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Dubliners | Study Guide

James Joyce

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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of "Eveline" from James Joyce's short story collection Dubliners.

Dubliners | Eveline | Summary



Eveline is a young woman, just over 19 years old, who works as a clerk in a department store in Dublin. Her supervisor tends to nag and scold her in front of customers. At home, Eveline lives alone with a father who used to beat Eveline's mother before she died. Eveline also has two brothers who took a number of beatings, but one of them has died and the other has a job decorating churches that takes him all over the country. Eveline has no one left to protect her and lives in fear of her father's violence. Her father also controls the purse strings, taking Eveline's salary and whatever money his son sends home. Often on Saturday nights he will send Eveline out to buy food for Sunday dinner at the last minute, causing her to rush and scramble to get to the markets before they close. In addition, she has two young children "left to her charge," so she is responsible for feeding them and sending them to school.

Eveline has a boyfriend named Frank, whom she meets in secret because her father disapproves. Frank has asked Eveline to marry him and move to Buenos Ayres [sic]. Eveline accepted the proposal and has made preparations to leave her difficult life behind. Her bags are packed, and she has written letters to her brother and her father. Yet Eveline hesitates by the window of the only home she has ever known. She looks out at the houses on her street, new houses built by a man from Belfast that have covered the field where she used to play with the neighbor children as a girl. She wonders what people will say about her after she has left. She feels the comfort of the familiar rooms and the people she has known all her life. Then she hears a street organ, which reminds her of her mother's final illness, her last words "Derevaun Seraun," and her father's ire. She decides to meet Frank at the station.

The station mills with people, but Frank is there and takes her hand. Their passage is booked, and she thinks about being on a ship bound for Buenos Ayres when she wakes in the morning. She prays for direction, but feels panic and nausea. Frank tries to pull her along, but Eveline grips the rail of the barrier, terrified to follow as Frank moves along. He calls to her repeatedly, but she only looks at him blankly.


Eveline's predicament reveals how few options are available to a working-class woman in Dublin. Eveline's family is not abjectly poor, but she and her father are not wealthy, either. She works as a clerk in a store, a job she finds unsatisfying and frustrating, especially when her supervisor chides her in front of customers. She seems to have few other choices, though, and cannot afford to quit her job. Likewise, she cannot afford to move away from her father despite his abusive behavior, nor would it be socially acceptable to do so. Her only option is to marry, but her father attempts to control who she sees socially, forbidding her relationship with Frank and thus forcing her to meet him in secret. Even if she marries Frank, though, her life will be similar to what it is now: taking care of a man and looking after children.

Twice Eveline leans in to smell the "odour of dusty cretonne," emitting from the curtains lining the windows. Although her memories are not pleasant—she can summon only two positive memories of her father during an entire lifetime with him, compared with half a dozen of Frank—she obviously loves her home and is having a hard time leaving. She is haunted by her mother's final words, the nonsensical Gaelic phrase "Derevaun Seraun!" The phrase is open to interpretation, meaning either "the end of pleasure is pain" or "the end of the song is raving madness."

The story's end, like the phrase, is ambiguous. It is possible that Eveline hesitates to go with Frank because none of her options are appealing or good. She has known Frank only a short time, and his life does not seem to be especially stable. If things go badly between them, she will be too far away to have any help and she may not be able to afford to return home. It is also possible that, like the other characters in Dubliners, she is paralyzed by choice. The latter choice is more intriguing, because it makes the story the first, and possibly the only, tragedy in the collection.
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