In the story of "Eveline" from Dubliners, do you think that Frank is real or a figment of Eveline's imagination?

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The question of whether or not Frank is real or imagined in James Joyce’s short story “Eveline” (from Dubliners) may be plausibly argued either way. I would recommend you reread the story and note details carefully as you gather evidence to support the position you are inclined to take. Here are some ideas to help you get started.

This short story takes the reader deeply into the mind of Eveline, setting a tone that at first suggests that we may be visiting whatever resides in her imagination—including a mode of escape from her dreary existence. As the story opens, Eveline looks out the window and although the reader is immersed in her thoughts, it is important to note that she holds two good-bye letters on her lap—one for her father and the other for her only surviving sibling, Harry, who does not often live in the family home. The fact that Eveline has gone through the effort of writing these letters of farewell suggests to me that sailor Frank is not just a flight of fancy, but a real beau who wants to take her with him to “Buenos Ayres.”

The assortment of feelings that pull Eveline in the opposite directions of staying or going are brilliantly portrayed by Joyce. Obligation, guilt, codependent ties to an alcoholic father, promises made to a dying mother, and the security of what she already knows play tug-of-war with the possibility of a new and exciting life where she might gain the status and respect of being a wife. Is Eveline being pulled away by the forces of love, as one might expect in the case of a fantasy? Upon close reading, it does not appear so.

Joyce inserts a little hint in the following sentence. “First of all it had been all excitement for her to have a fellow and then she had begun to like him.” With one well-chosen word, “like,” Joyce provides insight into yet another reason why Eveline vacillates (wavers back and forth) between staying and making the bold move to leave. The life she knows is leading her nowhere and an opportunity to escape to what could be a better life presents itself. But she has not known Frank long. She likes him and enjoys his company, but the courtship is still in its early stages.

“People knew that they were courting, and when he sang about the lass that loves a sailor she felt pleasantly confused.” This seems to me an unlikely scenario for a fantasy. Eveline may like Frank, but she has not fallen in love with him yet. If she had, her doubts about leaving would have been overshadowed by her desire to be with him, and her decision-making process would not have been so drawn out. Taking these particular details into consideration, it seems to me that the author intends to present Frank as a real person rather than as an imaginary one. Your own reading and interpretation may lead you to conclude otherwise. Part of what makes this story so thought-provoking is that the author does not offer easy answers to his protagonist's predicament.

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