Eveline Analysis
by James Joyce

Eveline book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Eveline Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Eveline” is an example of naturalistic fiction in which the protagonist, described at one point as a “helpless animal,” responds to internal anxieties and environmental forces, particularly the influences of family life and the responsibilities to which she has been conditioned, and of a working life in Ireland, with its impoverishment, as Joyce imagined it. The way that “Eveline” and other stories of Dubliners reflect the details and concerns of everyday life closely observed and raised to significance through art suggests the influence of the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, but Ellmann notes in his biography James Joyce (1959) that Joyce claimed not to have read Chekhov at the time that he wrote those stories.

The purpose of Joyce’s realistic fiction, however, was not simply the close observation of banal detail. The details are carefully crafted and arranged so as to accumulate in such a way as to give meaning to the story’s climax, in keeping with the young writer’s theory of the “epiphany.” The progression is dramatic in Aristotelian terms, in that the central character is brought to a point of recognition and discovery, as suggested by Aristotle’s Poetics. Eveline’s self-discovery comes at the very end of the story. Her revelation is that she lacks the commitment and perhaps the courage to act on her dream of escape. When forced to choose between staying in Ireland and going to South America, she is also forced to confront her true feelings about Frank, who is “beyond the barrier” at that point, urging her to board the ship: “Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.” Eveline is reduced to a frightened, “helpless animal,” as Joyce describes her at the end, who is incapable of exploring “another life with Frank.”

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Joyce, along with T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf, is one of the founders of the English modernist movement. Largely viewed as a reaction to the terrible realities of industrialized warfare that were unleashed during World War I, the modernist movement culminated in 1922 with the publication of Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” Woolf’s To The Lighthouse and Joyce’s Ulysses. Woolf, whose use of female interior monologues is an integral part of her novels, founded the “Bloomsbury Group.” Ezra Pound, who helped T.S. Eliot with “The Waste Land” published sections of Joyce’s novels in his literary journal, Egoist.

These artists all incorporate prose which is less concerned with external reality. A stream of consciousness technique which emphasizes the emotions of individual characters is utilized. What’s more, the action of these works involve mundane reality, in the case of Ulysses, a typical day in Dublin, in To The Lighthouse, a dinner party. The retreat from reality into inner-consciousness is what separates these works from others of the period. The merging of external events virtually indistinguishable from the thoughts and emotions of the characters or narrator, however, did not suddenly appear in 1922; different works, primarily those of Joyce, foreshadowed the movement.

Although Joyce’s early stories, Dubliners, are primarily classified as naturalist, there are clear instances of the modernist style and technique that would later revolutionize literature. The merging of emotion with reality and the epiphany that results in the last tale in Dubliners is often acknowledged as the clear bridge between the naturalism of Dubliners and modernism of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. However, “Eveline” also contains this symbiosis of emotion and reality in the depiction of thoughts and memories that would grow into the stream of consciousness of his later novels.

The tales in Dubliners all occur in a specific place and time: the end of the nineteenth century in Dublin. Although Joyce left Dublin and wrote virtually all of his works abroad, in Europe, Dublin remained the center of his artistic universe; he scrupulously studied maps and insisted...

(The entire section is 2,295 words.)