The Dubliners Review; Eveline By James Joyce

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You’ll be grateful to hear that we finally have a narrator with a goddamn name and the story isn’t half bad either. So good man yourself Joyce, for doing your fucking job properly. Eveline is quite a sad story when you get into it, people claiming its the second most tragic story in the book after “The Dead”. But that’s a review for another time.

So Eveline is about a girl (called Eveline) who faces a dilemma in her life. She has the choice between leaving home with her boyfriend Frank to go to Buenos Aires or stay home and look after her abusive Dad. Saying it like that it sounds like a no brainer but the story is a little more complicated.

The majority of the story takes place in one room while Eveline is looking out the window conflicted, watching the passers by in the streets below. Her train of thought carries us through the plot for the most part. She thinks about how she grew up in this street and how everything around her has changed. Most notably her father who was once a happy man has now turned bitter and violent and quite possibly an alcoholic.

After the death of her Mother and Brother things in the household haven’t been too great, her Father’s threats of violence is one of the many reasons she’s thinking of leaving home towards Buenos Aires, Argentina. I don’t know much about Buenos Aires outside of the fact that its directly on the opposite side of the world from Shanghai. I only know that cause it was a major plot point in Torchwood: Miracle Day. The season was basically about how no one on earth could die anymore and it sent the world into an epidemic and apparently the thing that caused people to die in the first place was this underground vacuous cavern that looked like a vagina. Yep, that happened.

Anyway the cavern goes directly from Shanghai to Buenos Aires so they reverse the immortal effects some idiot placed on it and everyone started dying again. The show ended on a cliffhanger and has now been on hiatus for six or seven years. A real shame cause I’m quite fond of John Barrowman. Even if he shared the screen with a giant underground vagina.

So Eveline is reminiscing about the past and how she misses her dead brother. She then thinks about Frank and we learn that her Father doesn’t approve of the relationship cause; “I know these sailor chaps” which may be a fair point. All I know about sailors is from Channing Tatum and two homeless guys I met once. One being a crazy Englishman the other a Russian guy who may have given me a made up name. Perhaps if I spent the majority of my adult life stuck in a room with six guys I’d be a little dodgy too.

Her Father used to be a nice man but due to his grief he’s become a lot more abusive, which adds a depth of character that so far the Dubliners had been missing. I mean this story is barely five pages long yet it has better character structure than all of the first three stories combined. It comes to the point that Eveline has already made her mind up about leaving but she’s reminded of a promise she made to her dead mother about taking care of the home and she begins to think about how her father would be very depressed after she’s gone.

Which is a sad thought that is casually ruined by her Dad’s remarks about the Italian immigrants next door; “Damned Italians! Coming over here!” Xenophobia is an issue many nations have to deal with, including Ireland. Though I’ve never heard a person say “Coming over here!” unironically. It’s more of a caricature or dumb simplification of what some idiots really believe, kind of like another phrase; “He says it how it is!” which sounds so remarkably dumb once spoken out loud that I refuse to believe anyone has actually said it. I’m honestly more surprised that Italians would even live here, it’s cold and wet and you could make a fortune selling your Ice cream and Fish and Chips and building some pubs up in Belfast…but is it worth it?

And Xenophobia does exist, I’ve seen it. To my regret I recall being quite mean to a Polish guy, using his ethnicity as an insult (fortunately we made up, he’s actually quite a nice man) and I remember saying some stupid things to an Asian guy who went to my primary school. I can’t recall what I said but I do remember being quite upset after the teacher told me how fucked up it was. Though we have our Xenophobia and Racism I have one defense, we’re not very good at it. I mean insult wise the worst thing I’ve heard is “foreign bastard” and that’s so banal it renders on some kind of accidental satire. Using Racial slurs is basically stealing off of much better racists.

Why are we so shit at dehumanizing each other? I mean politically the British are so shit at nicknames and shit talking. Remoaners? Remainiacs? Lefties? They fucking suck at this. We’re not much better either, all we have is terms such as Taigs and Fenians and the latter sounds cool so it’s not much of an insult. We refer to Protestants as Prods, which is basically a very lazy form of sectarianism. We’re shit at this. Now say what you will about Americans but they’re phenomenal at bigotry. Pioneers in fact. Truly a work of art, a really disgusting work of art but still. They should be proud at their exceptional work in the fields of Racism. They’ve truly raised the bar in a very very low bar.

Eveline recalls her mother one more time, thinking about how entrapped she felt. How wasted and unhappy she may have been. This gives her the energy to leave home and go with Frank. But on the day they’re supposed to catch the ferry she grows nervous and as they try to board she can’t let go of the railing, Frank calls after her but Eveline is paralyzed in fear. Unable to move or speak.

Possibly the two best lines in the boom are in this story, as we see Frank trying to take her onto the boat Joyce writes; “All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her” this is probably one of the best descriptions of a panic or anxiety attack I’ve ever read. It kind of links to the major themes throughout the story as well, the call to adventure but also the fear of death.

The second line closes off the story in a truly heartbreaking manner; “She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition” It’s a sad ending. It registered with me a lot because it reminded me of a story the crazy Englishman told me. I was in Derry and I missed the bus so I decided to get some chicken. I truly hate Derry with a passion but the chicken was nice, but I ordered too much so I decided to offer all my spare chips and chicken to this homeless man sitting in the chicken shop. He declined but he did sit beside me and we talked. He opened up his soul to me. He told me he was from England, how he lived in Dublin and worked as a sailor for years, how he was raised in a Dublin orphanage in the sixties, how he despised all kinds of bigotry, how he fell in love with this English woman in Australia but it didn’t work out due to his commitment issues. He told me he once went to a Whore House in Costa Rica and how it was the most depressing sexual experience in his life, he said to his friend “I’d have been better off going back to the ship and taking a wank”. The story that reminded me of Eveline was about a friend of his he used to work with. He said I reminded him of his friend because I was ginger, he told me his friend was in love with this girl but she just didn’t see him and how that tore him apart from the inside. One day they were out at sea on a stormy night, the friend drank an entire bottle of vodka and jumped off the side. He’s dead now.

The conversation lasted half an hour. By the end of it he asked if we could hang out some time, asking for my number. I was nervous about that and apologized, saying I couldn’t give it to him “Stranger danger and all that craic”. He didn’t find that funny but he gave a disappointed “heh”. He left, I shook his hand. I don’t know if he survived the winter. I don’t know if he’s dead or alive. I know for half an hour he felt like a human being and I cruelly reminded him he wasn’t. I feel ashamed about that. I feel ashamed about a lot of things, we all do.

You could theorize that Frank may follow the same path as the ginger sailor. Though I doubt it, Eveline wasn’t so heartless she was just afraid. The fear of the unknown conquered her fear of disappointment, and the fear of death betrayed her in the end. Like many of the stories in the Dubliners disappointment is a huge theme throughout the story. Eveline is pushed to leave her home because she’s afraid of living a disappointing life but when her adventure calls she rejects it, ending the story in disappointment.

The fact that she remained still in shock as Frank and the boat carried on without her could add to the theme of paralysis seen in The Sisters but unless you’re writing a remarkably cheap English essay you wouldn’t give a shit about that. The story is successful in developing the characters. Both Eveline and her father are rather complex and interesting characters given their short amount of time which is a success on Joyce’s part, but he’s unlikely to keep this momentum up for long.

Like I said in the first review; One step forward, three steps back. No moonwalk, for now.

 

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