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Exploration Of A Theme Of Religion In Eveline By James Joyce

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

Catholicism was the dominant religion in Ireland throughout the age of Modernism. The Catholic church played a vital role in Eveline’s life and served as a driving force in her decision, and more significantly, her lack of. Eveline’s religious values magnify her choice to remain in Dublin, and she ultimately sacrifices herself for these values emphasized by the Catholic religion. Eveline’s psychological paralysis as she physically watches her love disappear into the sea is provoked through patriarchal normalities, domestic abuse, and indoctrination, but is ultimately dominated by her religious duties to her family and herself. In the short story, ‘Eveline,’ James Joyce integrates Catholic values, religious symbolism and biblical allusions to illustrate Eveline’s state of psychological paralysis.

Joyce highlights Eveline’s overwhelming desire to rid her internal struggles of paralysis through a demonstration of her devotion to Catholic principles. Eveline withdraws her emotions of a promising destiny because of her valued religious teachings including sacrifice and promise. Eveline’s high regard to the value of sacrifice is evident through her servile nature as a caring individual. Aside from her subservience nature, she views her life as a ‘hard life–but…she did not find it a wholly undesirable life’ (Joyce 2). These happy memories of her family’s past times play a role in her decision to remain at home, but she is more often conflicted by the recollection of her mother’s insanity. Eveline compares her mother’s family sacrifices to her own psychological issues and prays her life won’t turn out like hers. Eveline recounts her mother’s death as, ‘that life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness’ (Joyce 3). This memory enhanced Eveline’s mentality to free herself of her former life to seek new opportunity. In Joyce’s final thoughts, Eveline sacrifices a promising and fulfilling life to tend to her family’s needs. She is paralyzed by the thought of history repeating itself, yet her guilt eventually overpowers her lust for change.

The motif of paralysis is prevalent throughout Joyce’s reference to the Catholic religion, emphasizing Eveline’s history of abuse and future hopes of getting away. Eveline recounts her difficult life and views herself as a victim of her father’s domestic violence and Miss Gavan’s brutal control. As she leans over the iron rail at the station, ‘She prayed to God to direct her…A bell clanged upon her heart’ (Joyce 3). The ‘bell’ that clanged upon Eveline’s heart symbolizes the trauma rooted from her father’s violence. Furthermore, the reference to a bell can be linked to a church bell prompting Eveline to summon her religious values and to trigger the remembrance of her several unfinished obligations. These religious allusions do not serve to induce joy, but rather to remind Eveline of her father’s demands, ultimately placing her in an intensifying paralytic state of indecisiveness. Eveline noticed, ‘Her father was becoming old lately…he would miss her. Sometimes he could be very nice’ (Joyce 2). Despite her father’s brutally, she pushes these traumatizing memories into her subconscious and reminisces the cherishable moments of her and her father. Nostalgia is a driving factor in this decision to stay in Dublin, for her guilt and fear of the unknown was all-consuming. Eveline has been trapped in this submissive state her whole life. New beginnings arise, yet she is still unable to leave the past behind and overcome her .

Eveline’s paralyzed existence sources from her sense of powerlessness amongst her family, society, and heaven above. Her only two trusted liberators to this stressor are Frank and God himself. She regards Frank as a heroine because ‘He would save her’ from her commitments and make her a more respectable woman in society. During this time, women held low social statuses, and therefore it is logical to accept that Eveline believed she needed a man to save her based on religious and societal values. This feeling of vulnerability is an important cause of Eveline’s lack of control over her fate. Her greatest dependence lies upon her strong faith in the Lord. Eveline’s many prayers begging for a verdict all go unanswered, and she is ultimately faced with a harsh reality. Her physical paralysis is illuminated as she watches Frank sail away while she is ‘moving her lips in silent fervent prayer’ (Joyce 3). Eveline was raised society where women were powerless against men and consequently, she is unable to claim ownership of her fate. Eveline’s feelings of powerlessness obstruct her opportunities to live a better life, crippling her thoughts and essentially making her incapable of making choices based on logic and reason.

Joyce utilizes biblical references of Eve to reinforce her inability to define her fate. Joyce’s Eveline, a name deriving from Eve, is faced with a spiritual choice of either being the ‘good’ daughter by staying in Dublin with her family, or the ‘evil’ daughter who fled the country with an eligible bachelor. Torn between this difficult decision, author Wicht notes, ”Duty,’ the disposition encoded within her by father, mother, church, and social norms will direct her’. These religious influences engender severe distress, placing Eveline in a state of physical and mental immobility. Defying her religious obligations back and home defy her values and are sinful in the eyes of her father. Under the Bible, Eve is known to be ‘the mother of all the living.’ Author, Wicht, draws a strong connection between these two individuals and remarks, ‘Eve, however, is, when reading in a deconstructive way, a symbol for the institution of patriarchal gender privilege in the Christian, and particularly Catholic, belief system’ (Wicht 126). More specifically, A correlation is drawn between biblical, Eve, and Joyce’s, Eveline, regarding patriarchal authority. Although Eve was first to eat the apple, she was under the control of the evil serpent who tempted her. Similarly, Eveline is controlled by the men in her life and is in a state of paralysis because of it. This mental anguish prevents her from reaching her full potential and becoming a fully alive being and escape her paralyzed existence.

Within Joyce’s short story, “Eveline,” the theme of spiritual paralysis is manifested through her many hardships. Her immobile condition is illuminated in Eveline’s story through Catholic values, religious symbolism, and biblical allusions. The problems Eveline faces are strictly all she knows, and consequently is trapped within this security in which she is unable to escape. Eveline’s mental distress or paralysis concludes with imagery of Eveline physically and emotionally frozen over the iron rail, “passive, like a helpless animal”.

Works Cited

  • Joyce, James. “Eveline.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature, by David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar, 5th ed., vol. 2A, Pearson, 2012.
  • Witch, Wolfgang. “‘EVELINE’ AND/AS ‘A PAINFUL CASE’: PARALYSIS, DESIRE, SIGNIFIERS.” European Joyce Studies, vol. 7, 1997, pp. 115–142. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/44871070.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3A107b27352d7d838be2ad0b9c7bdf696d.  

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