“Eveline” is a short story by James Joyce about a young woman who dreams of leaving Ireland.
Eveline becomes a surrogate mother to her siblings after their 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 initially accepts his proposal, she has misgivings about the decision and backs out at the last minute.
Last Updated September 6, 2023.
Eveline, a nineteen-year-old young woman living in Dublin, finds herself exhausted as she peers through a window to observe the activities around her neighborhood. The street is mostly empty except for one man whose “clacking” footsteps mark his path to the new red houses down the street. Watching him, Eveline is reminded of an earlier time in her life when children used to play in the field that was once where the houses now stand. Life seemed happier in those days, she recalls; her father wasn’t “so bad” when her mother was still alive.
Eveline is preparing to leave home when she realizes that she may never again see all the familiar objects surrounding her. This causes her to feel insecure and hesitant, wondering whether it is wise to set aside the familiarity of her life. Although her home is not perfect, her basic needs are met and she is surrounded by people she knows. She imagines that people will call her a “fool” when they learn that she has “run away with a fellow.”
But marrying this “fellow,” whose name is Frank, and escaping with him to Buenos Aires, a “distant unknown country,” would offer Eveline an entirely new life. Marriage would offer her a new position of “respect” in society and would remove her from the proximity of her father, who sometimes endangers her through acts of violence. When she was younger, her father most often targeted her brothers, Harry and Ernest. With Ernest dead and Harry often away, her father increasingly threatens Eveline. Although she works hard at a job in a local store, Eveline relinquishes her entire paycheck to her father because he claims that she has “no head” and “squanders” money.
In addition to her work at the store and maintaining the house she shares with her father, Eveline also cares for two young children who have been “left to her charge.” Filling a maternal role, she ensures they eat regularly and attend school. The weight of this life is difficult, but Eveline reflects that it is not altogether “undesirable.”
Her future with Frank—whom she believes to be both kind and manly—offers new opportunities. Frank has already built a home for Eveline, and a boat will soon be waiting to take her to this new life in Buenos Aires. Frank’s love of singing and his “tales of distant countries” excited Eveline in the early days of their courtship, and she increasingly liked him as they spent more time together. When her father found out about their relationship, he forbade Eveline from communicating with Frank again. Despite his insistence, Eveline and Frank have continued their relationship privately.
As she waits to meet Frank, Eveline is again pulled into memories of her familiar past. She recalls moments when her father was “very nice” to her, such as when he read her ghost stories and made her toast when she was ill. She also recalls the final night her mother was alive and an organ player’s music had filled the room. Her father had been angered by the sounds and had ordered the musician to leave.
Recalling the “pitiful vision of her mother’s life,” Eveline is suddenly desperate to escape with Frank, who will undoubtedly “save her.” She is uncertain whether love will be a part of this new life with Frank. Even if it does not, a future with Frank offers the potential of happiness which her current situation does not.
Eveline meets Frank at the station, and they hold hands as he talks to her about their journey. Eveline, however, does not reply and feels her...
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“cheek [grow] pale and cold.” She prays to God for direction and to “show her what [i]s her duty.” In her frantic state, the boat sounds “mournful.” As she envisions her journey to Buenos Aires with Frank, Eveline feels nausea overtake her body.
Frank begins to move toward the boat, but as he “seize[s] her hand,” Eveline feels that he will “drown her.” Gripping the iron railing, she feels the full weight of the impossibility of leaving her familiar world. As Frank is pushed forward by the crowd, he calls for Eveline to follow him. Instead, she resolutely maintains her grip on the railing. As they part, Eveline’s face is emotionless, offering Frank “no sign of love or farewell.”