In Joyce’s story “Clay,” Maria is the clay—completely molded by events outside herself. None of Maria’s emotions originate from within herself… each is a reaction to the needs or emotion of someone else: she’d rather not take a gift, but she does; she’s sorry she mentions matters; she is summoned to resolve disputes without being involved in any disputes herself; she’s summoned to sing when she’d rather not; after just a page or two her thought to herself that it was “so much better to be independent” is laughable. And sad. The clay (presumably) she touches during the first “wrong” round of the game is fitting… being consigned to a Joycean convent a very close second place.
Eveline and Maria: what a strange pair. Eveline, too, is lifeless, but by virtue of being numbed to the world around her. Maria is reactive, but in no ultimately meaningful way, a life of minutiae and trivia that she elevates to an anesthetized substitute for passion.
I had to search for “I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls” to try to figure out the “mistake” Maria made singing it. It turns out to be a telling one: Maria sings the first verse twice, one in which the speaker exists in a state of already existing love, riches and remarkable ancestry, foregoing the second in which she would be singing of ‘”suitors that sought her hand” and active vows of love and faith—a state in which she would not only be wanted, but in which she would have to be an active participant in her own life, something she, like Eveline before her, will never be.