Dubliners by James Joyce: Eveline

In this fourth short story of Dubliners, Joyce points us to a romance. Eveline seeks to escape her drunk father and her responsibilities towards her siblings, a responsibility given to her after the death of her mother. She desires to leave with Frank to Argentina.

As she mused the pitiful vision of her mother’s life laid its spell on the very quick of her being–that life of commonplace sacrifice closing in final craziness. She trembled as she heard again her mother’s voice saying constantly with foolish insistence:

–Deravaun Seraun! Deravaun Seraun!

She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror. Escape! She must escape! Frank would save her. he would give her life, perhaps love, too. But she wanted to live. Why should she be unhappy? She had a right to happiness. Frank would take her in his arms, fold her in his arms. He would save her. (p. 33)

In the end of the story, Eveline is unable to go with Frank, even unable to move (which invites us to recall the first paragraph of Dubliners and the word “paralysis”).

What do we make of this tragic ending? Many of my classmates sided on the opposite side as I did (my creative writing class read this one short story of Joyce’s alone). Some of my classmates were disappointed in the fact that she ended up not being free. Now, I wasn’t happy about her abusive father or the death of her mother. However, how could I possibly endorse Eveline leaving her siblings to starve in the presence of a drunkard father? While freedom and happiness are great things to be sought, it might be right to put freedom and happiness for oneself behind freedom and happiness of others.

I don’t see this ending as wholly tragic. Joyce didn’t either, I think. He uses the phrase “going to Buenos Aires,” which at the time in Dublin, referred to the entering of a life of prostitution. Also, he invokes a boat/boat route called “the Allan Line” which was often associated with exile. We, as readers, are definitely supposed to be questioning whether escape is the right choice.

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