Theme in Eveline: the Sacrifice of Choosing Loyalty

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Theme in Eveline: The Sacrifice of Choosing Loyalty

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They say that family is the most important people in your life, though no one ever mentions that choosing family over your own needs comes with a price. In James Joyce’s short story “Eveline”, a nineteen-year-old woman named Eveline is not living the life she wants. Although she wants to leave with her lover she remembers the promise she has made to her late mother, causing her to have to choose between her own selfish wants, or her promise to keep her family together (2). Being loyal to her mother’s promise comes with a price that makes her sacrifice her happiness and freedom for her family’s needs. The declining health of her father, memory of her mother, and the struggle with her emotions keeps Eveline from leaving with Frank.

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Eveline’s loyalty to her family is shown in the way that she takes care of her father even though he is violent towards her. She doesn’t feel protection from him the way she does with Frank (1). Not only does he take all of her wages, he is abusive. When Eveline was younger, “her father used often to hunt them in out of the field with his blackthorn stick” (1). He also “had begun to threaten her and say what he would do to her only for her dead mother's sake” (1). Although she does not see eye to eye with her father, one hesitation she has with her decision to leave with Frank is that she is worried about her aging father. Her father’s dangerous ways have caused her to have problems such as heart palpitations, and have made her feel scared, but she cannot choose her own happiness over her father’s well-being (1-2). Eveline’s love for her father no matter the circumstance conveys the theme in a selfless way that the audience can relate to.

The theme can also be seen throughout the story while Eveline is struggling with her emotions. Everyone has either grown up, moved away, or passed away, in turn leaving her behind. From her childhood friends, to her brothers, and her mother, Eveline feels like she is on her own. Frank is her escape from reality. He provides Eveline with the companionship that those from her past have taken from her when they left her behind. This makes it harder for Eveline to choose to stay at home. However, her memory of playing in the field with the neighborhood children remind her of a time when she was happy (1). We all want what we can’t have, and sometimes just the thought of getting what you finally want can make you realize you don’t have it as bad as you think. As Eveline reflects on her life with her family, she realizes her life isn’t as undesirable as she thinks it is because she has food to eat and a place to live, and people who care about her (1). She fears what will happen if she leaves her family alone, and even wonders what others will think of her if she runs away to get married (1).

Eveline’s memory of her mother displays the biggest influence on her decision to be loyal to her family. As she remembers her mother, she recalls that her mother also lived a life of “commonplace sacrifices” (3). This gives Eveline an even bigger push to leave, because she does not want to follow in her mother’s footsteps. As Eveline is about to board the ship towards Buenos Ayres, she hears her mother’s voice saying, “Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun!” (3). This causes Eveline to rethink her decision to leave because, “at the end of pleasure, there is pain”. She fears that leaving with Frank isn’t going to solve her unhappiness. She must carry out her promise to her mother to, “... keep the home together as long as she could” (2).

As you can see, even though Frank offered Eveline the life she dreamed of having, it was not enough because she would have had to leave her family behind. Even though the demands of her family often make her feel trapped, she keeps her promise to her mother. though it would have been easier to leave with Frank and get the outcome in life that she wanted. Through the thought of leaving, Eveline learns more about who she is and what her duty to her family is. Eveline possesses the qualities of sacrifice and loyalty because she was able to turn down everything she ever wanted for a life she was not happy with in order to stay true to her mother’s wishes.

Works cited

  1. Joyce, J. (1993). Dubliners. Oxford University Press.
  2. Baldick, C. (2008). The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford University Press.
  3. Gifford, D., & Seidman, R. J. (2009). Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce's Ulysses. University of California Press.
  4. Harte, L. M. (2004). James Joyce's Dubliners: Critical Essays. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  5. Beja, M. C. (2006). James Joyce: A Literary Life. Palgrave Macmillan.
  6. Black, M. (2009). James Joyce: A Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.
  7. Kershner, R. B. (1999). James Joyce: A Short Biography. Pearson.
  8. Mahon, V. (2012). James Joyce: A Critical Guide. Edinburgh University Press.
  9. Norris, M. (2010). Joyce's Web: The Social Unraveling of Modernism. University of Texas Press.
  10. Williams, T. F. (1998). James Joyce and the Politics of Desire. Routledge.

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