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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Choosing Misery, Joyce’s Eveline by Russ Winfrey

Eveline seems to deny herself the possibility of happiness in her life. She herself realizes the numerous hardships and pains she must withstand in living in Ireland, but still resolves to remain in the end. She knows that she receives little respect in her community, and certainly within her own home. Her father has abused her and hoards the money she herself earns. She, gazes out the window and is reminded of what used to be, but is now absent from her block. One time there used to be a field there in which they used to play… 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.” There seems to be little keeping her there, other than her promise to her mother, which even acknowledges the near impossibility of the task to “keep the home together as long as she could.” This promise offers to Eveline that she should try to keep home-life stable, but to give her own life’s happiness priority. And given the state of the house with one brother dead and the other living in Belfast, there is little home to maintain as it is.

Eveline seems reasonably convinced that there is promise of a better life with Frank in Buenos Aires. She characterizes him as “kind, manly, open-hearted,” and seems to have no misgivings about his intentions. She grants that “people would treat her with respect…in a distant unknown country.” Frank, who “had a home waiting for [Eveline]” had treated her to a show, and seemed to regularly take her out for modest evenings. Even though Eveline realizes Frank’s affection toward her, she feels a need to overlook her father’s cruelty and convince herself of the comforts that the familiarity of home bring, but she is obviously compensating for the paltry PRO’S of staying when Joyce writes, “In her home anyway she had shelter and food; she had those whom she had known all her life about her.” These are reason for staying, but it is clear to her that Frank is respectable, and would too be able to food, shelter, and many other less base needs.

In reading Eveline (and other Joyce works) I find that he characterizes a part of Irish culture that has a proclivity to subject themselves to more miserable circumstances. These come from several sources I believe (nationalism, familial devotion, etc.) but there is something in the mentality of Irish that leads them to choose to live more tragic or depressing lives. They would cheat themselves out of their own happiness to fulfill some unsaid obligation.

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