Modes of entrapment in James Joyce’s “Eveline”

Seminar Paper 2005 11 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature



1. Introduction

2. Modes of Entrapment

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction:

“Eveline” is the second of James Joyce’s stories that got published. First it appeared in the Irish Homestead in 1904 before being published as the fourth chapter of the Dubliners in 1914.

It is Joyce’s first attempt to write from the point of view of a woman. This young woman, having a dull job and “leading a life of quiet desperation with a brutal father, is offered escape by a sailor” (Tindall 21). Although this offer seems very promising, Eveline does not manage to leave her home behind. Instead, she accepts a life full of frustration. To understand this inability and lack of courage one has to take a closer look at the environment surrounding her. ”Who and what is Eveline that her life […] should be ending before she is twenty?” (Beck 111), is a valid quotation. We will see that Eveline is kept imprisoned in a cage made of tradition and subordination hard to break out.

“Eveline” is not a story of action but a narration taking place only in the protagonist’s consciousness. Therefore the interest does not lie in the events, but in the reasons leading to the final decision. The story, like all Dubliners, shows Joyce’s critical and melancholy view of life in his native town Dublin.

2. Modes of Entrapment

The first expository lines introduce Eveline sitting without motion to watch the avenue; her head leaned against the dusty curtains[1]. In this dreary, dust-filled atmosphere her thoughts travel to her childhood memories where she still seemed to be “rather happy” (374). But in present times “the last vestiges of happiness crumble away” (Hart 48). Even in her childhood joy was something transient when it was stopped by her father using his blackthorn stick[2] to hunt the playing children. Nevertheless, he “was not so bad then” (374), a statement implying his growing cruelty towards Eveline. Apart from her father’s violence the reader learns about the loss of her mother.

In the first part of the story the potential of change of life still dominates (“Everything changes”, 374); however, this will alter in the course of the story as Eveline’s world becomes increasingly static (cf. Hart 48). The opposition between change and no-change is an element of the narration (cf. Hart 48) which is “continuously sustained in the brooding consciousness of its main character” (Beck 110). Her life’s monotony is mirrored in the description of the setting: The few mentioned familiar objects of the room she had dusted through these years silently comment on the bleakness of her home and life. The fact that “she had never dreamed of being divided” from those objects might be an indication of the unreality of the project “to leave her home” (374, my italics). By anadiplosis[3] of the word “home” its importance is stressed; it becomes a key word of the text, just like the opposite word “escape” which is mentioned later.

As there are already lying farewell letters in her lap (cf. 376) her decision to leave is already determined before the story starts. But now her choise is reasserted (cf. Hart 49); Eveline broods over the question “Was that wise?”. She shows her doubts and confronts the reader with the conflict of the story. In a “medley of recollections” (Beck 119) she enumerates the advantages and disadvantages. But her arguments to stay at home seem moderate; she looks like she is desperatly searching for reasons. That shows her indecision and internal struggle. The argument “she had shelter” (374) is not convincing as she lives together with a brutal father. In the same way the loss of “those whom she had known all her life about her” does not seem dramatical since there is actually hardly a person left: her mother and Ernest, “her favourite [brother]” (376), are both dead, some neighbours and her other brother left. Apparently she is content with insufficient arguments and a couple of vague memories of a father showing “minimal commitment” (Leonard 99) towards his family.

Leaving home is much more difficult for her than “leaving the Stores” (375). “She would not cry many tears” because she can “explicitly reject the impersonal claims of a job, but obligation to family is not to be put aside without painful questioning” (Beck 113).

Being under obligation to her family claims fear of violence and threatenings which “had given her the palpitations” (375). These “palpitations” are a symbol for her emotional instability as well as an early sign of the illness she will probably share with her mother.

Since both of her brothers are gone, “she had nobody to protect her” (375) against the threats of her father. Her father’s refusal “to get any money” frustrates her as she “always gave her entire wages” to him (375). What he accuses her of, namely “to squander the money”, is precisely what he himself is guilty of – also he drinks and wastes all the money on alcohol. The phrase “because she was a girl” (375) explains her father’s low opinion of her as well as the responsibilities laid upon her.

Her laborious life is structured and controlled by a role attached to her by a patriarchal society that places her into her mother’s former role (cf. Leonard 97). Family demands almost her whole life: “It was hard work - a hard life” (375). But as she fears to break out of this solid pattern she tries to make herself believe that life is not that “wholly undesirable” (375). She is so unconsciously trapped within this environment and the habit has captured her so much that she finally finds her father bearable, even pleasant and is convinced that he will miss her.

The language of the story also suits the desolating life of Eveline as it is barren and flat. Joyce calls the style of Dubliners“scrupulous[ly] mean”, a “hint of a deliberate impoverishment of expression […] which precisely matches the perspective and perceptions of the characters” (Wales 38). The third person’s free indirect speech is a technique to express the attributes of an individual character.

In contrast to Eveline’s wearisome existence, the good prospects of “her new home, in a distant unknown country” (375) are very hopeful. The chance of liberation promises a life where she would finally be married, respected, and treated not “as her mother had been” (375). Again the addition of “she, Eveline” (375) shows her uncertainty. She seems to be excluded from the power of choice (cf. Leonard 105). A life like this is “unknown” and far beyond her power of imagination.

Frank, the sailor who offers her this new existence, is characterized as “very kind, manly, open hearted” (376). The semantic similarity to the adjective “frank” meaning ‘open-minded’ shows that this is a telling name. Almost every name of the story is chosen with care: “Buenos Ayres”, where Eveline wants “to explore another life with Frank” (375), means ‘good air’ and is to be seen in stark contrast to the dusty air of Dublin meaning ‘black pool’. Incidentally, going to Buenos Aires was once a common euphemism for ’becoming a prostitute, particularly through a pimp’. That might not be uninteresting as Eveline, although she does not like her job, fears she could be called a “fool” (375). The fact of being concerned about what other people might think of her shows her lack of self-confidence and her inability to be in charge of her own life.


[1] This image of the lovelorn woman at the window was a common one in Victorian writing and art.

[2] The blackthorn stick is the clichéd weapon of the stage-Irishman.

[3] This term describes the repetition of a word at the end of one sentence in the beginning of the next sentence.


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Modes James Joyce’s Proseminar Century English Short Stories”



Title: Modes of entrapment in James Joyce’s “Eveline”