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James Joyce's "Eveline" is one of fifteen short stories in her novel, Dubliners. It was written during the British oppression of Ireland and therefore was not published until nine years after its completion. "Eveline" tells the story of a young adult named Eveline, who is having difficulty choosing between: leaving her family for a new life and staying, to protect her younger siblings and keep the household together. This story depicts the inner turmoil felt by anyone making a similar decision. The story demonstrates the quandary, or perplexity, of deciding whether to immigrate to another country, leave everything you know and love behind, to start a new life. Joyce's own life must be understood for a proper discussion of the above quandary.
James Joyce was born in Dublin, on February 2, 1882. He was the oldest of ten children and left his family, in 1902, to study medicine in Paris. Joyce spent all his time writing instead. Joyce was one of the many families, part of the Catholic population, which suffered economic and social depression. His family lost all their money because of his father's spendthrift behavior. The Irish were also oppressed by the British during this time. Joyce suffered all of these, along with the loss of his mother in 1903. He returned during his mother's final months, and during this time met his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle. They were wed in 1931 and moved to Paris, France, where they started a family. During World War I, Joyce moved to Zurich, Switzerland for safety and moved back to Trieste, France after the war. James Joyce died in Zurich, on January 13, 1941.
During Joyce's life, the Irish immigration to the U.S. boomed, caused by a multitude of reasons. Two very important reasons were: the potato famine and British oppression. The potato famine killed over one million Irish and was a powerful impetus of the immigration movement. The most important factor, though, was the act of British oppression. The British had control of Ireland. The British forced the Irish to pay taxes, and influenced the Irish with their British Protestantism.
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In the story "Eveline," Eveline undergoes many of the same pressures and obligations that Joyce did in his childhood. This is because James Joyce projected his thoughts and opinions, about the time in which he lived, onto this novel. Eveline is a representation of James. Like James, Eveline has a broken home: wastrel, abusive father, dead mother, poverty, and younger siblings that need a role model. She is forced with the same quandary that every other Irish citizen is faced with. Should I abandon my family, this oppressed country, and a future life of hard work, for a new life filled with opportunities and possibilities? This quandary bewildered many Irish of the time because they had to weigh the critical facts of the matter. What is keeping me here? What is calling me to this new place?
Eveline seems to answer these two important questions in her mind prior to her departure for Buenos Aires, Argentina. Eveline comes to the conclusion that leaving for a new country is a bad idea and never leaves with Frank to Argentina.
First, Eveline reviews all the reasons she has to stay. Joyce notes that "she had shelter and food; she had those whom she had known all her life about her." (Joyce 26) This direct quote explains that she acknowledges her fortune of having a house above her head and a constant supply of food. She also realizes that by leaving, she abandons all those around her that she has known all her life. She later recognizes that she will lose her job (only a small cost for leaving), which Joyce says "she would not cry many tears at leaving the Stores [her workplace]." (Joyce 26) Eveline doesn't really care for her job because her boss, Miss Gavan, and Eveline never really got along. Eveline promised her mother that she would stay at home as long as she could. This promise was made by her mother's death bed and therefore has some emotional significance to Eveline. Eveline is obviously needed to keep the household together because her father is abusive and spends all his money drinking. She has two younger siblings to watch after; she must make sure that both eat properly and go to school. All of these reasons were persuading Eveline to stay home.
Second, Eveline reviews all the reasons she has to leave this house. There is of course, the British oppression that is a burden to everyone. Her father was abusive and would never give her money despite the fact that she gave her full wages to the family. Eveline remembers that "he said she used to squander the [family's] money, that she had no heard, that he wasn't going to give her his hard-earned money to throw about the streets, and much more, for he was usually fairly bad on Saturday night." (Joyce 27) This quote reveals the father's true character. He is a cruel man that does not recognize his own daughter's helpfulness and kindness. She uses this money to buy food at the market before they close, and yet he is still stingy with the money. Eveline looks forward to this new life with Frank. She would be respected as a married woman. Frank is a very important person in Eveline's life. She genuinely liked him. These are very powerful factors in leaving the house.
When Eveline considers all the different pro's and con's of leaving her home, she finally decides, at the last minute, to stay. Ironically, in returning to her family, she abandons a person very dear to her, Frank. When Frank looked at her as he sailed off he saw "her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition." (Joyce 29)
Eveline was faced with this quandary that so many people before her were faced with, and the same quandary that Joyce was faced with. Joyce chose the latter option; to leave his family and go to Paris and write while he left his family behind. He returned only to visit his terminally ill mother and left once again when she died and he married Nora Barnacle. Eveline selects the other option, finally choosing to stay and support her family and maybe heal her broken home. I believe that Joyce is writing about the action that he wishes he chose. I believe that Joyce wishes he chose to support his siblings; he was the oldest, their role model. Their mother was dead and their father was a spendthrift, they really need Joyce. Joyce decided to leave anyway, and I think he regrets that decision. He writes "Eveline" to apologize for the decision he made, and show the decision that he should have made.
After reading this story and researching immigration reasons online, I have learned that many Irish immigrated to other countries for the sole reason to escape the potato famine and British oppression. With no end to British rule in sight the Irish also suffered the economic and social decline that I talked about at the beginning of this paper. It seems that the Catholic Irish population suffered a decline because of influence and oppression from the British Protestants, that the two were intricately tied. Joyce uses the story "Eveline" to depict what so many Irish were going through at the time. They were all faced with the decision to either leave the country and hope for a better life or stay and support the family.
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Joyce, James. "James Joyce 1882-1941." The Norton Anthology: English Literature. Ed. . : , 2005. 2487-2491.