Nick Tomlinson English 122 Ms. Purvis An Analysis of a Promise The short story written by James Joyce “Eveline” is about a young lady who lives her life in a promise. The promise is to her mother, who had passed away, that no matter how bad the family became, she would always keep it together. At a significant point in Eveline’s life, she was given the opportunity to leave the family and start a family of her own. Although Eveline is miserable with her life, she runs from Frank with no love in her eyes and remembers the promise that she had made.
Is it that she did the right thing in keeping her promise, or was it that she wasn’t willing to leave the life she’s ever known. Though both ideas are relevant, it is strongly apparent that Eveline wasn’t willing to leave. She decided against the only person that truly loved her and cared about her needs.
From the moment Eveline is introduced you get an impression of a scared uncertain young lady. As you learn of Eveline being only nineteen you begin to see that she has dealt with many detriments, hardships and oppressed circumstances at such a young age.
Eveline is a troubled girl as Joyce takes you into her conscious thoughts, through periods of times in her life, her past as a child, her present, and her near future that may consist of life changing choices. As a child Eveline lived in a world much different than the one she lives in now, a much happier time in her life where innocence was all she knew. Clive Hart states in his overview, “As a child she had lived in circumstances that, in contrast with her adult life, seemed a muted version of paradise. She played in fields which have now disappeared: ‘…they seemed to have been rather happy then ….
That was a long time ago. ’ Now, in a dusty fallen world, she hopes for salvations and thinks at first the Messiah may indeed have arrived: Frank, her sailor suitor. ” Her childhood such a distant memory Eveline hangs onto so dearly, as with the promise she made to her mother as she lie on her death bed. She gives you insight to remembering old neighbors like “the Waters” who have since escaped east to England because they were not opposed to leaving their home. She looks forward to moving away like others in her town.
She admits she will not be missed at her job and at nineteen, without the former protection of her older brothers, she is beginning to feel “herself in danger of her father’s violence. ” This danger she sees is taken away when she meets her suitor, the sailor, Frank who promises her a better life away from these hardships she has faced. Eveline’s idea of escaping the potential abuse from her father and starting a new life is the driving force of running away with Frank. Eveline cannot end up like her mother, who was rejected by the town people, she feels her only option is to escape with Frank.
In the story, Eveline’s sudden impulse drives her to admit that Frank would save her if she goes with him east across seas. Her life would be so much better and complete, but what would her father think? Her father would reject her for trying to find her own happiness the same way her father has rejected Frank and forbidden her from seeing him. Evelines situation becomes an inner battle between the ideas of leaving and staying, all of the thoughts she have sadly become a reality, so many ideas of better places, better times and an overall better life.
Eveline is tired: “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 odor of dusty cretonne. She was tired. ”(616) The fatigue Eveline faced was not only physically disabling it was a tear down on her spirit, as she approached the decision that will ultimately change her life. She was trying to rationally weigh each side of the question was it to leave her home and her family, was it to pursue a better life with a man that was willing to hold her tight a man willing to give her a new life.
When it truly came down to it she could find nothing to persuade her to stay, she could recall how her father “could be very nice”(618) yet the thoughts of him turning the abuse onto her, frightened her. The second weight of the idea is the promise that she made to her mother to keep the family together no matter what. Although, the idea of leaving her father was something she had trouble coming to terms with “Her father was becoming old lately, he would miss her”(618) at such an old age she couldn’t leave her father, now that one of her brothers had passed and the other moved away.
Ultimately Eveline wants to keep the deathbed pledge made to her mother but is alarmed at the prospect of sharing her mother’s fate. Her mother was ill-treated in life and Eveline vows that “she would not be treated as her mother had been. ” She has had a life filled with hardship and chafes under her promise that she would keep the home together. When she recalls the life her mother had lived and the hardship she had dealt with, she becomes uncertain of what to do and prays “to god to direct her, to show her what was her duty. It comes back to the idea that Eveline thinks she loves Frank but is apprehensive about her future with him. She likes Frank; she thinks he “was very kind, manly, open-hearted. ” She wants to believe in Frank; to believe that “he would give her life, perhaps love, too. ” However, she is riddled with self-doubt. She questions the validity of her decision to leave. Although “she consented to go away, to leave her home,” she wonders if ultimately it is the best decision for her to make. Although fear is not Eveline’s constant companion, it is a common one.
A companion that contributes greatly to her lack of self-confidence contributes to her own lack of will. Eveline’s indecision leads to a paralysis that dooms her to the fate she sought to avoid. This fate being best described by Clive Hart at the end of his analysis: “the boat has ‘illuminate portholes’; Eveline ‘kept moving her lips in silent fervent prayer’; and ‘her eyes gave no sign of love or farewell or recognition. ’ While Eveline herself is unable to escape, Joyce quietly extracts the reader from the pitiful but deadening effects of her imaginative world. Eveline’s decision to stay comes with great hurt not to her, but to Frank, she decides in the last moments she can’t leave. She knew at this point there was no turning back, this was the choice she was making and this was the life she knew and couldn’t turn away from. At the end, Eveline’s subconscious is not completely ready to leave her family, home, and promises. Joyce makes sure to write one last line to ensure readers are aware of Eveline’s decision, declaring she is “she set her face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition. (620) a decision that leaves her to a life unchanged. Hart notes that this last scene is one of the most significant. What is important is the closing image of Eveline as one immobilized, one whose hands are frozen to the railing, and one who is unable to give in. In this image, Eveline is being viewed as a desperate young girl whom must stay to take care of her home, which includes the only family she has left, the undesirable positions she’s chosen and the promise to her mother, that she must keep her family together, whether this decision leads her to happiness or not this is the path she must follow.
Works Cited: Joyce, James. Eveline. Zlotnik Schmidt, Jan, and Lynne Crockett. Portable Legacies: Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Nonfiction. Michael Rosenburg, 2009. 616-20. Print. Hart, Clive. “Eveline: Overview. ” Reference Guide to Short Fiction. Ed. Noelle Watson. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. Literature Resource Center. Web. 19 Oct. 2010. Website URL: http://go. galegroup. com Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420004447
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