Eveline (Joyce, p.29, 2000) is probably one of the most critiqued short stories written. I wrote a short article on the 15th July 2013 under the title ‘The Freedom of Paralysis - James Joyce,’ which can be found here: http://www.connbardi.com/2013/07/the-freedom-of-paralysis-james-joyce.html.
I will now discuss how a text may be approached from different aspects, and thus inform our perception based on how we define its message. So what is Eveline trying to tell us?
Eveline is perhaps unable to move forward with her life because she is stuck to her past. In line 1 she talks about ‘the evening invad[ing] the avenue’. The tone is being set for what she might regard as an attack on her familiar environ. Her nostalgia is displayed on p. 29, where she shares her thoughts ‘One time there used to be a field there […]. Perhaps she is pensive and about how things have changed in her street, which may be a metaphor for her life. Her wistfulness is displayed in the free indirect speech ‘Everything changes. Now she was going to go away like the others, to leave her home.’ This may be a scary thought for some, if it were regarded as moving to the unfamiliar. Some readers, who may not be so comfortable with the idea of leaving home, will be glad when Eveline decides to avoid moving on with her life. But what if her decision places her in graver danger?
Another viewpoint may be that the story has undertones of the Electra complex; or even a darker incestuous relationship that may have been forced upon Eveline. In page 30 the first signs of domestic violence is hinted ‘but latterly he had begun to threaten her’ […]. This may be an insinuation that she had replaced her late mother in looking after her father; or more. Even her dying mother imprisoned her with her final words implying that she must look after the family (p.33). In page 30, Eveline introduces her prolepsis of happiness that if she were to leave home ‘People would treat her with respect then.’ Readers who may have or are in the grim territory of domestic violence, physical or mental, may be disappointed that Eveline chose to stay.
The writer of the text foregrounds his message by the use of emotive language (Jakobson,1960) of words such as ‘her father’s violence’ on page 30 (Joyce, 2000). This will affect the readers’ thought process, their conative function (Jakobson,1960), and how they internalise their reading. So can any reader be truly objective?
It is my argument that all reading may be affected by our sociocultural, familial, and childhood experiences. This affect may enhance or moderate those views that, over the years, we have come to believe as being true. Therefore readers are subjective recipients based on their personal understanding of the world. An older infirm parent might regard Eveline’s decision to stay and look after her father as the correct one. Another that may have suffered in his or her familial environment may despair at the impasse that her inability may have caused her. Does that mean that there is a right or wrong way of reading?
Reading is a very personal experience and may be carried out for a variety of reasons. The latter may also affected by the material in hand. A crime novel would probably be used as escapism and pleasure, during which one might try to predict the outcome or the characters’ actions at the most. On the other hand, a short story like ‘Eveline’ may challenge our thinking and how we view familial environments. Perhaps Sam Selvon’s Lonely Londoners (2006), which is based on global sociocultural issues, will be received differently by the migrant society, especially the early Caribbean immigrants, compared to other readerships. This may not apply only to novels, but to the majority of text.
The way to gain a deeper understanding from our reading is to critically question the material we read. By questioning we engage in an analytical exchange with the text, which creates an environment of growth. We do not accept what is before us as truism, but instead we try to identify different points of view from those of the writer. Moreover, we may also be challenging our thought process by not simply internalising the contents based on our current perception, but by examining whether those different points of view might be more valid.
Jakobson, R. (1960), in Maybin, J. and Pearce M. (2006), ‘Literature and creativity in English’ in Goodman, S. and O'Halloran, K. (eds.) ‘The art of English: literary creativity’, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan/Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 3-48.
Joyce, James, and Terence Brown. Dubliners. London: Penguin Books, 2000.
Selvon, Samuel. The Lonely Londoners. London: Penguin, 2006.