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In his introduction to The Dubliners, a collection of short stories by James Joyce in which "Eveline" is one, Terence Brown writes,
So detail in The Dubliners is disposed like brush-stroks in a complex canvas to compose a settled impression of a society in the grip of paralytic forces.
This Joycean vision includes the forces of the British Protestant element in Dublin where the government jobs were not given to the Irish Catholics who, then, were confined to brown houses on brown avenues where there was a frustrating awareness of their powerlessness to do anything about their situations. Added to this is the tragic character of many of the Dubliners who, though they have a sudden bust of enlightenment about their situation, they become paralyzed and incapable of either mental or physical action.
Unconvinced that the sailor who has been so many places can "save her" from her drudgery and miserable life, Eveline hears a "bell cling upon her heart" and feels that the man "would drown her." In an epiphany, she does not believe he will save her from her abusive father or make her forget her suffering brother. Paralyzed with this realization, she cannot accompany him to America. "Like a helpless animal" she sets her face. She will return home; she will not escape. She is one of Joyce's tragic Irish.
Concerning Joyce's "Eveline," one cannot speak for the author, but can only deal with the effects of the story itself.
The story furthers one of the themes revealed in the short story collection, Dubliners, from which "Eveline" comes: paralysis.
Eveline is trapped in a stagnant, negative existence. Ignorance and alcoholism and sexism and abuse dominate her life. She longs to escape, but even when she has an opportunity, she freezes at a critical moment and can't bring herself to leave. She has a chance to escape, but she rejects it.
She is figuratively paralyzed.
This, apparently, is how Joyce views the inhabitants of Dublin, and by extension, the inhabitants of Ireland and the rest of the world. We live paralyzed lives, and even when we have a chance to escape, we are afraid to do so.
Joyce, then, we assume, is attempting to correct Irish attitudes and behaviors, although, again, one should be careful about speaking for any author.
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