What evidence of Modernism is apparent in Joyce's "Eveline"?

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Generally, modernism is a reaction to the horrors of World War I, and modernist artwork, including literature, generally rejects the norms that were previously used to hold society together. Artists like Picasso are perfect examples of this rejection of past artwork. Poets like Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell practiced Imagism,...

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Generally, modernism is a reaction to the horrors of World War I, and modernist artwork, including literature, generally rejects the norms that were previously used to hold society together. Artists like Picasso are perfect examples of this rejection of past artwork. Poets like Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell practiced Imagism, in which the sentimentality of usual poetry has been discarded in exchange for a clear and concise language about an image. Pound's "In a Station of the Metro" is an excellent example of this type of poetry.

All of James Joyce's works reject past norms. His prose employs many techniques evident in the Modernist period, including clear, concise prose that is devoid of sentimentality. He also uses a variant of the stream of consciousness technique, a centerpiece of Modernist literature, throughout many of his works, including "Eveline."

In "Eveline," which is written in the third person, Joyce's narrator dives into the thoughts of Eveline, the adolescent girl who is debating whether to leave the city of Dublin with a sailor named Frank. The story is split into two halves: the first is the eponymous character thinking about her life in Dublin, and the second half is her attempting to board the boat to Buenos Aires. In each section, Joyce, in his Modernistic style, employs free indirect discourse: a type of stream of consciousness technique employed in third-person stories.

An example of this technique occurs in the opening paragraphs of the story. Look at the example below, noticing how the stream of consciousness technique is employed in the third-person form:

Home! She looked round the room, reviewing all its familiar objects which she had dusted once a week for so many years, wondering where on earth all the dust came from. Perhaps she would never see again those familiar objects from which she had never dreamed of being divided. And yet during all those years she had never found out the name of the priest whose yellowing photograph hung on the wall above the broken harmonium beside the coloured print of the promises made to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque. He had been a school friend of her father.

Ultimately, "Eveline" also explores and rejects the social and religious norms of Dublin culture, but Joyce's style is what really brings out the Modernism in this story.

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Among other things, modernism in literature is renowned for giving the reader an insight into what's going on beneath the surface. Characters' outward behavior and actions are considered much less important by modernist writers than the interior life of the individual, what's happening inside the individual consciousness.

This approach is much in evidence in Joyce's "Eveline." On the face of it, Eveline's remaining rooted to the spot by the quayside while Frank sails off to Argentina is inexplicable. Why on earth wouldn't she leave behind her abusive, unfulfilling home life to begin a new life in another country with her lover? The answer to this question, as with all questions of moment in modernist literature, lies in the depths of the individual conscience.

Here there is complexity, a constantly shifting perspective in which everything solid melts into air. Using this approach, we may not be able to get a handle on precisely why Eveline has chosen to stay behind in Ireland, but we can at least understand that her reasons are a good deal more complicated than we might at first think. And it's this invitation to enter into the complex inner life of the individual that is one of the defining hallmarks of modernist literature.

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Concerning Joyce's "Eveline" and Modernism, one doesn't really search a Joyce story for evidence of Modernism.  Joyce defines Modernism.  What Joyce does in his stories came to be known as Modernism (along with what a few other artists do).  Literature shouldn't be reduced to a checklist.

That said, one technique that Joyce uses in the story that is now considered an element of Modernism is the centering on the character Eveline's thoughts.  Though the story, an early work by Joyce, is not pure stream-of-consciousness, it is about Eveline's thoughts and emotions.  For Joyce, there is no absolute reality, only reality filtered through a character's point of view as revealed in her thoughts.  The reader is told Eveline's thoughts as she decides to leave, prepares to leave, thinks about her leaving, and ultimately becomes paralyzed and doesn't leave. 

Eveline also suffers from alienation, a theme typical of Modernist works.  She is a female trapped in a male-dominated world, thrust into a role that should be reserved for a mother rather than a daughter and sister.  She is stuck between what she feels her mother would want her to do, what society expects her to do, and what she as a person needs to do to achieve a life worth living. 

Finally, Joyce uses a great deal of symbolism in the story.  The character's reactions to these symbols serve as characterization of the character.  Eveline, for instance, reacts to the house built by a man from Belfast (thus, a Protestant invader) as well as the voice of her mother repeating a nonsensical phrase. 

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James Joyce's "Eveline" evinces aspects of Modernism with a theme about social conditions, the internal monologue, and the open-ending. As one of the stories from The Dubliners, "Eveline" reflects the Irish social condition in which Catholicism dominates the actions and thoughts of individuals to the point of repression.  Eveline passes up a romantic relationship for the promises she has made to her dying mother and to the Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque, whose portrait hangs on the wall, blessing the house.  Her indecisiveness that leads her to remain is indicated in her interior monologue in which she engages in self debate, asking herself if it is wise to have agreed to leave home; she wonders what "they will say of her in the Stores" and what it will be like to live in a distant country and "explore another life with Frank"; then, she hopes that Frank will "save her" from her abusive life at home with her father.  Finally, however, on the day of her arranged departure, Eveline experiences the Joycean paralysis as she struggles with her sense of duty and desire for happiness. Yet, the ending is unresolved as "her eyes gave him [Frank] no sign of love or farewell or recognition," so Joyce leaves the open ending to symbolic interpretation by the reader, a certain Modernist technique.

 

 

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