Why didn't Eveline go with Frank to Buenos Aires in "Eveline" by James Joyce?

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As a good modernist, Joyce does not employ an omniscient narrator to hover over the narrative and tell us what to think. Instead, we have to interpret Eveline's motivations from her own thoughts and what we learn about her life.

First, we know she has a constricted, miserable existence in Dublin. She dislikes her job as a shopgirl, where she is bullied, and at home she is a virtual slave to her abusive father, to whom she gives her entire paycheck every week. She is afraid not to do this. Frank, and the chance to go to Buenos Aires, looks like a good out for her.

However, at the last minute she panics, and her dead mother's words return to her: They are "Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun!" They mean in Gaelic that "at the end of pleasure there is pain."

We are told too that "her mother’s life laid its spell on the very quick of her being."

Eveline knows this is the moment of truth, so she prays "to God to direct her, to show her what was her duty."

In these words, we get a strong clue as to why she stays. Thinking of her mother, she prays not for deliverance or for direction, but to be shown her "duty." This wording suggests it is almost inevitable that she will stay. Guilt permeates the phrase "Derevaun Seraun," for it tells her she will suffer greatly for doing what she wants.

The past and her indoctrination into sacrifice, guilt, and doing her duty, as well as her fear of the unknown, all work together to keep Eveline in place. She has never had any role model in her life to give her the sense of self worth needed to pursue her own desires or happiness.

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In one respect, it could be said that Eveline is stuck in the past. Or at least those selectively pleasant memories of the past that appear to have prevented her from setting off for a new life in Buenos Aires. At the same time, however, she's very much stuck in the present. Her life, such as it is, unfolds purely in the here and now. Not only has Eveline stopped thinking about a future with Frank, she's also no longer concerned about her future in Dublin. She hasn't made a conscious decision to stay behind and try and make the best of it; she's simply trapped by indecision. And it's this stasis which makes the ending of the story so suggestive and ambiguous. We genuinely have no idea as to what Eveline will do next. She may return home and continue to live with her father. Then again, she may not. But as Eveline stands on the dock, she is truly alone; not just apart from Frank, but estranged from her domestic environment too. Perhaps she's experienced some sort of epiphany, finally realizing that her future lies neither in Dublin nor in Buenos Aires. She has, after all, said a little prayer, and we'll never know what divine guidance, if any, she received to make her stay put.

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James Joyce's "Eveline" is a compelling and strange story that offers little explanation for its own ending. Throughout most of the story, we sift through a description of Eveline's dull and miserable life, and it seems clear that she wants to escape from the tyranny of her home. It is strange, therefore, that Eveline does not go with Frank to Buenos Aires when he tries to take her with him at the end.

Many readers interpret this ending as an illustration of Eveline's imprisonment in the past, and much of the story supports this idea. Most of the narrative dwells on the young woman's past life, for instance, and there's little indication that Eveline has much of a future. As such, it's very possible that Eveline is simply incapable of leaving her home, no matter how much she dreams of a future far away from her misery. She may dream big, but, in the end, she's incapable of real action. 

This idea makes sense when considered in the broader context of Dubliners. In most of the stories, Joyce focuses on characters who are "stuck," who have gotten locked into an unfulfilling life and cannot escape. As such, it makes sense that Eveline cannot leave Dublin; like the other characters in Joyce's stories, she is trapped by a kind of figurative paralysis, and is doomed to a life of unhappiness and stagnation. 

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