Eveline struggles to separate herself from religious and familial obligations.
In the story "Eveline," Eveline suffers from what Joyce termed "paralysis." This is the stultifying pull of external and moral forces, which are linked to the traditions of Catholicism and the forces of the Irish culture.
In fact, the idea of this Joycean paralysis drives the very narrative of "Eveline." From the beginning in which she sits at the window, whose curtains smell of dusty cretonne, she is "tired." She mulls over the pitiable state of her deceased mother, who was abused by Eveline's father, and she "felt herself in danger of her father's violence," yet she feels an obligation to honor her promises to her mother and the Blessed Mary Margaret Alacoque, and the need to stay and protect her little brother from the abuse he may receive in her absence. Also, Eveline reviews her subservience at work as Miss Gavan constantly admonishes her, "Miss Hill, don't you see these ladies are waiting?" or "Look lively, Miss Hill, please."
That Eveline is paralyzed is evinced in her conclusion after these reflections at the window that
[I]t was hard work—a hard life—but now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life.
Further, there is no action in the narrative but that which takes place in Eveline's mind. Her thoughts of leaving with Frank, a sailor (a man her father has forbidden her to see), to the port city of Buenos Ayres, which at the time of this story attracted many adventurers, end in inaction. For, "A bell clanged upon her heart," representing the duty evoked by Blessed Mary Margaret Alacoque, and Eveline cannot release her grip upon the iron railing, which is symbolic of both the communion rail and her corroded ties to her family. Finally, in her paralysis, Eveline is figuratively in irons, a prisoner of her religious servility and her self-deception that she must stay to protect her brother and help her father.