Student Question

Why isn't Frank physically described in "Eveline"?

Quick answer:

Frank is given little physical description in part because Joyce does not give any of his characters in "Eveline" extensive physical description. "Eveline" is a psychological profile, centered around Eveline's own mind and mental processes, and its characters are defined primarily in terms of what they represent within Eveline's life.

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With a question such as this one, it might be worth asking instead, what is the purpose of providing characters with physical descriptions to begin with, and in what circumstances might it be preferable for authors to leave their characters with minimal descriptions or even no description whatsoever? Keep in mind, the use of physical description should serve the needs of the story being written, and, furthermore, within the context of short stories especially (as opposed to longer works of fiction), such description might even be a hindrance, given the length constraints inherent to the format.

In the case of "Eveline," it is worth noting that none of its characters are extensively described, and this includes Eveline herself. To a certain degree, I suspect that such details would have proven inconsequential within the context of the story Joyce was telling and the subject matter he chose to explore.

Remember, "Eveline" is more than anything else a psychological profile, centering around Eveline's own thoughts and mental processes. In this sense, you might state that the other characters in the story are more plot devices than actual personalities in their own right, defined primarily by what they represent in Eveline's life: her father is defined by his role as her abuser and the chain holding her trapped in an unhappy life.

Meanwhile, Frank is defined by his role as a potential escape route to future happiness. This is what is important, and, beyond this representational level, these characters have very little direct presence within the story itself, as it unfolds first and foremost within Eveline's own mind and mental processes.

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Why isn't Frank physically described even though his background is given in "Eveline"?

On the contrary, James Joyce does, in fact, describe Frank in "Eveline." He describes him subtly and uses one of the methods of character description that opposes the popular method of giving detailed descriptions of all the character's features. You'll find, if you look closely, that many of the most famous authors, such as Robert Louis Stevenson (Kidnapped), Mark Twain (The Prince and the Pauper), and Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility), use subtle and limited methods of description to paint their characters and that these characters live as some of the most immortal characters in English literature.

Joyce describes Frank's inner qualities first, saying that Frank is "very kind, manly, open-hearted." He next describes Frank's clothing, saying he wore a "peaked cap pushed back on his head." Joyce next describes Frank's physical appearance, indicating that Frank has lots of floppy hair that tumbles forward onto a "face of bronze." Then Joyce describes Frank's personal tastes, saying Frank is "awfully fond of music and sang a little." Finally he describes Frank's occupation, saying Frank "started as a deck boy...on a ship of the Allan Line."

Along with the options of utilizing direct and indirect character description, there are various theories of character description. One theory of character description states that the thing of first importance in descriptions is the character's qualities of inner being. Another states that the first thing of importance is the character's occupation, whether a clergyman, a sailor, or wealthy lord, etc. Another states that the first thing of importance is the character's feelings and emotions, for example that a character feels earnestly about injustice and is moved to anger quickly or feels very little about the sorrows of others and has a tendency to emotions of melancholy. One theory that is very popular today and was used with great success by Chaucer in describing the Wif of Bathe states that the first thing of importance is the physical appearance and that the description must start at the tip of the head and end at the toes or the toe of the shoes. James Joyce followed the theory that starts with inner qualities: He begins with Franks inner qualities and ends with Frank's occupation.

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