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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Importance of Societal Norms in James Joyce’s “Eveline”

The value of societal norms within “Eveline” seems to play a major part in many of Eveline’s thoughts and decisions. These norms, in the context of “Eveline,” are the respected and standard values held by the society as a whole. Eveline uses these societal norms as a basis of how she will be or would have been perceived. “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 with advertisements” (Joyce 28). Eveline’s thought regarding how she would be perceived if she ran off with Frank speaks volumes about the importance of society’s perception within her community. Based on this, women during this time period and within this location do not run off with men, most likely because it is frowned upon and viewed as uncharacteristic of a woman. Since the ending of “Eveline” is fairly ambiguous as to why Eveline did not leave town with Frank, one can venture an assertion and say that Eveline felt the pressures of her surroundings, ultimately opting that such a decision would reflect poorly on her character.
To further support this claim, Eveline suggests how she would be perceived by others if she were to choose a different path. “Then she would be married—she, Eveline. People would treat her with respect then. She would not be treated as her mother had been” (28). Here, marriage is dubbed as an act that gains respect and admiration. This is something that her mother did not have, presumably making Eveline crave for marriage even more. Whether it was in her town or in a new country, marriage would give Eveline the respect that other women who judge her already have. The fact that her mother is mentioned is also important because Eveline’s father plays a large role within the text. Her abusive father never married her mother, which could present a new fear for Eveline: the repeating of a harmful cycle. Eveline’s mother was obviously not accepted by society, giving Eveline the fear that if she does not conform to what other women are doing, she could be viewed in the same negative light that her mother was.

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