The three main themes in “Eveline” are escape, entrapment, and change.
- Escape: Eveline longs to escape her home and her life in Dublin, but she is ultimately too afraid to take the plunge.
- Entrapment: Eveline feels trapped by her responsibilities to her father and her job at the Stores.
- Change: Eveline must decide whether to stay in Dublin or to leave with Frank for Buenos Aires.
Last Updated September 6, 2023.
Societal expectations of women
Eveline’s opportunities in life are almost entirely shaped by her position as a woman in her society. She lives with her father, who has a history of abusing the family, and faithfully surrenders her entire income to him. In return, she has to beg for enough money to do the grocery shopping each week for her family. Her father believes that she is frivolous and cannot be trusted to manage her meager allowance for the family’s needs appropriately. Each Saturday, she is forced to engage in a predictable “squabble” with him over these funds, and the ongoing battle leaves her “weary.”
Not only does Eveline care for her father’s needs by shopping and cleaning for him, but she also cares for two young children who have been entrusted to her care. There is no indication this is a path Eveline has chosen to pursue; instead, the situation has simply been thrust upon her. As a woman, she fills an expected role in their lives, cooking their meals and making sure they attend school regularly.
In some ways, Frank allows Eveline to step outside of these expectations. She is entertained and treated to moments of fun. Their time together does not revolve around domestic duties, and Eveline is “elated” as she engages in this comparatively carefree world.
Soon, however, she finds herself again firmly under the command of her father’s authority. He demands that Eveline end her relationship with Frank and thereby submit to her father’s will. Although Eveline continues her relationship, she must conduct herself privately so that no one will report her misdeeds to her father.
Facing ongoing mistreatment from her father, Eveline longs for an escape. Frank provides this opportunity. She feels that “he would give her life” but is not certain that they would ever truly love each other. Although Eveline is terror-stricken by thoughts of living out the remainder of her life in her father’s home, she is equally paralyzed by the societal expectations placed upon her.
Eveline recognizes that the only two roles that her society offers are being a daughter or becoming a wife. She is expected to be a caretaker, in one form or the other, and to sacrifice her happiness to do so. Her decision to remain with her father demonstrates the complicated nature of abusive relationships and the way women often submit to enduring “a hard life” because society has taught them that its predictability is not “wholly undesirable.”
Responsibility and opportunity
At nineteen years old, Eveline has been given a heavy responsibility. After losing a brother and her mother, she is expected to care for her household, including two young children. Eveline dutifully cleans the home, works to earn an income herself, and struggles to provide adequate provisions for the people who live in her home. She finds the work difficult but is compelled to fulfill the responsibilities expected of her.
But Eveline is afforded an opportunity for a different life. Frank tells her of “distant countries” he has visited, and she is excited as she listens to his previous adventures on the Straits of Magellan and the “stories of the terrible Pagagonians.” After spending time with Eveline, Frank wants to whisk her away to a new life in Buenos Aires, an exotic and promising city where she might create new possibilities for herself.
Yet in the end, Eveline is trapped by her perceived responsibilities and unable to pursue a new life with Frank. Accepting that her life must mirror the “commonplace sacrifices” that seemingly drove her mother to the “craziness” that ended her life, Eveline relinquishes her hopes for her life to maintain the responsibilities expected of her.