What does Eli Everjohn's character represent for Ian in chapter 6 of Saint Maybe?

In Anne Tyler's Saint Maybe, Eli Everjohn is a private detective. He represents Ian's opportunity to escape from his responsibility for the children of his dead sister-in-law, since he agrees to help find their father. However, Ian ultimately decides that he does not want to give up caring for the children.

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In Ibsen's play The Lady from the Sea , Ellida Wangel has the opportunity to escape from her claustrophobic existence when a sailor she knew long ago offers to take her away from her husband to a life of romance and adventure. After some internal conflict, Ellida finally elects to...

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In Ibsen's play The Lady from the Sea, Ellida Wangel has the opportunity to escape from her claustrophobic existence when a sailor she knew long ago offers to take her away from her husband to a life of romance and adventure. After some internal conflict, Ellida finally elects to stay with her husband. However, the fact that this is now a conscious choice rather than a default position makes all the difference, emotionally and intellectually. It is for this reason that The Lady from the Sea is often regarded as the archetype of Existentialist drama.

In Anne Tyler's Saint Maybe, Eli Everjohn offers Ian Bedloe a similar opportunity to escape from a responsibility which is becoming onerous. Ian meets Eli through the Church of the Second Chance and, on discovering that he is a private detective, enlists his help in finding the first husband of his sister-in-law, Lucy. After Lucy died, a death for which he felt responsible, Ian took on the responsibility of caring for her three children. At this point in the novel, the children and the church have become Ian's life. He has not had a romantic relationship in years, and his entire social life revolves around the church. If Lucy's ex-husband could be found, he would have the responsibility of caring for the children,* and Ian would be free.

Eli does find the mother of Lucy's former husband, who says that her son is dead. However, when he visits her, Ian has decided that his only motive is to find out more about Lucy and his life before he knew her. He loves the children and will continue to raise them in any event. Eli Everjohn, therefore, represents the opportunity for freedom from responsibility which Ian ultimately decides not to take.

*Lucy's ex-husband is, in fact, only the father of the two elder children, Agatha and Thomas. However, the three children have always been raised together.

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