How is the scene when Eveline has an epiphany about leaving with Frank substantial?"Eveline" by James Joyce

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In James Joyce's "Eveline" as Frank grabs her hand, "A bell clanged upon her heart." This "bell" is the reminder of all her promises, both to her mother and the Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque. Because of the profound influence of the Catholic Church's teachings and the religious instruction in school, Eveline feels obligated to these commitments. In addition to the religious implications of her obligations, there is the prohibitiveness of her running off with a man when Eveline is not married to him.

Besides these considerations, Eveline has been conditioned to be servile. She works hard "at business" and at home, subjugated to her father's demands as he is physically abusive.  That she is conditioned to her servility is evinced in these lines:

It was hard work--a hard life--but now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life.

Another consideration of Eveline's hesitation about leaving home with Frank is the fact that he is a sailor and she is purportedly going to live as his wife in Buenos Ayres, a thriving city which attracted many European immigrants and adventurers. However, the phrase "Going to Buenos Ayres" was also slang for taking up a life of prostitution, so whether Frank who will be gone frequently will make the best of husbands as a sailor whether Buenos Ayres is a suitable place to live are both dubious.  Therefore, when Eveline experiences her epiphany and suffers her psychological paralysis, there is, indeed, substance to it.

rogal eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As Eveline is preparing to leave with Frank, she has an epiphany of “a bell clanging upon her heart." As he takes her hand, she experiences “all the seas of the world tumbling about her heart." She has a vision of him drowning her in the seas and she clutches at the iron railing, fiercely. Even though he calls after her, asking her to follow him, she does not respond to his call. Instead, she looks at him helplessly, without any emotion.

This scene is important because it explains the conflicting emotions going on within Eveline. When presented with escape from her difficult life, she is paralyzed into inaction. She cannot make herself to follow Frank into the waiting boat. She is too attached to her life in Ireland to be able to leave all the familiar things behind. Instead, she now sees her beloved as a possibly dangerous man. Indeed, Eveline’s situation is a difficult one, for she has to make a choice between staying and leaving with a man whom she barely knows. If she stays, she will have to contend with an abusive father who takes all of her wages, rarely leaving her with enough money to take care of the household. She will also have to deal with loneliness, as she is mostly on her own, with her only living sibling, Harry, too busy in the “church decorating business." Though there is little to remain behind for, it is possible that Eveline just does not have the courage to take a chance on a future with Frank. The epiphany kind of helps Eveline to make a decision to remain in Ireland.