What significance does "dust" have and why is it mentioned so often in Joyce's story "Eveline"?
Dust is associated with decay and lifelessness. Eveline lives a dismal and hopeless life, and it is the idea of spiritual lifelessness and paralysis which drives the narrative of Joyce's story "Eveline."
As the narrative opens, Eveline sits at the window and regards the evening as it "invades the neighborhood." She is tired and her nostrils inhale the "odour of dusty cretonne" in the darkening room. Eveline looks around the room, wondering at the yellowing picture of the priest, whose name she has never learned. Clearly, there is an aura of spiritual corruption about the priest friend of her father, who would only say "He is in Melbourne now," a location where many Irish prisoners were sent. Then, Eveline thinks of the store where she works and the lifeless position she holds there with Miss Gavan, who often scolds her, "Look lively, Miss Hill, please."
Similarly, at home Eveline lives a stagnant life. She works every day and turns over her salary to her father. After her mother's death, Eveline has had to do all the housework and cooking. And, yet, with all her drudgery and discontent and even physical abuse by her father, Eveline is still uncertain about departing from her home with her sailor named Frank. For, it is the Catholic duties of obedience to her father and caring for her brother that paralyze Eveline, leaving her in the dusty house and the stagnant environment. Eveline, a victim of her self-delusion, surrenders to the dust and hopeless paralysis of this self-deception.
Dust is symbolic of the lack of life in the house and how nothing ever really changes much. Like dust, lack of movement makes more of this fine debris accumulate; in life, stagnation also begets more stagnation unless some kind of willful movement changes us.
Dust is mentioned repeatedly to reinforce Eveline's own lack of movement. The story opens with her placidly sitting beside her window, watching the world go by. Most of the action takes place in her mind. She almost makes it out of Dublin and to Buenos Aires (literally translated "good air,") the opposite of her dust-covered life in Ireland, but in the end she is too afraid to make the change. It is as if her personal dust had been disturbed by a slight wind, only to resettle once again and cover up her hopes.
Dust, as exemplified in religious terms, such as "ashes to ashes dust to dust". In literature, it can sometimes symbolize our transistant presence here on earth. We start as dust and we ultimately end as dust. It can be seen as the representation of a stagnant part of our lives, where cleansing the dust may be seen as a cleansing of our spirituality.