Catharsis in Joyce’s “Eveline”

October 4, 2008

A whistle calls. Pulls.
Young and old the same.
Consented away, toward a distant unknown.
Tales of distant countries.
The air whispers terror.
This old country,
Still, pulling.

If there’s one thing to take away from “Eveline,” it’s the scene; the moment frozen in time which Joyce has set up to epitomize his short story anthology. With “Eveline” he ratchets it up a notch.

Change is uncomfortable. Relocating one’s body—truly affecting it—is the ultimate expression of change; change can result in a backfire, of sorts. Paralysis: the inability to move, no matter how strong the desire.

Eveline is set to leave the country with Frank. The tickets are bought, the boat has a schedule which will be kept. In the final moments, flashes of memory come, to tempt and remind her.

For Eveline, marriage is advancement, not just financially, or a move toward independence, but in womanhood.

Then she would be married—she, Eveline. People would treat her with respect then. She would not be treated as her mother had been.

Yet, she worries about how she is perceived: “What would they say of her in the Stores when they found out that she had run away with a fellow?” Say she was a fool, perhaps;” and yet, she is conscious of her duties to family, to those who depend upon her:

She knew the air. Strange that it should come that very night to remind her of the promise to her mother, her promise to keep the home together as long as she could.

In her last moments, her mother had given out a cry. “Derevaun Seraun! Drevaun Seraun!”

She is stuck between desire and commitment, or two conflicting commitments. She feels compelled to “escape,” but when Frank calls, she “answers nothing.” When it came down to finally taking the plunge, she hesitated; “she prayed to God to direct her, to show her what was her duty.” Frozen, Eveline is stricken by the nausea of indecision. Standing there on the dock, all perception is culminated toward that moment in time; the pressure is building up to now.

In these final words, Joyce sets the scene, one of conscious incapacitation:

No! No! No! It was impossible. Her hands clutched the iron in frenzy. Amid the seas she sent a cry of anguish!

He rushed beyond the barrier and called to her to follow. He was shouted at to go on but he still called to her. She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes game him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.

The words are their own commentary. For both Eveline and her mother, their respective cries are a catharsis—a release. Yet, Eveline grips the railing.

1. Joyce, James. “Eveline.” Dubliners. New York: Penguin Books, 1996. 36-41.