Why is Eveline's epiphany about leaving with Frank in "Eveline" significant?

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In "Eveline," the protagonist's realization that she cannot leave Dublin with Frank is significant for its display of intense emotional conflict and its commentary on the broader societal paralysis in Ireland. Despite her outwardly passive demeanor, Eveline experiences a tumultuous internal struggle, highlighting Joyce's focus on psychological experience. Her decision to stay, however, also symbolizes the cultural and political stagnation that prevents many from changing their lives in Ireland, making her personal dilemma a reflection of a national issue.

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The scene of Eveline's epiphany, when she realizes in a flash that she can't leave Dublin with Frank, is substantial because of the ways Joyce communicates and emphasizes the emotional intensity tearing Eveline apart as a contrast to her outward frozen immobility.

Eveline does not make the decision to remain fixed at home in Dublin easily. She might be standing still amid the "swaying" crowd with her "cheek pale and cold," but inwardly she is in a tumult. Her emotions are in a violent upheaval. She is so upset that she feels "nausea" and her silent prayer is "fervent." Further, "A bell clanged upon her heart." Her emotions rise higher: "All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart." This hyperbole highlights her turmoil. She thinks wildly "No! No! No!" and feels "frenzy." We learn that:

Amid the seas [tumbling around her heart] she sent a cry of anguish.

Joyce makes it clear—and highlights—in the last line of the story that there is a disconnect between her inward pain and her cold outward demeanor as she faces Frank:

She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.

Joyce's epiphanies focus on the interior of a character's experience. On the outside, it can seem that nothing at all is happening, as occurs with Evelyn. Looking at Evelyn from afar, a stranger would only see that she is "passive" and doesn't seem emotionally alive at all—she gives Frank no indication of "love or farewell or recognition." What counts for Joyce, however, is psychological experience. He shows that while it looks as if nothing is going on, Evelyn is probably experiencing the most intense and heart rending emotions of her entire life.

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The scene is substantial because it represents a significant moment in Eveline's life. She had the chance to escape her grinding daily existence with its lack of opportunity, domestic abuse, and drudgery and head off with her lover Frank to the other side of the world for a brand new life. But she has chosen not to. Instead, she remains rooted to the spot at the quayside while Frank leaves for pastures new in Buenos Aires without her.

One gets the impression that Eveline will never have another chance like this so long as she lives. Even though she's a young woman with many years left ahead of her, it's almost certain that she will remain stuck in this small Irish town for the rest of her days, wondering what might have been.

In keeping with the overall theme of Joyce's stories in Dubliners, Eveline has been prevented from changing her life by the air of paralysis—cultural and political—that hangs over Ireland like a dark, brooding cloud. That's why one can be sure that Eveline will remain where she is, unable to take the necessary steps to change her life for the better. The significance of the final scene is not just personal, therefore; it also speaks to the general condition of men and women across the length and breadth of Ireland.

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As Eveline is preparing to leave with Frank, she has an epiphany of “a bell clanging upon her heart." As he takes her hand, she experiences “all the seas of the world tumbling about her heart." She has a vision of him drowning her in the seas and she clutches at the iron railing, fiercely. Even though he calls after her, asking her to follow him, she does not respond to his call. Instead, she looks at him helplessly, without any emotion.

This scene is important because it explains the conflicting emotions going on within Eveline. When presented with escape from her difficult life, she is paralyzed into inaction. She cannot make herself to follow Frank into the waiting boat. She is too attached to her life in Ireland to be able to leave all the familiar things behind. Instead, she now sees her beloved as a possibly dangerous man. Indeed, Eveline’s situation is a difficult one, for she has to make a choice between staying and leaving with a man whom she barely knows. If she stays, she will have to contend with an abusive father who takes all of her wages, rarely leaving her with enough money to take care of the household. She will also have to deal with loneliness, as she is mostly on her own, with her only living sibling, Harry, too busy in the “church decorating business." Though there is little to remain behind for, it is possible that Eveline just does not have the courage to take a chance on a future with Frank. The epiphany kind of helps Eveline to make a decision to remain in Ireland.

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In James Joyce's "Eveline" as Frank grabs her hand, "A bell clanged upon her heart." This "bell" is the reminder of all her promises, both to her mother and the Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque. Because of the profound influence of the Catholic Church's teachings and the religious instruction in school, Eveline feels obligated to these commitments. In addition to the religious implications of her obligations, there is the prohibitiveness of her running off with a man when Eveline is not married to him.

Besides these considerations, Eveline has been conditioned to be servile. She works hard "at business" and at home, subjugated to her father's demands as he is physically abusive.  That she is conditioned to her servility is evinced in these lines:

It was hard work--a hard life--but now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life.

Another consideration of Eveline's hesitation about leaving home with Frank is the fact that he is a sailor and she is purportedly going to live as his wife in Buenos Ayres, a thriving city which attracted many European immigrants and adventurers. However, the phrase "Going to Buenos Ayres" was also slang for taking up a life of prostitution, so whether Frank who will be gone frequently will make the best of husbands as a sailor whether Buenos Ayres is a suitable place to live are both dubious.  Therefore, when Eveline experiences her epiphany and suffers her psychological paralysis, there is, indeed, substance to it.

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