"Eveline" is a short story by James Joyce about a girl who dreams of leaving Ireland.
Eveline becomes a surrogate mother to her siblings after their real mother's death. She works a menial, unsatisfying job.
Eveline's father buys alcohol with Eveline's paycheck. Depressed, Eveline spends her time staring out the window at a field where children used to play.
- Eveline meets Frank, a young man who wants to marry her and move to Buenos Aires. Though Eveline accepts his proposal, she has misgivings about the move and backs out at the last minute. She stays in Ireland, ruining her future.
The story, a psychological study in frustration, is about a young woman who longs to escape from the tyranny of her father and from the responsibilities of surrogate motherhood, thrust on her after the death of her own mother. When she is offered an avenue of escape, she discovers that she lacks the spirit, the courage, and the strength of character to take it.
Although only nineteen years old, Eveline Hill lives in the past, her mind occupied with the way things “used to be” as she sits by the window of her father’s house. The world around her has changed, just as the neighborhood has changed. A land developer from Belfast has constructed brick houses on the field where “other people’s children” used to play. One of the children who used to play there is now dead, and others have left the area; some have even left the country. Eveline remains. Her brother Ernest, who was “too grown up” to play, is now dead, as is her mother. Her father has turned to drink and is given to violence, particularly on Saturday nights.
Eveline works as a shopgirl at “the Stores,” earning a miserable seven shillings a week, which are then given over to her father. She promised her dying mother that she would “keep the house together,” rearing the two younger children and contending with her father’s bad temper and the drinking that has worsened since her mother’s death. She dreams of escaping the dull, routine existence that circumstances have forced on her.
Eveline meets a young man named Frank, who has sailed around the world and represents a means of escape for her. He wants to marry her and take her with him to Buenos Aires, halfway around the world from Ireland. Although she has accepted his offer of marriage and he has arranged her passage by ship, she has second thoughts on the day of her scheduled departure. At first her misgivings at home are centered on a remembrance of her past, as she sits by the window, clutching the letters that she has prepared for her father and brother in order to explain her departure. At the end of the story, she discovers that she is in fact unwilling and unable to leave Ireland. She is a captive of the past; she has no future; finally, she cannot leave.
There is virtually no action in “Eveline”; the vast majority of the tale recounts the thoughts taking place in the heroine’s mind as she sits in front of a window in her home at dusk. In this sense, the story is non-linear. Although it begins with Eveline, the nineteen year-old protagonist, sitting in the invading darkness, the reader is given a glimpse of emotions and thoughts that she experiences rather than any action or plot; the locale shifts as Eveline’s thoughts wander. And, her thoughts eventually return to the crux of the matter: Eveline has met a sailor, Frank, who has convinced her to run away with him to Buenos Aires. Eveline’s thoughts and emotions are largely a result of this “proposal” (whether Frank is actually honest, or frank, and truly intends to marry Eveline is never actually clarified by Joyce).
The story unfolds with Eveline, whose name is a diminutive of the biblical name Eve (Little Eve), sitting motionless as emotions, impressions and images sift through her mind and catch her attention. Her thoughts give insight to the predicament of women in Dublin society. As Eveline sits and thinks, the reader learns:
(The entire section is 1,253 words.)