Eveline Hill, a 19-year-old woman who works in a Dublin shop, sits inside her family's house recalling childhood, including some happy memories as well as her father's drunken brutality to her and her siblings. Eveline thinks about people she has known who have either left Ireland (a priest who has traveled to Melbourne, for example) or died (her mother and her brother Ernest), and of her own plans to leave the country with a man named Frank. She recalls meeting Frank, an Irish sailor now living in Argentina, and dating him while he visited Dublin on vacation. Eveline also thinks about her father's disapproval of Frank, and of her promise "to keep the home together as long as she could" before her mother grew deranged and died. Later, gripped by fear of the unknown and probably guilt as well, Eveline finds herself unable to board the ferry to England, where she and Frank are scheduled to meet a ship bound for South America. He leaves without her.
Though short and easy to read, this story is devastating, possibly the most powerful in the book. (The other candidate for that honor would be "The Dead.") It is yet another Dubliners tale about paralysis, as Eveline stands on the pier at story's end, frozen in place by fear and guilt. She wants to leave Ireland, but she quite literally cannot move, speak, or even express emotion on her face. A crippled childhood friend called Little Keogh, whom Eveline recalls early in the story, perhaps foreshadows her own eventual paralysis.
Death pervades "Eveline" too: the deaths of her mother and her brother Ernest, and of a girlhood friend named Tizzie Dunn. And of course, Eveline fears her own death: "he would drown her," she thinks of Frank, defying logic. Perhaps she unconsciously associates her fiancé with the other man in her life, her brutal father.
As usual, Joyce holds the Catholic Church and England accountable, albeit subtly. Though Eveline's father's cry of "Damned Italians! coming over here!" is of course irrational, it reminds the reader of the seat of the church's power in Rome, and the way that power affects even distant Ireland. Note that Eveline's dockside paralysis is preceded by a prayer "to God to direct her, to show her what was her duty" — and that a bell (like a church bell) clangs "upon her heart" as Frank grasps her hand in vain at story's end. Also, be aware that like contemporary airline passengers flying first to a hub airport before boarding planes for their final destinations, Irish travelers for South America at the turn of the twentieth century had to travel first by ferry to Liverpool, England. Neighbors named the Waters have "gone back to England," but Eveline is incapable of straying even that far from home, much less across the Atlantic.
Thus, this is the third Dubliners story in a row about a failed quest. The Holy Grail of the boy in "An Encounter" was the Pigeon House, which he never reached; the main character in "Araby" sought the bazaar, closing down by the time he got there. Eveline seeks Argentina, a place where she hopes to avoid the very real threat of her father's violence as well as her dead mother's "life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness." "People would treat her with respect," Eveline thinks of married life in Argentina.
She believes she has a right to happiness, too — that is, until she stands on the shore and confronts the reality of the journey on which she is about to embark. Then fear and guilt (about abandoning her father and her younger siblings) overwhelm her, and she stays rather than goes. Though it is as old and dusty as her father's house ("She looked round the room, reviewing all its familiar objects which she had dusted once a week for so many years, wondering where on earth all the dust came from"), Dublin is at least familiar, and Eveline is a fearful young woman, obsessed with thoughts of wild Patagonians and remembered ghost stories. "He rushed beyond the barrier and called to her to follow," the tale concludes. "He was shouted at to go on but he still called to her. She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition." Though this is not certain, it seems unlikely that Eveline will ever leave home now. Frank seems to have been her last, best chance.
cretonne a heavy, unglazed, printed cotton or linen cloth; used for curtains, slipcovers, and so on.
blackthorn stick a cane or stick made from the stem of the blackthorn, a thorny, white-flowered prunus shrub with purple or black plumlike fruit.
nix (slang) silent.
Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–90) a French nun beatified in 1864 and canonized in 1920.
Stores the shop where Eveline works.
night-boat the ferry that departed Dublin every evening for Liverpool, England.
The Bohemian Girl a popular nineteenth-century light opera composed by Dublin musician Michael William Balfe. Characters throughout Dubliners refer to songs from this opera.
Patagonians inhabitants of Patagonia, a dry, grassy region in south South America, east of the Andes (including the south parts of Argentina and Chile); thought to be nomadic and dangerous.
Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun! probably gibberish.