly impassive, though most likely just resigned to her fate. It is in this final scene where Joyce makes his greater point; sometimes we commit ourselves to an undesirable existence just to fulfill the future we think we’re supposed to. Her blank face belies that she has, essentially, given up her own life.