The setting of the short story “Eveline” by James Joyce goes far beyond the physical characteristics. The setting goes past being located in Dublin, Ireland in an old room. The setting greatly influences Eveline in many different ways. The setting entraps Eveline in this short story.
The setting of the entire story is very plain. Nothing in Eveline’s life ever seems to change. Most of the story takes place with Eveline sitting by the window in a very dull room. The room is filled with “the odor of dusty cretonne” from the curtains, and has a “yellowing photograph hung on the wall above the broken harmonium” (513). One would certainly not group these characteristics as exciting.
Similar to the room, Eveline’s life is very plain. Eveline is a product of her environment. She is trapped in this setting and does not know any other way except the way things are now for her. Her internal struggle will not allow Eveline to leave the setting that she is currently in. Eveline was brought up in a social environment of strict adherence to tradition and obedience. Eveline is forced to remain in this setting because of the promise that she made to her mother. Eveline had a chance to escape all this, but she doesn’t take it because she is very conservative, and doesn’t know any other way. Eveline’s promise to her mother seems to cripple her in this setting. She can’t move; she can’t get out of it!
Eveline feels that she must adhere to tradition and be obedient by living her mother’s life. Eveline even says, “It was hard work-a hard life-but now that she was about to leave she did not find it a wholly undesirable life.”(513) Eveline does want to get away from this setting, but she simply does not know any other way. Eveline tries to trick herself in to thinking that life isn’t that bad. However, in reality she simply seems to greatly fear change because she doesn’t know change.
Dublin has become a part of Eveline. The setting is the only thing that gives Eveline a sense of security. She is too afraid to leave this setting; she is trapped. In Ireland, “she had those whom she had known all her life about her (512).
Fear in James Joyce’s Eveline from Dubliners
Eveline: Paralyzed by Fear
In his book of short fiction, Dubliners, Joyce brings all his Dublin citizens/characters to paralysis in some form. Eveline’s fearful lack of will is her paralysis. Examples of her lack of will in come in four forms. Her lack of will finds comfort in dust. This lack of will won’t let the beatings of her father stop. Her mother’s voice rising from the dead also deadens her lack of will. And finally, her false dreams of change damage her will for freedom.
Eveline enjoys sitting at the window and sniffing dust. She finds solace in the activity. “She sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue. Her head was leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the odour of dusty cretonne. She was tired” (Joyce 329). The short story begins with this scene. It is a dreary, dust-filled scene. How many people normally sit at the window and sniff dusty curtains? The dust is a comfort for her as is the window she sits at.
“Her time was running out but she continued to sit by the window, leaning her head against the curtain, inhaling the odour of dusty cretonne…She knew the air” (330). These words come halfway in the story. They are almost a replica of the opening scene. Eveline is late for her departure with Frank, but still she sits at her window and sniffs dust! The window is a symbol for the unknown. She is safe as long as she sits on the other side. The minute Eveline walks on the other side, she faces the unknown. The unknown scares her. She finds comfort in what is comfortable and known. The life Eveline knows would not be comfortable for you or for me. This is Eveline’s freakish ritual; fear keeps her at the window. However, the dust, the yellowing photograph of the un…
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…o believe she will go with Frank to Buenos Aires. “She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror. Escape! She must escape! Frank would save her. He would give her life, perhaps love, too. But she wanted to live. Why should she be unhappy? She had a right to happiness. Frank would take her in his arms, fold her in his arms. He would save her” (331). Eveline’s paralysis will not let her own self make her happy. She depends on sniff dust for comfort. Her father’s beating determine what kind of day she will have. Frank will take her all away from this. She drowns herself. “She set her white face to him, passive like a helpless animal” (331). Passive Eveline is helpless to herself. Her lack of will and her paralytic being keep her in “dear dirty Dublin”.
Joyce, James. “Eveline.” Exploring Literature. 2nd ed. Ed. Frank Madden. New York: Longman, 2004.