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Sabahat Batool
Academic Writing
Dr. Ruth Wishart
Desire for Escape in “Eveline” and “The Dead”
Dubliners, a collection of short stories by James Joyce, illustrate the socioeconomic realities
of early nineteenth-century Ireland. These stories represent Joyce's perspective on Irish life.
Joyce presents the theme of desire of escape in his stories.
In Dubliners, Eveline is the most mature character who is fulfilling her duty after the death of
her mother. Joyce paints a gloomy picture of the secluded lives of women in Dublin in the
nineteenth century. Eveline adopts a motionless position, symbolizing the bleakness of Joyce's
overarching critique on Dublin society. Her struggle is told in a one-of-a-kind story told in thirdperson and in a stream-of-consciousness style. . The protagonist's literal and mental conflict
between her obligation to stay and her longing for freedom is best shown through Eveline's point
of view. The story explores Eveline's views and desires through peering into her mind, which
propels the plot along. The story's lack of physical action is overshadowed by Eveline's inability
to move, her psychological and spiritual immobility. The window, the persistent dust, and
Eveline's departed mother's memories all show in the perspective. These folks represent
Eveline's personal struggle as well as Dublin as a whole. She is trapped in her responsibility and
she desires to flee her life of responsibilities. She is paralyzed by strong memories of her past
and home that she is unable to board the ferry. Eveline's mental and physical immobility is
revealed by the importance of a third-person narrative paired with the stream of consciousness
In Joyce's story, the protagonist is depicted from a far, as though he were sitting across the
room from Eveline. When Eveline begins to reflect about the innocence that was so important in
her youth, the voice enters her consciousness. He comments on her physical description and
certain characteristics of her immediate surroundings, but the voice enters Eveline's mind when
she begins to reflect about the innocence that was so important in her upbringing. Eveline's time
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spent in front of the window is a type of subconscious imprisonment as well as a breach of her
right to live a free life. Eveline engages physically and intellectually with 'windows' and 'dust'
throughout the narrative. The window symbolizes the separation of residential space from the
outside world.
Eveline's repressed personality and the window's anticipatory sign create a
delicate contrast of hope and despair. “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.”(Joyce.29). And again Joyce says, “Her time was running out
but she continued to sit by the window, leaning her head against the window curtain, inhaling
the odour of dusty cretonne.” (Joyce.32)
Eveline is still enslaved by her mother's and life's memories, as well as the opportunities she
has yet to seize. She is constantly thinking about her family, particularly her father. Joyce
expresses herself. “Still they seemed to have been rather happy then. Her father was not so bad
then; and besides, her mother was alive. That was a long time ago; she and her brothers and
sisters were all grown up her mother was dead.” (Joyce.29)
The dust that gathers on the curtain symbolizes the passage of time as a result of constant
bodily action. This is strikingly close to Eveline's position; the dust reminds her of her own
'paralysis' and inability to move for an extended period of time. The window and the dust
accumulation together represent Eveline's pessimism in ever seeking out what lies beyond the
window, for she herself "inhales" and endures the dust that surrounds her. Joyce laments her
tainted nostalgia for the dust that engulfs her belongings. “Home! She looked round the room,
reviewing all its familiar objects which she had dusted once a week for so many years,
wondering where on earth all the dust came from. Perhaps she would never see again those
familiar objects from which she had never dreamed of being divided.”(Joyce, 29)
Eveline's existence is supported by dull and repetitive tasks such as dusting her surrounds.
Dusting and material dust prevent her from pursuing a career outside the home. The passage's
point of view is important in depicting Eveline's psychological and spiritual bonds to household
life, as well as her fear over probable escape. Eveline's difficulty to make a decision is
sympathetically shown by Joyce since it has little to do with her and much to do with leaving her
family behind, as well as the promises she made to her mother, who is now deceased. Eveline
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yearns for escape, but she also struggles with the luxuries of her current life, which are linked to
her history.
Eveline generally thinks about her home and family throughout the story, but she rarely
mentions Frank and how she feels about him: the small amount of information that readers do get
reveals her genuine sentiments about Frank and their relationship. Eveline is torn between
staying at home to care for her family and leaving to marry the guy she loves. Even though her
life at home is monotonous and unhappy, she accepts to marry Frank but has reservations about
it. Eveline not only has the desire to abandon her life in Dublin, but also the potential to break
free from the confines of her monotonous existence. The reader gets a glimpse into Eveline's life
and the difficulties she faces as a result of her father's lack of responsibility, which he avoids; He
said that she used to squander the money, that she had no head, that he wasn’t going to give
her his hard-earned money...She had to work to keep the house together and to see that the
two young children...went to school regularly and got their meals..(Joyce,29)
Eveline is forced to grow up quickly after her mother dies, and she feels bound to her family
to stay because she has taken on this matriarchal position. Eveline is complacent, and while she
fantasizes of a new life with Frank, she appears to be having difficulty carrying it out. The idea
of leaving and starting a new life is exciting, but having to really leave her family and follow
through gives the reader a better understanding of Eveline's mindset: despite her father's
devastation and betrayal, she cannot bring herself to do the same to him. Eveline clings to the
memories she has of her father when her mother was alive, despite the fact that he is emotionally
abusive and an alcoholic. It's difficult for her to leave her father and siblings because of her
empathy for them. One can also ask if she can't leave her father because of the promise she made
to her mother, or if he's the last link she has to the pleasant memories she shared with her family
before her mother died. Eveline also demonstrates to readers that, while her life of caring for her
father and brothers isn't ideal, she isn't wholly unhappy: She is taking a step towards her new life
by leaving her house to travel to the station to meet with Frank, but the time it took her to leave
her house hints at the fact that she has already made up her mind. Eveline seemed to be
persuading herself that fleeing with Frank is a great decision down at the dock. It's strange how
both "Eveline" and "Araby" protagonists build themselves up to a heightened sense of
transformation and happiness just to be disappointed after it's all gone. Even though Eveline
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recognizes that a new life and a fresh start await her outside of Dublin, she is unable to leave
with Frank. She appears to be stuck on the dock and unable to move. She felt her cheek pale and
cold and, out of a maze of distress… (Joyce, 33) Her distress awoke nausea in her body and
she kept moving her lips in silent fervent prayer. It was impossible. Her hands clutched the
iron in frenzy. Amid the seas she sent a cry of anguish…. She set her white face to him,
passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.
(Joyce, 34)
It's evident today that her attempt to flee was motivated by her own predicament, not by
Frank's. She does not completely set herself up for disappointment by not fully committing to the
decision to go with Frank; nonetheless, she is aware that by not going, she must prepare herself
for a lifetime of regret and reflection on her past. It's uncertain whether Eveline opted to stay
with her father or if she was seeking to avoid more pain or sorrow in her relationship with Frank.
She is clearly uncomfortable with her life at the moment, but not so much that she can do
anything but fantasize about it. Eveline's stare out the window shows she desires more, but she is
unable to commit to anything other than staying with her father and keeping her mother's pledge.
We see her trapped in her own feelings, torn between her comforting existence and a life that
could provide a fresh start for her and her sad father. Eveline sees this excursion as merely a
means of getting away from her current situation; she does not envision herself ever escaping
with Frank.
The terrible ending, in which she waits at the dock “like a helpless animal,” is traditionally
interpreted as another illustration of Dublin's paralysis and citizens' figurative death. Eveline,
like so many of her companions in Joyce's short story collection, has made the "wrong" decision.
Eveline, like our narrator in Araby, is dissatisfied with herself and her incapacity to take charge
of her life and make her own decisions. She doesn't do anything throughout the novel, and her
only action is a refusal to take action: leaving the country" Once again, we are introduced to a
lonely, alienated character who is enslaved by life's limitations. Eveline, like Gabriel and Gretta
in “The Dead,” clings to the past and the spirits that accompany it, allowing them to infiltrate
their contemporary existence.
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“The Dead”
Joyce begins his narrative, “The Dead," with the protagonist, Gabriel Conroy, and his wife,
Gretta, attending a party. Gabriel strives to escape the routine of his existence, his failing
relationship with his wife, and the reality of who he is throughout the novel; eventually, his
attempts to reignite his relationship in the hopes of improving his life fail, just as every other
character in Dubliners fails to escape. The story begins with Gabriel's arrival at the party, as well
as his interactions with the other guests, as well as his inner thoughts and feelings. Gabriel's
sense of superiority is evident early on in various occasions, the most notable of which being his
Gabriel believes he is smarter and superior to the other partygoers, and he fears making a fool
of himself by referencing someone they are unfamiliar with, which is his greatest dread. Gabriel
clearly keeps everyone at arm's length, even his wife, and doesn't try to strengthen these
relationships until the very end, but even then, his attempt to connect with his wife is at best
perfunctory. Roland Wagner writes: Gabriel is revealed to be both secure and insecure, the
‘generous’ and responsible husband...and the somewhat cold, anxious, and sexually uncertain
lover. His insecurity is manifest in his self-absorbed, self-justifying and hypocritical feelings of
superiority towards the guests... (448)
He has no emotional connection to the people or the environment around him, but most
importantly, he has no emotional connection to himself. Everyone he claims to be close to walks
on eggshells around him and it's obvious that there are no real ties. He blames his wife for taking
“three mortal hours to dress herself,” which could be misconstrued as a joke, but he is
patronizing rather than amusing. His rude comments about his wife don't end there; he's outraged
that Gretta "would walk home in the snow if she were allowed." Gretta’s demeanor toward the
party guests, as well as her willingness to go through the snow, stand in stark contrast to Gabriel,
who refuses to let down his guard for fear of being judged. Gretta does not come across as
pretentious or arrogant, despite her guarded demeanor. Gabriel believes he is superior than
others, but he is preoccupied with what others think of him. Gabriel’s friends and family
members make him look dumb. Gabriel’s paralysis is caused by his arrogance and lack of
emotional connection to others around him, including himself. Gabriel is continuously struggling
with his self-identity, and he enables people' opinions to undermine and degrade his self-esteem.
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Gabriel’s self-consciousness and social anxiety have rendered him immobile. Even though it's
not exactly what he wants to say, he struggles with what the correct thing to say is. Because he is
always self-conscious and self-aware, yet incredibly pretentious, his struggle with how people
perceive him is at the heart of his issues. He doesn’t want to make a fuss with Miss Ivors at
dinner, but he can't help but brag about his career and travel to get away from the boring topics.
Gabriel is caught between his desire for people to see him in a specific light and his internal
struggle with his wife's cold demeanor during the party. We witness Gabriel constantly trying to
prove his brilliance and worth to the many people at the party in Joyce's “The Dead”: “Gabriel is
torn between haughty cultural superiority and underlying emotions of inadequacy, and he pushes
this inner drama out onto the social world, which becomes a stage for his never-ending quest for
self-affirmation” (Boysen 401). His public persona, which he displays to society, his wife, and
even himself, gives him a false sense of adulation. Everyone seems to be looking forward to his
arrival, and when we see him arrive to the party, he appears to be arrogantly anticipating
everyone's excitement. This quality in him makes him seem a little haughty, and while it's good
that he looks after Freddy Malins, the drunk, and the others, his true entitled nature emerges.
What fascinates me about Gabriel is how quickly he dismisses every lady who stands in his way,
such as Lilly or Miss Ivors. It's off-putting that he tries to silence Lilly with a lovely tip rather
than apologizing for overstepping a boundary.
Gabriel notices his wife standing at the top of the stairs; listening to someone sing “The Lass
of Aughrim” and gazing sadly off into the distance as the party winds down. “The Lass of
Aughrim” is described as “...a song depicting a misinterpretation between lovers as leading to
their tragic separation, serves to reveal the lack of true intimacy and genuine love binding the
Conroys, bringing about an emotional distance between them” in “The Lass of Aughrim” –
Love, Tragedy, and the Power of the Past (Kapus 3). In “The Dead”, “The Lass of Aughrim”
serves as an interpretive lens for addressing the weighty subject of a tragic death motivated by
love, especially when such love has been hidden within the memory for years, Gabriel observes
as his wife transforms from socialite to recluse as she withdraws into herself for the rest of the
night until she reveals the story of Michael Furey. Gabriel notices his wife Gretta, who is
listening to “The Lass of Aughrim” with grace and mystery in her attitude.(Kapus 3)
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A wave of yet more tender joy escaped from his heart and went coursing in warm flood
along his arteries. Like the tender fire of stars moments of their life together, that no one knew of
or would ever know of, broke upon and illumined his memory. He longed to recall to her those
moments, to make her forget the years of their dull existence together and remember only their
moments of ecstasy. For the years, he felt, had not quenched his soul or hers. Their children, his
writing, her household cares had not quenched all their souls’ tender fire. (Joyce, 215) As they
return to the hotel, Gabriel appears to be enjoying the fact that he and his wife are now alone,
and he is riding the high he has built up of rekindling some kind of fire within their relationship.
“She was walking on before him with Mr. Bartell D'Arcy, her shoes in a brown parcel
tucked under one arm and her hands holding her skirt up from the slush. She had no longer any
grace of attitude, but Gabriel’s eyes were still bright with happiness. The blood went bounding
along his veins; and the thoughts went rioting through his brain, proud, joyful, tender,
valorous.”(Joyce, 214). Gabriel daydreams about the moments he and his wife will share after
they've arrived in their room. “Gabriel strove to restrain himself from breaking out into brutal
language about the sottish Malins and his pound. He longed to cry to her from his soul, to crush
her body against his, to overmaster her”. (Joyce, 218) Gabriel’s fantasies about his wife and his
assertion of control over her have something wrong with them. His feelings aren’t about
reciprocal love or even a tender yearning; instead, he wants to dominate her and is turned on by
these thoughts of power; his thoughts and desires are completely and sexually selfish. It's as if he
has a fantasy of dominating his wife and sees an opportunity to realize it, but these strange
feelings are countered by his wife's aloofness and his inability to comprehend why she appears
so distant. Gabriel's need to assert his authority, even over his wife, is evident once again.
“Gretta’s story puts an end to the idea of Gabriel's ego and the consciousness with which he is
confronted, and which he is unable to comprehend, or master,” Boysen writes. (411)
As he observes his wife, he implements a strategy for restoring their relationship to its former
state. Gabriel fantasizes about having sex with his wife and dominating her when they ride home
in a cab. Gabriel yearns to be in charge of his wife, and Joyce's comments make readers question
how far he would go to fulfill his dreams. Gabriel longs to make love to Gretta in their hotel
room as he tries to rekindle the spark of his marriage with her. Gretta pulls away from her
husband and collapses into the bed, crying and covering her face. She tells him that the song
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“The Lass of Aughrim,” which he used to sing while they were together, reminded her of
Michael Furey, the guy she thought was the love of her life. Gretta tells Gabriel about how she
was about to leave for Dublin and Michael, despite being very unwell, came to see her in the
pouring rain in the dead of winter. She learned about Michael’s death after arriving in Dublin,
and she believes that his last visit to her was a selfless gesture of love that cost him his life.
Gabriel is deeply saddened as his wife cries herself to sleep; he considers how she has managed
to keep her anguish and love for Michael hidden.
Gabriel's embarrassment is compounded by the fact that he has been outdone by a dead man.
So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to
think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life”(Joyce, 222) He realizes now that
there is much about their relationship he did not fulfill, and no matter how much effort he put
into their relationship, he would never out do Michael Furey, who “had braved dead” for
Gabriel’s wife (Joyce, 222) Gabriel revokes from his wife, stunned and hurt by the abrupt news
that he is not her first love. Gabriel’s supposed realizations may be shocking or even strong, yet
he has gained nothing and is left with nothing but himself. Gabriel’s enlightenment begins with
him realizing that he is incapable of loving, and he sobs. He is unable to genuinely understand or
empathize with his wife’s feelings, revealing his selfish nature in the process. He seeks comfort
and indulges in self-pity by pondering his own coming mortality and what it would mean if he
died having made no daring or significant contribution to this life. Gabriel considers a journey
away from Dublin and his current predicament as he observes the snow, hoping to find
something more interesting than his dull and miserable life. He snoozed while he watched the
silvery, black flakes fall obliquely against the lamplight. The moment had arrived for him to go
on his westward adventure. Gabriel may fantasize about leaving Dublin with his wife and
rekindling their love, but he will never be able to totally escape the reality of his wife's anguish
over her old lover and the truth that he can never measure up to Michael Furey. As Gabriel
glances out the window at the cemetery and sees “all the live and the dead,” he understands that
he cannot and will not change his actual nature. His spirit has arrived at the place where the
enormous hordes of the dead reside. He was aware of their erratic and fleeting existence, but he
couldn't comprehend it. His own individuality was slipping into an impenetrable grey realm.
Gabriel’s paralysis is heightened by Joyce’s comparison of it to the cold, silent snow that has
blanketed Dublin; Gabriel, like the snow, is frigid and his emotions are blanketed.
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Gabriel recognizes that Michael has won because he has escaped, whilst Gabriel is trapped
and also knows that he has no idea who he is. All the forms of psychological paralysis shown in
the previous...are masterfully mixed. Conroy is revealed to be so shy and emotionally befuddled
that he is unable to exert himself in public or in personal relationships. Gabriel thinks that it’s
better to walk bravely into that other realm, in the full flory of some emotion, than to wilt and
wither dismally with age. This simply serves to highlight Gabriel's immobility. He realizes now
that he has lost out on passionate love, and that his wife thinks of her dead lover when she lies
next to him.
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Work Cited:
Ben-Merre, David. “Eveline Ever After.” James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 49, no. 3-4, 2012,
pp. 455–471., doi:10.1353/jjq.2012.0033.
Boysen, Benjamin. “The Self and the Other: On James Joyce's A Painful Case and The
Dead.” Orbis Litterarum, vol. 62, no. 5, Oct. 2007, pp. 394-418. EBSCOhost.
Corrington, J. W. "The Themes of Corruption, Escape and Frustration in James Joyce's
Dubliners." 1964. EBSCOhost
Daronkolaee, Esmaeel Najar. “James Joyce's Usage of Diction in Representation of Irish
Society in Dubliners: The Analysis of The Sisters and The Dead in Historical Context." Journal
of International Social Research, vol. 5, no. 23, Fall 2012, pp.
Joyce, James. Dubliners. Penguin Books. 2000.
Kapus, Allie J. “The Lass of Aughrim” – Love, Tragedy, and the Power of the Past,” The
Kabod 3.3 (2017) Article 6. Liberty University Digital Commons
Pecora, Vincent P. “The Dead and the Generosity of the Word.” PMLA, no. 2, 1986, pp.
233. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2307/462406
Wagner, C. Roland. “A Birth Announcement in The Dead (Special Dubliners
Number).” Studies in Short Fiction, no. 3, 1995, pp. 447. EBSCOhost.
Zennure Köseman. “Spiritual Paralysis and Epiphany: James Joyce’s Eveline and The
Boarding House.” Gaziantep University Journal of Social Sciences, Vol 11, Issue
2, no. 2 2012, pp. 587-600. EBSCOhost.