Growing Pains in Eveline
Cari Gilkison, Critical Writing
Just as the evening invaded the avenue in the first line of James Joyce’s short story Eveline, so adulthood invades Eveline’s life. Eveline is full of fears that she has not yet realized. It is not until the crucial moment of her departure with Frank the Eveline recognizes her misery as growing pains. Somewhere inside she knows that it is up to her to change her own life.
It is obvious that neither staying at home nor going with Frank will secure her happiness because happiness comes from within. But Eveline does not see this at first. The experience that Eveline goes through in the story leads her to this conclusion. The unhappiness she felt at home drove her to look for happiness elsewhere, but it was not to be found in another place or person.
The dust covering everything in her house symbolizes how still and stagnant her life had become. She might as well have been a piece of furniture collecting dust. The faded painted picture of Margaret Mary Alacoque mentioned gives the sense that her home is filled with an innocence lost. The yellowing picture of the priest that Eveline notices exemplifies her restrictive Catholic upbringing. The broken harmonium comes to represent her broken home. It isn’t until she meets Frank that she hears piano music—that there is music in her life again.
In many ways Eveline’s harsh upbringing and dutiful life lived only for others has aged her beyond her years. For quite some time she has accepted her father’s abuse without question. It was her duty to love him no matter how he treated her, but with Frank’s arrival that all changes. She suddenly realizes she has a duty to herself and her happiness as well.
Eveline’s sense of duty to her father has kept her from growing into the woman that she could be and should be. She is afraid that no matter how unhappy she has been, that she won’t be able to live with the guilt of breaking her promise. Eveline has never considered her own needs before Frank comes into her life. She now sees she has a chance to change her life, unlike her mother, who kept sacrificing her happiness until the day she died. Duty is all she’s ever known, but she sees that she could know happiness as well. Eveline want to be free, but she still can’t quite bring herself to break away from the only world that she had ever known.
In a dull world of work and more work, Frank is a breath of fresh air. Unlike Eveline, he had seen the world and had an exciting life. He was free and Eveline felt anything but free. It wasn’t until he came along that she felt like there was a possibility of being able to live her dreams. In the story we see that she does not think of him as the great love of her life though. He is described as “very kind,” “manly” and “open hearted.” The last line perhaps sums up her lack of best. “He eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.”
Eveline asks God to direct her and show her true duty as she makes her way to the ship where Frank is waiting for her. Even in that moment she doesn’t think to ask to be shown what would make her the happiness. Going with Frank, she realizes, would just be another duty she’d perform. And duty is just a way to gain respect. Eveline desires respect above all else. Joyce writes, “People would treat her with respect then. She would not be treated as her mother had been.” (4) Eveline is not aware of the fact that the only respect that matters is self-respect. Being abused has torn down her sense of self and any respect she might have had for who she was. However, Frank begins to change her perspective.
Eveline’s age is an important factor in the story. At age nineteen she is no longer a girl, but not quite an adult. No longer is she protected from the world. Instead, she is expected to make a life for herself somehow. Despite her readiness to grow and mature, she still has a lot to learn. She must experience growing pains before she can become the woman she has the potential to be.
Joyce is able to show us the pain in this tender and well-written coming of age story. The last words of Eveline’s mother emphasis this idea. “Derevaun Seran.” (6) The end of pleasure is pain. As long as there is growth, there will always be pain.