The Historical, Political and Social Context of James Joyce's "Eveline"

Categories: Short Story

James Joyce described his purpose in writing Dubliners in a letter. "My intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the centre [sic] of paralysis. " He proposes to examine "childhood, adolescence, maturity, and public life". "Eveline" is the first book in the maturity section (Ingersoll Stigma 501).

Rather than follow Joyce's lead this paper will examine "Eveline" in relation to the historical setting when it occurs, the political aspects of the story in relation to the English, the affects the Roman Catholic Church, and lastly a look at Eveline's life and the sociological aspects of Dubliners.

It should be noted that this short, seemingly simple story can be read on a variety of levels with every person and action on the personal level depicting a symbol in one of these four areas. Joyce intricately weaves the personal, historical, political,

Due to the potato famines in Ireland beginning in 1845 and the subsequent emigration of large numbers of Irish people to North America, Ireland was "in a state of depressed memory that hardened only slowly into active opposition" (Adams 402).

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James Joyce was born in 1882 a time that marked the middle of the Home Rule movement led by Charles Stewart Parnell. "Home Rule" was the term applied to the political movement that advocated the removal of English authority over Ireland and self rule.

Ireland had been under the hegemony of England from the time Henry II of England took control of Ireland in 1169: a total of more than four hundred years (Adams 57).

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Since that time England had treated Ireland as a colony and ruled it accordingly. English leadership gave Irish lands to English nobles who ruled over the Irish as if by natural right. With the Advent of the Church of England during the reign of Henry VIII the English supported Protestant control over the Catholic majority in Ireland increased (Adams 160-69).

Williams notes that " . . . t was a fact of the young Joyce's life that England's firm grip over Ireland was precisely that of a first world country over a third," (Williams 2). In 1891, when Joyce was about nine-years-old, Parnell died. Joyce would have been old enough to be aware of Parnell and take note of the efforts being made to develop an Irish republic and reform living conditions, but too young to fully understand and participate. According to Adams he felt a kinship with Parnell and his attempts to improve the life of tenant farmers and with Parnell's Irish nationalist beliefs in Home Rule (416. . 14). With the death of Parnell in 1891 the Home Rule movement lay dormant and "Ireland's mood relapsed into that muffled combination of despair, resentment, nostalgia and recrimination . . . " (Adams, 433). At nine-years-old the young James Joyce would have live in the middle of this despondent mood. This depressed mood would have dominated much of his life. In Dubliners, Joyce describes Dublin and its inhabitants' lives in the grips of this despair. The world of Joyce and his characters in the 1890s is one of "dominated consciousness" as Williams described it (xiv).

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Eveline suggests this when she remembers how she and her brothers used to play in an area and how much fun they had. Subsequently the land was bought by a man from Belfast (Belfast and Northern Ireland were, and are under English protection and are greatly influenced by England) who bought the land and "built houses in it—¬not like their little brown houses but bright brick houses with shining roofs;" even in their own neighborhoods they were dominated by the English and pro-English (Joyce Dubliners Quote 1).

The people of Dublin seem lost in time and without purpose. They exist, but they do not grow nor develop. They are represented by Eveline "for whom the voices of an insane past and a brutal present are more potent than any future beckoning across the sea" (Williams 64). Joyce described it a letter that he wrote Dubliners to " betray the soul of that hemiplegia or paralysis which many consider a city" (Joyce 1957 55). Since they have not been able to establish their own state the Irish people seem stuck in the morass of English rule.

Just as Eveline was unable to give up the life, however miserable, she knew to move to South America, the Irish who had chosen not to immigrate to North America were unable to leave their homeland and start a new life somewhere else. Since Joyce is writing from a distance, as an observer looking at, or perhaps down at the people of Dublin, it is evident that he views this condition of paralysis negatively. It is noteworthy that although Joyce himself moved from Ireland early in the twentieth century, none of the characters in Dubliners does so.

This includes most notably Eveline. One cannot help but wonder if Joyce suffered from this paralysis for a time before making his exit. Although one generally thinks of Ireland as being a deeply religious country this is not the case in "Eveline". In Joyce's portrayal religion pays a strange, small, and sterile role. Religion appears in Eveline's daily life, but only in the form of a picture of a saint and a photo of an unnamed priest who emigrated to Australia years ago. Instead of a spiritual significance their status is the same as the broken harmonium.

One cannot help but wonder if Joyce is suggesting that Catholicism and the priesthood are also broken or far away. When one considers Ireland's history of violence between Roman Catholics and Protestant it appears that Joyce diminished the immediacy of religion while keeping the form. Instead of praying that she might have a safe voyage and find a new happy life as one might expect, when Eveline waits at the quay she prays for "God to direct her, to show her what was her duty" (Joyce Dubliners Quote 2). Even in her desperation she is concerned about her duty instead of her own well-being.

Eveline's life has been one of loss and sacrifice. Both her favorite brother Ernest and her mother had died. When her mother died Eveline promised, "to keep the home together as long as she could" (Joyce Dubliners Quote 3). The field where she had played was covered with English houses. Her playmates are grown, some have moved and some have died. Her brother Harry had moved away to be a church decorator. Harry sends her money when he can, but she is left alone to care for the house, the few furnishings, her two unnamed siblings, and her father. She has few interactions with others.

What contact she has comes from work and unpleasant because her boss, Miss Gavan, "always has an edge her" (Joyce Dubliners Quote 4). As the story opens Eveline Hill is weighing the life she has with the promise of a new life in "Buenos Ayres" where she will be respected. She looks around the room at "many" familiar objects although she only mentions a few: a broken harmonium, a print of the promises given to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque, and a photograph of a priest who had attended school with Mr. Hill before moving to Australia. She has inherited her role from her mother. Eveline continues to work constantly.

She earns seven shillings per week in the stores that she gives to her father, takes care her two youngest siblings, cleans the house and does the cooking. Her father exacerbates the problem by drinking too much and spending money foolishly. For all of her work, Eveline does not get ahead. Although she dusts weekly, the "odour [sic] of dusty cretonne" that retain the smell and remain dusty despite her efforts (Joyce Dubliners Quote 5). It is difficult to imagine a more bleak life than what she leads in Dublin. However, there apparently is a comfort for her in the familiar. Over the years Eveline has grown accustomed to her life. She is gradually learning to play her mother's role as the victim of her father's physical abuse, and no one is left in the house to protect her" (Ingersoll Endangered 57). Eveline fears the possibility of her being physically abused by her father as he had her mother. According to Williams the problem of domestic violence existed and was not uncommon (76). In the main it was ignored in public. Williams also suggests Joyce may be using this domestic violence as a political link between the people of Ireland and the presence of "many soldiers" and the threat of violence from England is ignored (76).

She notes that her father is getting old and that he "could be very nice" presumably as an argument against leaving because he beats or might beat her (Joyce Dubliners Quote 6). The possibility of change invites her imagination, but it also opens the door to the fear of the unknown that prevents her from accompanying Frank to South America. It is evident that Eveline is afflicted by the same paralysis that Joyce described. Ingersoll claims she is trapped in the role of an Irish woman "chained to the rock of her father's house and patriarchy" (Ingersoll Engendered 56). This appears too strong of a statement.

While Eveline clearly occupies the role of an Irish woman it is not clear that she is or feels trapped. In the time period Joyce writes about it should be remembered that it was the mother or her surrogate who held the family together. Although there are many things in Dubliners that Joyce obviously disapproves of: alcoholism, domestic violence, the paralysis of the people and the political system, and the role of the Church; it is not as apparent he views the role of the housewife and mother so negatively. Even though they are downtrodden it is women such as Eveline and her mother who hold the Irish family together.

It is difficult to imagine that Joyce views this as an entirely negative thing. The narrative Joyce uses is interesting. It is told in the third person, but by a very detached third person; it is almost as if the narration is largely detached from the story, not only is the voice distanced by the use of third person, but it is distanced in time. For the most part the voice speaks of the past: of people who were dead or gone, and of things that had happened long ago. It is as if the narrator too is passive like a helpless animal. Eveline has no encounters in the present until the final scene.

As she stands with Frank, her fiance, she begins to panic. It does not appear to be the crowd that panics her as she stands calmly. She is panicked by the unknown, by a future not firmly linked to the past and duties she knows so well. Until the final scene Eveline lives in a world without a present and no opportunity for a future: just a history and an inertia that keeps the society alive but inactive. Eveline chooses the certainty of the familiar, for all its faults over the unknown. This type of narration adds to the static quality of the story and the trancelike lives the Dublin people live.

As this lifestyle continues, the people cease to be people; they are not even names as evidenced by the failure to name Eveline's two youngest siblings. They are a duty; they are a part of the dominated consciousness that must be dealt with. They are also a result of that domination. Joyce has packed a lot in a such a short story. This comes as no surprise. All of Joyce's work operates on many levels and has occupied scholars for nearly a hundred years. One suspects Joyce would be both amused and pleased by this fact. Works Cited Adams, Robert M. The Land and Literature of England: A Historical Account.

New York: Norton, 1983. Corcoran, Marlena G. & Wawrzycka, Jolanta W. (Eds. ) Gender in Joyce. Gainseville, FL. University Press of Florida, 1997. Gordon, John. "'Dubliners' and the Art of Losing. " Studies in Short Fiction 32, 3 (1995) 343-58). Ingersoll, Earl G. "The Stigma of Femininity in James Joyce's 'Eveline' and 'The Boarding House. ' Studies in Short Fiction 30, 4 (1993) 501-515. Ingersoll, Earl G. Engendered Trope in Joyce's Dubliners. Southern Illinois University Press: Carbondale, IL, 1996. Joyce, James. "Eveline. " The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature, 7th Edition. Ed. Michael Meyer.

New York: St. Martin's, Bedford, 2005. Page numbers. Joyce, James. Letters of James Joyce. Stuart Gilbert (ed). New York: Viking Press, 1957. Williams, Trevor L. Reading Joyce Politically. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1997. Note to Client: I was unable to find the specific edition you requested, therefore I included an entire copy of "Eveline" and highlighted the sections I quoted so you can replace them with the page numbers from your text. Make sure you put the page numbers where the story appears in your text above by replacing the red text with the correct page numbers.

To make it easier for you to find the correct page numbers to insert in your paper, I marked the locations in the text with (Joyce Dubliners Quote #). Followed by a number. In the accompanying copy of "Eveline" I marked the location of were I was quoting from. All you need to do is replace the Quote # with the proper page number and get rid of the highlights. Don't worry about the quotes themselves, just make sure you have the correct page numbers from your text. Naturally you should delete the rest of the paper from this page onward.

EVELINE. 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. Few people passed. The man out of the last house passed on his way home; she heard his footsteps clacking along the concrete pavement and afterwards crunching on the cinder path before the new red houses. One time there used to be a field there in which they used to play every evening with other people’s children.

Then a man from Belfast bought the field and built houses in it—¬not like their little brown houses but bright brick houses with shining roofs. Quote 1 The children of the avenue used to play together in that field —¬the Devines, the Waters, the Dunns, little Keogh the cripple, she and her brothers and sisters. Ernest, however, never played: he was too grown up. Her father used often to hunt them in out of the field with his blackthorn stick; but usually little Keogh used to keep nix and call out when he saw her father coming. Still they seemed to have been rather happy then.

Her father was not so bad then; and besides, her mother was alive. That was a long time ago; she and her brothers and sisters were all grown up her mother was dead. Tizzie Dunn was dead, too, and the Waters had gone back to England. Everything changes. Now she was going to go away like the others, to leave her home. Home! She looked round the room, reviewing all its familiar objects which she had dusted once a week Quote 5 for so many years, wondering where on earth all the dust came from. Perhaps she would never see again those familiar objects from which she had never dreamed of being divided.

And yet during all those years she had never found out the name of the priest whose yellowing photograph hung on the wall above the broken harmonium beside the coloured print of the promises made to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque. He had been a school friend of her father. Whenever he showed the photograph to a visitor her father used to pass it with a casual word: “He is in Melbourne now. ” She had consented to go away, to leave her home. Was that wise? She tried to weigh each side of the question. In her home anyway she had shelter and food; she had those whom she had known all her life about her.

O course she had to work hard, both in the house and at business. What would they say of her in the Stores when they found out that she had run away with a fellow? Say she was a fool, perhaps; and her place would be filled up by advertisement. Miss Gavan would be glad. She had always had an edge on her, especially Quote 4. whenever there were people listening. “Miss Hill, don’t you see these ladies are waiting? ” “Look lively, Miss Hill, please. ” She would not cry many tears at leaving the Stores. But in her new home, in a distant unknown country, it would not be like that.

Then she would be married—¬she, Eveline. People would treat her with respect then. She would not be treated as her mother had been. Even now, though she was over nineteen, she sometimes felt herself in danger of her father’s violence. She knew it was that that had given her the palpitations. When they were growing up he had never gone for her like he used to go for Harry and Ernest, because she was a girl but latterly he had begun to threaten her and say what he would do to her only for her dead mother’s sake. And no she had nobody to protect her.

Ernest was dead and Harry, who was in the church decorating business, was nearly always down somewhere in the country. Besides, the invariable squabble for money on Saturday nights had begun to weary her unspeakably. She always gave her entire wages—¬seven shillings—¬and Harry always sent up what he could but the trouble was to get any money from her father. He said she used to squander the money, that she had no head, 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.

In the end he would give her the money and ask her had she any intention of buying Sunday’s dinner. Then she had to rush out as quickly as she could and do her marketing, holding her black leather purse tightly in her hand as she elbowed her way through the crowds and returning home late under her load of provisions. She had hard work to keep the house together and to see that the two young children who had been left to hr charge went to school regularly and got their meals regularly. It was hard work—¬a hard life—¬but now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life.

She was about to explore another life with Frank. Frank was very kind, manly, open-hearted. She was to go away with him by the night-boat to be his wife and to live with him in Buenos Ayres where he had a home waiting for her. How well she remembered the first time she had seen him; he was lodging in a house on the main road where she used to visit. It seemed a few weeks ago. He was standing at the gate, his peaked cap pushed back on his head and his hair tumbled forward over a face of bronze. Then they had come to know each other. He used to meet her outside the Stores every evening and see her home.

He took her to see The Bohemian Girl and she felt elated as she sat in an unaccustomed part of the theatre with him. He was awfully fond of music and sang a little. People knew that they were courting and, when he sang about the lass that loves a sailor, she always felt pleasantly confused. He used to call her Poppens out of fun. First of all it had been an excitement for her to have a fellow and then she had begun to like him. He had tales of distant countries. He had started as a deck boy at a pound a month on a ship of the Allan Line going out to Canada.

He told her the names of the ships he had been on and the names of the different services. He had sailed through the Straits of Magellan and he told her stories of the terrible Patagonians. He had fallen on his feet in Buenos Ayres, he said, and had come over to the old country just for a holiday. Of course, her father had found out the affair and had forbidden her to have anything to say to him. “I know these sailor chaps,” he said. One day he had quarrelled with Frank and after that she had to meet her lover secretly. The evening deepened in the avenue.

The white of two letters in her lap grew indistinct. One was to Harry; the other was to her father. Ernest had been her favourite but she liked Harry too. Her father was becoming old lately, she noticed; he would miss her. Sometimes he could be very nice. Quote 3 Not long before, when she had been laid up for a day, he had read her out a ghost story and made toast for her at the fire. Another day, when their mother was alive, they had all gone for a picnic to the Hill of Howth. She remembered her father putting on her mothers bonnet to make the children laugh.

Her time was running out but she continued to sit by the window, leaning her head against the window curtain, inhaling the odour of dusty cretonne. Down far in the avenue she could hear a street organ playing. She knew the air Strange that it should come that very night to remind her of the promise to her mother, her promise to keep the home together as long as she could Quote 3. She remembered the last night of her mother’s illness; she was again in the close dark room at the other side of the hall and outside she heard a melancholy air of Italy.

The organ-player had been ordered to go away and given sixpence. She remembered her father strutting back into the sickroom saying: “Damned Italians! coming over here! ” As she mused the pitiful vision of her mother’s life laid its spell on the very quick of her being—¬that life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness. She trembled as she heard again her mother’s voice saying constantly with foolish insistence: “Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun! ” 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. She stood among the swaying crowd in the station at the North Wall. He held her hand and she knew that he was speaking to her, saying something about the passage over and over again. The station was full of (76)s with brown baggages. Through the wide doors of the sheds she caught a glimpse of the black mass of the boat, lying in beside the quay wall, with illumined portholes.

She answered nothing. She felt her cheek pale and cold and, out of a maze of distress, she prayed to God to direct her, to show her what was her duty. Quote 2 The boat blew a long mournful whistle into the mist. If she went, tomorrow she would be on the sea with Frank, steaming towards Buenos Ayres. Their passage had been booked. Could she still draw back after all he had done for her? Her distress awoke a nausea in her body and she kept moving her lips in silent fervent prayer. A bell clanged upon her heart. She felt him seize her hand: “Come! ”

All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her. She gripped with both hands at the iron railing. “Come! ” No! No! No! It was impossible. Her hands clutched the iron in frenzy. Amid the seas she sent a cry of anguish. “Eveline! Evvy! ” He rushed beyond the barrier and called to her to follow. He was shouted at to go on but he still called to her. She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition. (Joyce Dubliners Quote 5).

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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The Historical, Political and Social Context of James Joyce's "Eveline". (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

The Historical, Political and Social Context of James Joyce's "Eveline" essay
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