Eveline sits at the window, watching the avenue. She thinks of her family, and the neighbors. Years ago, the children on the avenue used to play on a field where now stand many houses. She and her siblings are now grown up, and her mother is dead. Eveline is nineteen years old, and she is planning to leave Ireland forever. She works very hard, at a store and also at home, where she cares for her old father. She won't miss her job in the store. She has mixed feelings about her father. He can be cruel, and though he doesn't beat her, as he did her brothers, he often threatens her with violence. With her brothers gone (Ernest is dead and Harry is often away on business) there is no one to protect her. She takes care of two young siblings and gives over her whole salary for the family, but her father is always accusing her of being a spendthrift.
She is going to leave Ireland for good with a sailor named Frank. He has a home in Buenos Ayres. Frank treats her respectfully and with great tenderness, and he entertains her with stories about his travels around the world. Her father dislikes him.
Still, she loves her father and regrets the idea of leaving him in his old age. At times he can be kind. She remembers her mother's death, when she promised her mother to keep the home together as long as she could. Her mother lived a life "of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness" (33). She finished babbling the enigmatic phrase "Derevaun Seraun!" again and again. The fear of that memory strengthens the resolve in Eveline to leave.
But at the station, with the boat ready to leave, she is paralyzed. She cannot go; the world is too frightening. "All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He [Frank] was drawing her into them: he would drown her" (34). Frank calls to her, trying to get her to board with the rush of people. She merely stares at him as if he is a stranger.
Yet again, this story focuses on the theme of escape. While the young boy narrators of the previous stories are too young to leave Ireland or do anything about their poverty, Eveline has been given a chance. Yet in the end, the girl finds herself incapable of going.
Certainly, she has every reason to leave. The portrait we have of her family life is less than heart-warming. We see that she has taken on an incredible part of the burden in keeping the family together, as her mother did before her. Her father, despite the points he wins for not beating her, is a domineering and unfair man, who makes his daughter work and then keeps her wages. Rather than appreciate her sacrifices, he ridicules her. Unpleasant characters in Joyce's works often criticize the Irishman who leaves Ireland, the most common sentiment being that these expatriates are ungrateful children of their country. Joyce, himself an expatriate, turns this insult around in "Eveline": we see not an ungrateful child, but an ungrateful parent. Eveline's stifling family life becomes a metaphor for the trap that is Ireland.
Her mother provides the chilling example of what it means to be a grateful child, and to do what is expected: we learn that she lived a life "of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness" (33). At the end of her life she is true Irish, babbling in Ireland's native language (which nationalists had been trying to revitalize). However, the phrase she utters repeatedly is probably nonsense; at best it is corrupt Gaelic. The meaninglessness of the phrase suggests, metaphorically, that the sacrifices have also been meaningless. Eveline's mother has earned nothing but madness.
The stages-of-life structure continues. Eveline is adult, a young woman old enough to get married. Joyce gives us in concise detail the terrible poverty and pressure of her situation. The weight of poverty and family responsibilities bear down on this young woman heavily; her financial situation is far worse than that of the three boy narrators of the previous stories. She is trapped in an ugly situation, responsible for her siblings and the aging father who abuses her.
Paralysis is a common theme in Dubliners, and poor Eveline finds herself unable to move forward. She lacks the courage and strength to make that leap that will free her of her oppressive situation. She's too scared to leave Ireland, and sees her lover as a possible source of danger: "All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He [Frank] was drawing her into them: he would drown her" (34). But her paralysis will cost her. Instead of an uncertain but hopeful future, she faces a certain and dismal future that may well repeat her mother's sad life story.