Politics Magazine

Joyce's Dubliners: "Eveline"

Posted on the 14 June 2013 by Erictheblue


Harry Levin once observed that, likely as a consequence of having lived his life in near blindness, Joyce's fiction is of "low visibility."  The other senses predominate, and "Eveline," the fourth story in Dubliners, is suffused with the smell of dusty cretonne and the sound of a street organ.  We may surmise that the cretonne is the material of the draperies in Eveline's Dublin home.  And we're told that when her mother was lying on her death bed in that house, her father had been angered when the sound of a street organ had wafted into the sick room, so that the sound of one now reminds Eveline of her promise to her dying mother to hold the family together as best she could.  But it's a narrow, hard life.  Her father is cruel and drinks too much.  One brother (her favorite) is dead.  Another brother has moved away.  Eveline, who is 19, is responsible for two younger siblings and housework.  She also supplies much of the household income by working at an unrewarding shop job.  The one bright spot is her boyfried, Frank, a sailor.  He has proposed to her and she is weighing an elopement--to Buenos Aires.  Should she stay or should she go?

She has written her letters, and she leaves for the ship.  But then she can't do it.  Probably she should have.  It's not a good sign that the cretonne in the house smells of dust.  She had promised her mother, however.  And this narrow life of unsensational sacrifice is not the worst one to be imagined. 

Eveline is 19.  The central figures in the three earlier stories had been even younger.  Joyce did not conceive of these stories as separate but as successive chapters concerning the citizens of Dublin.  In this regard, we might recall that the first one opened with a priest having suffered a stroke, and his young friend wondering at hearing the grown-up word paralysis.  In that first story, the word referred to a physical condition.  As a generalized spiritual malaise, it's the theme of the book, which will end with Gabriel Conroy swooning as he watches the snow, "general all over Ireland," faintly falling and covering everything, "all the living and the dead." 

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