“Eveline” begins with a young woman named Eveline who is gazing out the window. In the beginning of the story, she thinks she is going to leave home. She plans for her departure and feels the necessity to go to a new life with her lover, Frank. In the final scene of the story, when the boat is ready to leave, she changes her mind and refuses to go with Frank. The whole story reflects on a memory of Eveline’s childhood and her current living problems. She resists within her mind on the leaving decision, and finally denies leaving. What causes Eveline to change her mind without being convinced by anyone? Logically thinking, there are four reasons, which cause Eveline to change her decision. First of all, she made a promise to her mother that she will keep the home together as long as she could. If she leaves with Frank, she would break her promise. In addition, Eveline’s whole family is totally dependent upon her. How are they going to live without her? Moreover, Frank is going to take her into a distant unknown country where she will not recognize anyone besides him. What will happen to her if Frank is an unreliable person? Finally, leaving with Frank is a life changing decision. If she consents to go away, whatever troubles she may have in the future, she could never come back home.
First, Eveline always reminds herself of keeping the promise to her deceased mother: she will "keep the home together as long as she could” (Joyce 518). After her mother’s death, she has been living in the image of her mother. She does all the housework, shopping, and works faithfully at her job. She has been doing a great job of keeping the family together. She is keeping her promise to take care of her whole family. Although sometimes she feels herself in danger of her father’s violence, she still works hard both at home and at work. Frank offers her the chance to escape her unhappy life, to sail with him to Buenos Aires and become his wife. Eveline does not deny possibility of love, but there is one problem: Eveline does not love Frank. She states that she could grow to love him, but at this point she does not love him. Frank has pulled her out of her element, out of the status she is used to. Eveline sits in an unaccustomed part of the theatre when she goes with him and Frank sings songs that “pleasantly confused her” (Joyce 518). This is not to say that Eveline is using him only as a way to escape but that this opportunity to change her life is merely a side benefit for being friendly with him. However, when she hears the music from a street organ, she recalls not only her promise but also her mother’s “life of commonplace sacrifices” (Joyce 518). For Eveline, The influence of the past is stronger then the future. She has never been loved or valued herself. She does not truly believe in the right to happiness and self-fulfillment. In addition, if she leaves with Frank, she will break her promise and escape her duty. It mortifies her and becomes one of the reasons that lead her to change her mind about leaving.
Second, Eveline is responsible for taking care of her family. Looking at the objects around her that she might never see again, Eveline is thinking about whether or not she should leave home. She notices that her father is old and “perhaps less likely to have the strength to abuse her” (Ingersoll 504). She reflects that her aging father is sometimes nice, like the time he took their family to the picnic, and when he read her a ghost story and made toasts for her, will miss her. Moreover, one of her brothers is dead, and the other is mostly absent. There are two other young children in the household who have been left in her care. They need her in order to go to school and to get their meals. She works hard for the survival of the whole family. Imagine what will happen if she leaves? The two young children will drop out of school. Nobody will take care of her father. She cannot be so selfish as to leave them alone. Eveline is not looking at her possible escape with Frank as something that she feels good about. She is principally concerned with her duty and her role within her family.
Third, Frank is a mysterious character and some of his intentions seem devious. He tells Eveline that he intends to sail with her to a new life and marry her. In the beginning, Eveline is planning to sneak away with Frank because she trusts what he says. She believes too that a way to life and rightful happiness is a possibility with Frank; he also “would save her” (Joyce 518). However, Frank’s career on a trade route causes Eveline to hesitate. He went to many places in the world. Who knows if he is already married or has other lovers? Most importantly, Frank takes Eveline with him imaginatively by telling her stories of his voyages, and relates “stories of the terrible Patagonians.” These details, which he offers as a “legitimation of his authenticity as a wooer” (Ingersoll 503) have caused Eveline to think that he might be “something more than the sailor of countless jokes” (Ingersoll 503). Also, Eveline’s father dislikes sailors. He has quarreled with Frank, and forbids her from seeing Frank. He says: “I know these sailor chaps” (Joyce 517). Frank might have no intention of marrying her; instead, he might be setting up a trap for her. She is left with anxiety and confusion of how life would be like with him. If she goes with Frank to a distant anonymous country and later finds out that he is unreliable, she would not be able to live alone in that new world. On the other hand, she is comfortable with the familiar objects from which she has never dreamed of being devised. She rationalizes that: “In her home anyway she had shelter and food; she had those whom she had know all her life about her” (Joyce 516). Furthermore, Frank offers her an escape and marriage in a foreign country, “with a strange language, a place where she will be even more vulnerable and have less possibility of independence than she has in Dublin” (French 453). Even though she longs for a life of her own and wants to gain social standing and self-esteem, she is afraid of the unknown and is consumed by her doubts. She has a feeling that he would drown her into the sea of the world, so she refuses to leave with him.
Four, leaving with Frank is a life changing decision. She wants to escape from her abusive father and her difficult life. For Eveline, “Franks represents the freedom” (Dilworth 458) that she desires. He can be only a meaning of escape. She wants to “avoid her mother’s fate” (Dilworth 458). Perhaps Frank would take her away and give her a new life. But in the end she realizes that if she has trouble with Frank or regrets in the future, she would be unable to come back home. When “A bell clanged upon her heart” (Joyce 518), she “once again feels threatened by a kind of death and again yields to an impulse to escape” (Dilworth 458), she realizes that it is impossible to leave. She makes her final decision to stay in her homeland. “She is rendered a ‘helpless animal,’ not destined for flight, keeping a good distance from the place where the calm lakes and river meet the ‘seas of the world’” (Florio 184). She fears of being drowned in the sea of her new life and would be unable to come back home. In the last scene, “Eveline acts out a great melodramatic scene, heroically giving up a pleasant if uncertain future” (deVoogd, 48). She cries out and grips the railing tighter while Frank calls her, but she turns her helpless face to him without a glimpse of “love or farewell or recognition” (Joyce 518), staying on the shore as the boat pulls away into the distant horizon.
Overall, it seems that Eveline refuses to leave with Frank because of her promise to her mother and her concerns with the lives of her family. However, she is also worried about her own future. The prospect of leaving with Frank no longer sounds appealing to her. He might “drown” her and be unable to give her happiness. All these reasons have caused her to change her mind about leaving with Frank.
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