Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1300
Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque
A saint whose promises are prevalent in many a Catholic home, Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque was born in a small village in France in 1647. Although not an actual character in the tale, a print of her promises is on the wall and forces Eveline to think of her duties to home and family. Donald Torchiana has pointed out that various moments in this saint’s life strangely parallel Eveline’s.
Frank is the archetypal Knight in Shining Armor or Savior. His appearance, when Eveline first meets him, is one of healthy and robust nonchalance; he appears out of nowhere and provides respite from Eveline’s bleak life. As is a sailor, he has wild tales about remote regions where he has visited.
Sailing is a profession linked, often rightly so, with dubious morality. Sailors are often without home and apt to seduce women with false promises and later abandon them when it is time to move on to a new ship. While Eveline is trusting of this charmer, her father is suspicious and forbids her to see him. If Eveline accepts Frank’s “proposal,” she will be at his mercy in a country that is an ocean removed from her native Ireland.
The name “Frank” implies frankness. Was Joyce slyly ambiguous or outright ironic in giving the sailor this name? Is Frank really being open with Eveline? Is he a shady character? The reader is not even privy to his last name. Despite all this, Frank represents the only chance for happiness in Eveline’s life. She either has to trust him and accept the consequences, or resign herself to a fate similar to that of her mother.
Miss Gavan is Eveline’s immediate boss at the Stores. According to Eveline, she has a rather mean edge, enjoys bossing her around, and will enjoy gossiping about Eveline’s affair.
Ernest & Harry Hill
Ernest is Eveline’s now deceased older brother. He is mentioned only in passing. The reader never learns how he died.
Harry, no longer lives in the family home, but sends money to help out. His job involves church decoration.
Both Ernest and Harry are important in their absence; they can no longer shield Eveline from her father’s abuse. Although Harry sends money, Eveline has the primary responsibility of taking care of her father.
All the characters in the tale are seen through Eveline’s eyes; she is the heroine or protagonist. Since she remains virtually motionless for most of the tale; the better part of the narrative takes place in her mind as she stares around her home and decides whether to abandon her father and begin a new life with Frank, a sailor who has offered to take her to Buenos Aires and marry her. She is only nineteen years old, yet she is responsible for cooking for her father, who is often abusive and ungrateful, and taking care of two small children who have been left in her charge. She has developed heart palpitations out of fear of her father’s abuse; she is frail. She also has a job in a dry goods store where her superior, Miss Gavan, bosses her around.
Seen in the context of the time, Eveline’s decision is most crucial. If she flees, she is spiting tradition, her duties to her family and a promise she made to her mother that she would keep the family together. Religion is a factor: A print of the promises made to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque alludes to the saint who blesses homes, like the one Eveline is thinking of abandoning. In order to leave, Eveline must go against the wishes of her father, who has forbidden Eveline from seeing Frank. And, to emigrate while unmarried is bound to cause a scandal, particularly in Irish-Catholic Dublin.
Joyce, although not a major proponent of Jungian archetypes, still managed to create archetypal characters with universal characteristics. The name Eveline means, literally, little Eve, and could refer to the biblical Eve. Is Eveline, like her namesake, bound to become a fallen woman?
The other characters are portrayed subjectively, through the eyes and emotions of Eveline. They are important insomuch as they are central in Eveline’s life and decision to emigrate.
The reader learns through Eveline that her father is abusive. He is prone to drinking heavily on Saturdays (probably other days as well) and had physically abused his wife before her death and his older boys. While Eveline was never the main target, she feels that his anger is increasingly directed towards her as she is the only one left.
The impressions that Eveline has of her father are primarily negative. He is stingy with money that she needs to feed him and accuses her of wasting it, a classic case of the accuser projecting his own faults on someone else; Mr. Hill is a drunk who squanders his own money. More importantly, he is prone to violence, particularly when under the influence of alcohol. The first recollection in the tale is of Mr. Hill wielding a stick while hunting “them [the children] out of the field.” Yet we learn that, “her father was not so bad then.” Clearly, Mr. Hill’s abuse has been a constant throughout Eveline’s life. “Not so bad” is still bad. As the story progresses, Eveline tries to rationalize her father’s drunkenness and abuse, much the way an abuse victim rationalizes the abuser’s behavior-- in this sense, Joyce has created a case study of the psychology of the domestic abuse victim. Eveline has a couple of fond memories of her father behaving nicely, but these seem like afterthoughts.
The various images of Eveline’s deceased mother are what finally propel the protagonist to make a decision, if only temporarily. Eveline wants to escape the fate of her mother: being abused by Mr. Hill, surrendering to “the life of commonplace sacrifices” and finally retreating from reality into mad utterances.
The narrative briefly alludes to the fact that Mrs. Hill may not have been married to Mr. Hill early enough; she may have had an affair with Mr. Hill, which led to her being treated with a lack of respect. However, Joyce is ambiguous here, and the vague allusions of lack of respect quickly transform into images of abuse under which the mother suffered.
The remembrance of Mrs. Hill leaves Eveline with rather contradictory images. On the one hand, her mother implored her to a promise: Eveline must keep the family together as long as possible. However, Eveline also has a lasting image of Mrs. Hill repeating the phrase, “Derevaun Seraun.” This phrase is probably from a West Irish dialect of Gaelic, the original language the Irish before England colonized them. The mother lapsed into madness (it is unclear whether the mother only uttered this phrase on her deathbed), perhaps to retreat from the reality of death or the fate to which she was leaving her daughter. Although the literal meaning of the utterance is open to debate (though “Worms are the only end” is probable), the remembrance of the Mrs. Hill’s voice and this Gaelic phrase is what ultimately forces Eveline to decide to escape.
The priest, who remains nameless, is only present in the tale because there is a photo on the wall. He was a friend of Mr. Hill and has since departed for Melbourne—almost all the characters in the tale have departed, either because of death or emigration; emigration is a major theme in the tale which is emphasized by Eveline’s impending decision; in one sense, Eveline’s choice is indeed between death and emigration. In the British Empire, criminals were often exiled to Australia.
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