Joyce has an incredible talent for taking classic tropes and turning them on their heads, and the story of "Eveline" is no exception. The story begins with the trope of a young woman in distress having been promised to be delivered from her live of toil and sorrow by a dashing young man. As the story progresses, the reader can sense something is wrong. Her resolve wavers. She begins to think fondly of her oppressive father. However, when she finally stands up from the window, her path seems clear once again. "She must escape."
The climax comes when Frank and Eveline are in line for the boat. When the bell rings and Frank grabs her hand, Eveline panics. She grabs the iron rails and simply will not let go. It's almost not as though she is choosing to stay, but that her life has conditioned her to never do something so irrevocable. As she and Frank are separated, she clutches the iron with a face with "no sign of love or farewell or recognition."
In literary terms, the climax is a turning point in a story, a moment of the greatest tension or drama. In "Eveline" the climax comes in the shape of the title character's fateful decision not to join her lover Frank on board a ship bound for Buenos Aires. This was Eveline's big chance to break free once and for all from her daily grind and start a new life on the other side of the world with the man she loves. But instead she remains rooted to the spot, fixed to the quayside while Frank slowly drifts away on the horizon.
Whatever decision Eveline would've made it still would've constituted a turning-point in the story. If she'd decided to go with Frank after all, then that would also have been a climax to the story; maybe not quite as tense or as dramatic as the one that Joyce wrote but still recognizably a climax all the same.
A climax is a moment in the story where the conflict or tension reaches its highest point. It is a stage in the narrative that all the action builds up to. At times, it is also referred to as the crisis. The crisis is preceded by what is known as the rising action. The climax is usually followed by the falling action which would include a resolution or denouement that signifies the end of the story.
To determine the climax in "Eveline," one has to ask which particular moment all the action in the story builds up to. It is evident that Eveline's deepest desire is to be free from the restrictive and suffocating life of drudgery that she has been living most of her life. All of her thoughts and most of her actions revolve around the idea that Frank will take her away from her miserable situation. She even goes as far as accompanying him to the station to board a ship to Buenos Aires. The climax of the story is reached when she finally decides not to leave with Frank. Her decision is depicted in the following extract:
No! No! No! It was impossible. Her hands clutched the iron in frenzy. Amid the seas she sent a cry of anguish.
What follows is the falling action. Frank calls to her but she refuses to acknowledge him. Her mind has been made up. She has resolved the crisis in her heart and in her mind by deciding to remain where she is. Eveline has, ironically, chosen to continue living an unfulfilled and miserable life.