Wednesday, May 23, 2018

James Joyce - Eveline (Overview)
You hear "Joyce" and something in you cringes or ruptures or you sense retroperistalsis in its inception. You've had a horrendous experience reading Ulysses and would rather not pick up another Joyce novel in your life. 

Well, "Eveline", thank God, is not Ulysses. It is a short story, to begin with, meaning that whatever torture Joyce would have us experience, it was intended to be a short one. It is a 'normal' short story, to continue, meaning that it follows in the vein of the other outstanding stories found in Dubliners

Critics have demoted this collection of short stories in that they have characterized it as simplistic, ignoring the fact that simplicity is not always as simple as it seems. Spelling the word "cat" for instance is simple if we are to compare it to the word "gneissoid", but the cognitive processes involved in spelling "cat" are no less complicated than those employed by the brain to transfer stimuli from one neuron to the next in the spelling of any other word. 

Besides, the simplicity of an object hides depth that often astounds anyone who explores meaning.

"Eveline" is such a simple story, if we consider the word "simple" an apt term for Joyce's depiction of the inner workings of a woman's mind cradled and raised in the arms of early 20th century Irish society. It is the story akin to Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" in which a lifetime of incidents are intimated at within a few paragraphs. 

It is the story of a modern woman living in an semi-oppressive milieu that has modulated her to accept the absence of will and personal thought. In a sense, one could argue that this is the sublime Orwellian nightmare without the Thought Police, without Room 101 and telescreens in every home.  

In fact, the way this simplest of Joyce's works (according to his critics) may be interpreted by 21st century readers is that dystopia is not a future manifestation, a ghoulish reality featured in books and screen adaptations these days. Dystopia is not a fictional genre, but a concreteness seen in the social conventions of eras, the collective mentality of man ensconced in social order, financial capacity and political interests. 

The protagonist Eveline can do nothing but fear freedom, held back by her many recollections of life with an embittered, floundering, violent father; a mother who clung to duty religiously and on her deathbed made her daughter promise to do the same;a childhood destroyed by a Belfast entrepreneur; a routine transfixed by rules and impaled by the collective criticism of her peers. 

Eveline is doomed. Has society changed so much that we can say with any certainty that, unlike her, we are not condemned to a life of stasis?

The notes that follow should help readers address some basic aspects of the story and teachers kick off class discussions.

Read the story here.

Click on the picture for explanations of literary terms

James Joyce – Eveline

  • life
      • 1882-1941
      • Irish novelist, short story writer, poet
      • Modernist
      • one of the most influential writers of the 20th century
      • stream-of-consciousness technique
      • wrote Ulysses

  • story
      • part of Dubliners
      • Dubliners published in 1914
      • stories about different characters inhabiting Dublin
      • "Eveline" written in 1904
      • general theme permeating book = paralysis
  • plot
      • Eveline Hill remembers
      • is about to leave home she grew up in with Frank (a sailor) for Buenos Aires
      • she sits by window, waiting for time to pass until she meets Frank at harbor to take boat to England (then Buenos Aires)
      • she remembers a variety of things / recounts life story
      • she goes to the harbor
      • when it’s time to board, she stays put, doesn’t follow him

  • Eveline’s recollections
      • children playing in the fields before man from Belfast came and bought them, built bright brick houses (first case of father being violent hunting them with his blackthorn stick)
      • work at the Stores
      • father’s violence (with Ernst + Harry, then with her), taking her salary, having to ask him for money to buy things for Sunday dinner
      • Frank + her: how them met, how it was at first
      • father staying up to read her a ghost story and making toast when she was sick for a day
      • father takes family for a picnic (when mother was still alive), put on mother’s bonnet to make kids laugh (note the change in Eveline’s memories: as time goes by, she finds excuses not to leave and even sees father as ageing, she says he’ll miss her)
      • mother’s death: street organ player playing same song as the one the night she died

  • characters
      • Eveline
        • over 19 yrs old
        • non-active (passive)
          • sits at window, waits 
          • “she stood among the swaying crowd…” (at the harbor) 
          • many verbs used are in passive voice (“Her head was leaned against the window curtains…”)

        • activities she does are ordered by others: decisions aren’t hers 
          • takes care of family (promise to mother) 
          • works at the Stores (orders given to her) 
          • has to go buy food for Sunday dinner (father tells her) 
          • many verbs used are verbs showing obligation (“Then she had to rush out…”, “She had consented to go away…”)

        • desire to change things (but doesn’t) 
          • violence of father 
          • not be treated as mother had been
          • is now unprotected (Ernst dead, Harry away) 
          • gives all her money to father 
          • bullying by father (you’ve no head, accuses her of squandering her money)

        • relationship to Frank 
          • surprised at first: had fun for the 1st time in her life 
          • he opened her eyes to new things: theater performance, told her about trips 
          • she was excited to have a fellow: waited for her after work, sang for her 
          • he would save her 
          • she doesn’t love him though or can't imagine that he can love her: “He would give her life, perhaps love, too.”
          • her view of men darkened by her father's harshness

        • desire to escape this life/madness
        • desire to have happiness: she says it’s her right
        • dead + paralyzed (“He would give her life…”)

      • father
        • violent, a drunk, abusive
        • squabbled over money
        • violent towards boys at first, then when Eveline grew older threatened her as well
        • forbids Eveline from seeing Frank: possessive
        • moments of normality when life was better / his wife was still alive: mitigating circumstances?

      • mother
        • dead, made Eveline promise to keep home together as long as possible
        • lived a life of sacrifices
        • abused by husband
        • became mad in the end

      • brothers
        • Ernst: Eveline’s favorite, dead
        • Harry: often away now, decorates churches, sends money to Eveline when he can

      • younger children (under Eveline’s care)

      • Frank
        • sailor
        • kind, manly, open-hearted
        • gentlemanly
        • likes music very much, sings a little
        • hard worker
        • doing well now: “He had fallen on his feet…”
        • has a home waiting for her in Buenos Aires
        • quarrel with Eveline after her father has forbidden her to see him: why? Result= kept seeing each other in secret
        • “Come!”

  • Derevaun Seraun!”
      • one meaning (from Gaelic which mother wouldn’t be likely to know): the end of pleasure is pain
      • other meaning (bad form of Irish): the end of the song is raving madness
      • further interpretation (do raibh ann, siar ann): I have been there, you should go there

  • themes
      • paralysis / death
        • all Dubliners stories show paralyzed or ‘dead’ individuals
        • inability to think + act
        • causes:
          • old fixed way of life: ties to past are stronger than desire to change
          • conventions: Eveline worried about what other co-workers would say if they found out she’d run away with someone
          • religion: Eveline prays for answer (“… she prayed God to direct her…”)

      • social conditions (in Ireland) / emigration
        • Potato Famine / the Great Famine (1845-1852): 20%-25% of Ireland’s population lost (death or emigration)
        • Ireland = British colony
        • Irish were 2nd class citizens in their own country
        • Ireland controlled by Protestant English of the North
        • Catholics were ill treated: laws prohibited them from buying or leasing land, voting, getting an education, etc until 1829 = Catholics were poor
        • many sought escape from these conditions emigrated

      • women + society
        • role of women in the home: Eveline / mother
        • relation to men
        • led to inaction, inability to be independent

      • escapism (avoidance of reality)
        • powerful form of self-defence, but ineffectual
        • “The Bohemian Girl”: opera Frank takes Eveline to see (story of Polish noble who joined gypsies, saves Arline, daughter of Austrian count from deer, but later steals her away to join the gypsies) (best-known aria is when Arline describes vague memories from childhood “I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls”)
        • Buenos Aires
        • sailing / sailors
        • escapism is useless in a society such as Dublin which entraps you

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