I wrote my Masters thesis in Linguistics about James Joyce’s short story “Eveline”, from his Dubliners book. Eveline is a young Irish woman in 1914 Ireland. Her mother has died several years prior to the action of the story. Eveline has taken care of her father and brothers ever since. But now a sailor from another country, Frank, has romanced Eveline and he wants to take her away with him, to Buenos Aires.
“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.”
So James Joyce’s story of “Eveline” opens. The question Joyce poses with this opening Dubliners story is simple: Will Eveline leave family, Church and nationality to go away with the sailor to another land? Buenos Aires–“good” or fresh “air”–contrasts with the “dusty” air of Eveline’s home and world. There is hardly ever a question in the story really of whether Eveline will leave; to Joyce, she can not. By the end, when the final time for her to decide arrives with the boat on which Frank has bought them passage, we see Eveline in a state of near paralysis, like a frightened animal:
“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 soldiers 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. 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:
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.
No! No! No! It was impossible. Her hands clutched the iron in frenzy. Amid the seas she sent a cry of anguish.
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.”
My re-vision of “Eveline” transpires in contemporary Ireland, where 62% of the population is urbanized and globalization offers many options to the youth for emigration and jobs.
Eve stood at the railing of the Odyssey’s prow; straining to find Frank in the harbor crowd as the boat’s powerful engines pulled it away from the shore. Why had he not come? She felt deeply into the pocket of her windbreaker, palming the passage stub, a misty rain in the morning air obscuring her view of all that she was leaving: her father, the rocky countryside, even the steeple of the church she had attended since baptism. Her woven wallet was secure in her pocket, with all the money she had saved from weekly allowances over the last thirteen years. She covered her head with the windbreaker’s hood and tied it so only her eyes were exposed. She turned away from the rail and climbed down from the bow into the passenger deck. Ten or twelve tourists peered out the windows, happy to be safe and dry. Eveline, drenched from her watch above, gazed out an open window from her pew seat. East was her direction now. Her very life was about to begin.
What story did you choose this week, or might you choose, to re-vision for a Better Ending? Why this story and not another? I chose “Eveline” because her inability to leave, her bondage to family, church and nationality in Joyce’s poignant sketch, has stayed with me through the years as a cautionary tale. I have a strong aversion to any such bonds; in my version, therefore, Eve departs.
Please feel free to share your Comments and tell us about what stories you would revise and why. Our next topic begins tomorrow: Relationship Changes with respect to Better Endings.