After repression comes rejection. In discovering what James Joyce is saying about life in the story Eveline, it is extremely important to take into consideration that Joyce rejected his Irish Catholic heritage and left Ireland at the age of twenty. The opposite of what Eveline ended up doing at the end of the short story. Which gives evidence that Joyce used Eveline as the example of what not to do. In Joyce’s mind he is showcasing the Irish Catholic traditional establishment as a repressive and controlling ascendancy. James Joyce’s message is that one should question the old ways and seek for their own purpose and happiness. And he presents it through one who was imprisoned by this force, Eveline.
I’ll begin with the setting. Throughout the entire story Joyce paints Eveline’s world in a negative light, he sets up the dark mood through his use of negative connotating words. The biggest example would be the word dust, which is used quite frequently, and I believe it to be Joyce’s biggest use of symbolism within the story. As we known dust is commonly associated with lifelessness and decay. It is usually found when places have been forgotten and abandoned. Joyce purposefully uses this word often to reinforce into our minds that Eveline’s life is suffocating, dreary, even devoid of joy. Eveline is only nineteen, and yet she feels cut off from the world, abandoned and forgotten. Her mother and a brother have died, and the rest of her friends have gone and left her behind including another brother. She meanwhile has been left to be the caretaker of her father and two younger children. Sentence three accurately sums up her life, “She was tired”.
The first time the word dust is used it describes the state of the curtains, “in her nostrils was the odor of dusty cretonne”. This may show that she is so busy with other tasks that she hasn’t time to take care of the drapes. Her life is chalk full of demands, and she receives little to no help on. Regardless however, it constructs a place that one would not want to be. The whole purpose of the word is to present the area as distasteful, and having an absence of liveliness.
The second mention of dust appears during the description of her home, “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”. It’s apparent that it has been Eveline’s duty to keep things nice and clean, yet there is never an end to the dust, it keeps reappearing. Very similar how there is never an end to her oppressive life. The last mention of dust comes closer to the end of the story, even as the time is approaching for her to meet Frank is drawing near she, “she continued to sit by the window, leaning her head against the window curtain, inhaling the odor of dusty cretonne”. For the entirety of the story up to at least that point, she had not removed herself away from those dusty curtains. I think this is very subtle foreshadowing that she won’t end up leaving with Frank. She is surrounded by the dust, just as she is surrounded by her duties and responsibilities And I think it’s also important to note that she inhaled the dust this time, almost as if she is accepting or resigning herself to her fate. And that’s where James Joyce’s real message appears. He did not accept such a fate. And from his rejection of his heritage it is clear he does not agree with the notion that one must perform one’s responsibilities, which are to church and family, or that church and family determine one’s duties and obligations. No, I think it’s apparent that Joyce believes that one’s fate is not determined and led by the established authority. He thinks that the individual should lead their own life, and should not rely on the traditions of an establishment with some misplaced morality or trust. He thinks Eveline should have left like he did.
I do understand that my idea is different from many others’ interpretations. Some argue that Joyce’s message about life is perhaps that nothing worth keeping in life comes easy. That this is a message about doing the right thing and taking the more difficult path. That Eveline mad the right decision in staying and doing her duty to her family. I’ve heard also along the lines that the message is, fear can keep you from taking the next step. That this is a story about the consequences of not facing your fears. I think those that believe Joyce’s message about life is making the hard decisions and that Eveline made the right decision, have either ignored his background or disregarded it. I see it as fairly obvious that Joyce thinks she should have left, because that is exactly what he did. The story of Eveline is not intended as a motivational piece of writing. Most people probably would disagree with Joyce’s stance of abandoning those responsibilities. But he is no angel, his background suggests that he left everything behind, including his family, to get away from those established traditions in Ireland. From Joyce’s portrayal of Eveline’s father as abusive and to her coworker as squashing, we see the evidence of her repression. She has nothing going for her, her life is full of monotony. She made a different choice than Joyce, she chose not to escape. That word is important, the meaning of escape is to break free. Eveline did not break free, she let herself be entombed by the standards of that time and area.
James Joyce sought freedom, and he had a distaste for the those that diminished his freedom. In his eyes he escaped, escaped from the demanding standards of Irish Catholicism. James Joyce’s message is to escape such boundaries, to seek one’s own happiness, and determine their own fate. He displayed Eveline as someone who was not able or chose not to escape. He presented a life so gloomy and depressing so that one would not choose a similar life.
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