James Joyce: Dubliners - Eveline’s state of paralysis with special regard to her different roles she has to play as a woman

Term Paper 2005 9 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Main Part
2.1 The term “paralysis”
2.2 Origin of her analysis
2.3 Consequences of her paralysis

3. Relationships to the people in her closer environment
3.1 Relationship to her father
3.2 Relationship to Frank/Frank as a serious alternative?

4. Eveline’s different roles as a woman

5. Conclusion

6. Literature

1. Introduction

In the following text I would like to give an approach to the paralysis of the main character in James Joyce’s short story Eveline. In doing so, I will take a look at the origin and the consequences of her paralysis and the different roles she has to play as a woman. In addition I’m going to examine the relationships that she has to the people in her closer environment i. e. her father and her “lover” Frank.

2. Main Part

2.1 The term “paralysis”

Paralysis is word that is often connected to James Joyce’s novel Dubliners. Consequently it is also a term which plays a major role in the short story Eveline. But what does paralysis exactly mean? “Loss or impairment of the ability to move a body part, usually as a result of damage to its nerve supply”1 says the dictionary. In this context it has a slightly different meaning. Here the main character, Eveline, has lost her ability to act. However not by a physical handicap or a damage of her nerve supply, but by “[…] patriarchal norms, violence, and ideological indoctrination […]”2.

2.2 Origin of the paralysis

This absolute inability to act is most clearly shown in the lack of real external action. In the whole story there is only one single action. Eveline sits at the window looking out on the street. She is thinking about her past life, about her present situation and even has visions about her future. Finally Eveline remembers her mother’s death and the promise she gave her “to keep the household together as long as she could”3. Obviously still deeply touched by this rememberance her heart starts to tremble and “She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror” (p. 41).

This is the only time when she leaves the so called “stasis”, i. e. she leaves her predominately passiveness. Eveline knows that this “life of commonplace sacrifices”(p. 41) has finally led to her mother’s craziness and death and she senses that her fate will be similar if she does not leave the narrowness of her home. But at the same time, the promise comes to her mind.

This dilemma can be regarded as one strong reason for Eveline’s paralysis: On the one hand she knows that not leaving her home will lead to a life like her mother’s, but on the other hand she cannot easily break the promise she gave to her mother lying on the death-bed. Seen in an objective light, this task, and everything included in it, demanded by the mother is a rather tough one for a young woman like Eveline. However she really sacrifices herself in trying to fullfill the promise. She is the only child that is still at home and in many aspects she has to replace her mother. She cleans and tidies up the house, she is responsible for the meals and she even earns money for the family by working in a store. What else could she do?

This clearly shows how important the promise to her mother really is for Eveline. And the father’s dominant and violent behaviour towards Eveline makes her situation even harder to bear and strengthens her inability to make a decision. Normally it would be the other way around, i. e. for every other woman the father’s behaviour would have made the decision to leave even easier.

However in this special case it makes Eveline’s decision harder because she lives in a state of complete submission to her father. Her father clearly represents the repressive force in her life. He stands for the patriarchy in the story and shows various character traits connected to that term. He is selfish and violent. He sees women, especially Eveline just as subjects, he doesn’t treat her with respect or understatement. To make it more clear he doesn’t treat her as if she were equal to him but subordinate. “It is by seeing the woman as an object that does not speak or look...”4. This quote by the feminist Larysa Mykyta sounds quite severe at first, but when you take a closer look at the father’s attitude towards his own daughter it seems quite appropriate: Women are seen as supportive objects to the man and Eveline has really internalized this submissive role.

Superficially regarded, her anxiety of leaving her father behind could also be a reason for Eveline not to go on the ship and leave Dublin. But in my opinion it is not the question if she can leave her father but more if she is able to break the promise to her mother: “Can she leave the secret world of dust that connects her to her dead mother”5 is actually the more important issue for her. But can this strong connection to her dead mother really weigh against all these unbearable things in her life e. g. her abusive father who beats her and harasses her very badly? Or Miss Gavan, her supervisor at the store who “had always an edge on her, especially whenever there were people listening”(p. 38) what means that she tried to compromise and humiliate Eveline whenever she could. Concerning her job at the store Eveline is exceptionally honest to herself when she says that “she would not cry many tears at leaving the stores”(p. 38).

But when it comes to her family, it seems that she just cannot see clearly. The statement ” In her home anyway she had shelter and food;she had those whom Garry Martin Leonard, Reading Dubliners Again: A Lacanian Perspective (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1993), page 97. Quoted after Larysa Mykyta.

Garry Martin Leonard, Reading Dubliners Again: A Lacanian Perspective (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1993), page 98.


1 Edited by Anne H. Soukhanov et alii. The American Heritage Dictionary Of The English Language (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992), page 1312.

2 Wolfgang Wicht, ”Eveline and/as ‘A Painful Case’: Paralysis, Desire, Signifiers,” European Joyce Studies: New Perspectives On Dubliners. Hg. Mary Power and Ulrich Schneider (Amsterdam / Atlanta: Rodopi, 1997), page 122.

3 James Joyce, Dubliners (London: Jonathan Cape, 1967), page 41. The following information will be implemented in the text.


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University of Bamberg – Lehrstuhl für Anglistik
Paralyse Paralysis Role of women James Joyce Eveline




Title: James Joyce: Dubliners - Eveline’s state of paralysis with special regard to her different roles she has to play as a woman