A “creature” “burning with anguish and anger.” Wearing a straitjacket. “Passive, like a helpless animal.” Paralysis.
Eveline looks to God for an answer to what shouldn’t be any kind of dilemma but finds none. No surprise, this being Joyce. In fact, religious faith, often characterized by those who possess it as a distinction that elevates man as more than beast, has quite the opposite effect on Eveline:
“She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.”
Faith is the ultimate lever-and-pellet system: be faithful and receive the ultimate reward. Eventually. Eveline’s frantic pressing of the lever provides nothing except, perhaps, the hope that she’ll go to that reward someday.
Eveline is disappearing. She’s buried herself. Even when she’s trying to make this once-in-a-lifetime decision she wonders if she can turn back “despite all that Frank’s done for her.” Eveline doesn’t frame the question as one of what she can or should do for herself because she exists increasingly only in the eyes of others and in the work she does for them.
We possess an endless ability to rationalize decisions like Eveline’s. We stay together for the sake of the children. We bury ourselves in smothering relationships because we “made a commitment,” regardless of changes in context and ourselves. We accept financial stability over emotional health and rationalize the sacrifice of ourselves and our potential as a kind of mundane martyrdom. We make decisions in service of the fictions that are our lives, telling our story, which should be the most important story we make, as if it belongs to someone else, as if we are bit players. Until we disappear, ghosts haunting our own ongoing lives. Wraiths.
I don’t know how many opportunities like Eveline’s we get. More often we are left the even harder work of creating such opportunities for ourselves… if we dare. How many times have we passed on these opportunities, perhaps in less dramatic fashion (that’s part of Joyce’s genius, bringing forth the drama of the interior of the mind making this kind choice), perhaps less obvious even to ourselves?
Eveline. The diminutive of Eve. The evil she is tempted by is one of self-erasure and rationalization. Enabling her abusive father and passing the same traits on to her children. Stunted fruit from a withered tree.