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Thread: I need some help with James Joyce's 'Eveline'

  1. #1
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    I need some help with James Joyce's 'Eveline'

    Knowing that Joyce is a very fine author and a master wordsmith I feel like the meaning of some of his imagery escapes me, so I am wondering if you all can help me out?

    Twice the story mentions Eveline leaning her head against the window curtains "inhaling the odour of dusty cretonne". I have the vague idea that this is a reference to her seemingly never-ending 'housewifely duties', that although she dusts the house every week, there is always a fresh coat of dirt for her to clean. Given that Joyce writes this line twice it seems important to me and I want to make sure I've got it right.

    The second thing I'm not sure about is the end when Eveline is contemplating whether she should escape with Frank, the line is "a bell clanged upon her heart". It seems to me like the bell is significant but I don't know why. Does someone know what it might symbolize? Keep in mind the line right before is "...she kept moving her lips in silent prayer". Is a clanging bell a religious symbol? Maybe I am overthinking it but I can't imagine why a writer would write "a bell clanged upon her heart" if it didn't contain a secondary significance.

    I appreciate any of your thoughts on this.
    Last edited by Thrasymachus; 09-28-2010 at 01:18 AM.

  2. #2
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    Eveline

    To answer your first question. I don't think the reference of the smell of the curtains pertains to her "wifely duties" because she is not a wife. Both times she is in the house where she grew up. The smell is significant because it is familiar and comfortable. She is preparing to leave and the scent fills her with the feeling of home, of the place where she thought she would never leave.

    To answer your second question...it's a bit complicated so I'll try to make sure I explain it accurately.

    "A bell clanged against her heart" symbolizes the feelings she used to feel in regards to her father's violence. Brieftly, in the beginning, Joyce makes reference to her fathers violence and her thinking that is what causes her heart palpitations. I don't know if you know what palpitations are, but basically your heart is racing, it feels like it's going to thud right out of your chest. It's quick and somewhat frightening. Eveline is thinking about all that she is going to leave behind and all that it waiting for her and she is unsure if she should get on the boat.

    When the whistle blows her heart reacts because that is how palpitations work. A startling sound can cause them, just like a sharp fear can cause them. Immediately she associated the boat with "danger" because her heart reacted. It only reacted to her father's violence, and now it is reacting to her situation.

    Just after the statement "a bell clanged against her heart" she became worried and scared...even stating, "All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her."

    It symbolizes her fear and maybe even distrust of her safety in her situation.
    Maybe she thinks if she got on the boat things wouldn't be different. She grew up with the fear against her father, and thought she was escaping it, only to think that she might truly end up like her mother, which she said she did not want to--I think this refers to the type of marriage her mother was in as it is clear her father was abusive to both her and her mother.

    I hope this helps.

  3. #3
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    First of all thank you.

    Quote Originally Posted by dscasey View Post
    To answer your first question. I don't think the reference of the smell of the curtains pertains to her "wifely duties" because she is not a wife. Both times she is in the house where she grew up. The smell is significant because it is familiar and comfortable. She is preparing to leave and the scent fills her with the feeling of home, of the place where she thought she would never leave.
    OK, I get your point but when I said "house-wifely" I suppose I could say rather she is a house-keeper; is Eveline not 'bound' to the household? Do you think the presence of dust is significant then?

    To answer your second question...it's a bit complicated so I'll try to make sure I explain it accurately.

    "A bell clanged against her heart" symbolizes the feelings she used to feel in regards to her father's violence. Brieftly, in the beginning, Joyce makes reference to her fathers violence and her thinking that is what causes her heart palpitations. I don't know if you know what palpitations are, but basically your heart is racing, it feels like it's going to thud right out of your chest. It's quick and somewhat frightening. Eveline is thinking about all that she is going to leave behind and all that it waiting for her and she is unsure if she should get on the boat.

    When the whistle blows her heart reacts because that is how palpitations work. A startling sound can cause them, just like a sharp fear can cause them. Immediately she associated the boat with "danger" because her heart reacted. It only reacted to her father's violence, and now it is reacting to her situation.

    Just after the statement "a bell clanged against her heart" she became worried and scared...even stating, "All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her."

    It symbolizes her fear and maybe even distrust of her safety in her situation.
    Maybe she thinks if she got on the boat things wouldn't be different. She grew up with the fear against her father, and thought she was escaping it, only to think that she might truly end up like her mother, which she said she did not want to--I think this refers to the type of marriage her mother was in as it is clear her father was abusive to both her and her mother.

    I hope this helps.
    I know what palpitation are, but honestly I don't think I would have ever made that connection. It sounds to me like when the whistle blows all of her anxiety, doubts, fear, distrust surface thus rendering her immobile.

    I don't have time to write more about what I think but I appreciate your response and I certainly welcome you or anyone else to tell me what you think of the story.

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    The significance of the curtains seems to be some sort of device to describe the phases of the story- as she's looking outward, the street gets darker and the story approaches its conclusions. Joyce does write about the cretonne twice, but why he would so subtly use this as such a subtle metaphor for her housewifely duties doesn't make sense because in the story itself he actually mentions she dusts, and that she doesn't understand where the dust comes from. So it's a stretch to read it as a metaphor and even doing so contributes only in a way that has been explicitly stated already. But you're right- it's blatantly mentioned twice, but this reader would count it as sensory experience contributing to mood, etc. rather than metaphor. This reader also doesn't think there's a need to read so far into it because he doesn't believe any of these stories were constructed with any degree of meticulousness near that of 'Ulysses.'

    And this reader thinks the same for your second question. Just as in 'Araby', when the narrator describes Mangan's sister playing his body like a harp, a 'bell clanged upon her heart' probably doesn't contain any global significance in the rest of the story in that grand schematic way. It's just good writing, not a puzzle piece.






    J

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