Refusing the Call? A James Joyce Cautionary Tale

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The opening story in James Joyce’s short story anthology Dubliners is a tale not actually about Departure–though it appears to be on the surface–but rather it is about a Refusal of the Call to Depart on a potentially liberating heroic adventure. The protagonist, Eveline, lives with her widowed father and brothers in Dublin. She tends to their needs as a housewife ‘should,’ standing in for her departed mother.  She meets a sailor, Frank, who would whisk her away to Buenos Aires (“Good Air”); far away from  family, from her nation of Ireland, from her Church community. Throughout the story Eveline muses about Frank’s offer to leave, but as the ten page story unfolds we realize that Eveline cannot possibly leave. Joyce describes Eveline at the end point, refusing to step forward as her lover holds their tickets at the boat, “passive, like a helpless animal.”

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The opening lines of Eveline set up the pathos:

“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 portrays Eveline as trapped. She is trapped in her role as daughter and homekeeper for her family. She is trapped in her Irish identity (how could she run away to Buenos Aires, such an exotic, foreign place?) She is trapped in her identity as a good Irish Catholic woman who must sacrifice her personal passions or dreams to serve her family.

Joyce’s brilliant final passages say it all:

“She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror. Escape! She must escape! Frank would save her. He would give her life, perhaps love, too. But she wanted to live. Why should she be unhappy? She had a right to happiness. Frank would take her in his arms, fold her in his arms. He would save her.

She stood among the swaying crowd in the station at the North Wall. He held her hand and she knew that he was speaking to her, saying something about the passage over and over again. The station was full of soldiers with brown baggages. Through the wide doors of the sheds she caught a glimpse of the black mass of the boat, lying in beside the quay wall, with illumined portholes. She answered nothing. She felt her cheek pale and cold and, out of a maze of distress, she prayed to God to direct her, to show her what was her duty. The boat blew a long mournful whistle into the mist. If she went, tomorrow she would be on the sea with Frank, steaming towards Buenos Ayres. Their passage had been booked. Could she still draw back after all he had done for her? Her distress awoke a nausea in her body and she kept moving her lips in silent fervent prayer.

A bell clanged upon her heart. She felt him seize her hand:

“Come!”

All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her. She gripped with both hands at the iron railing.

“Come!”

No! No! No! It was impossible. Her hands clutched the iron in frenzy. Amid the seas she sent a cry of anguish.

“Eveline! Evvy!”

He rushed beyond the barrier and called to her to follow. He was shouted at to go on but he still called to her. She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.”

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“Eveline” depicts a Refusal of the Call to Depart upon a Hero’s Adventure. But the story does not have to end with Eveline’s surrender to her essentially paralyzed life condition. I propose  below a “Better Ending” version of Eveline. 

My re-vision of “Eveline” transpires in contemporary Ireland, where 62% of the population is urbanized and globalization offers many options to the youth for emigration and jobs.

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“Eveline” Revisited

(by Linda Watts)

Eve stood at the railing of the Odyssey’s prow; straining to find Frank in the harbor crowd as the boat’s powerful engines pulled it away from the shore. Why had he not come? She felt deeply into the pocket of her windbreaker, palming the passage stub, a misty rain in the morning air obscuring her view of all that she was leaving: her father, the rocky countryside, even the steeple of the church she had attended since baptism. Her woven wallet was secure in her pocket, with all the money she had saved from weekly allowances over the last thirteen years. She covered her head with the windbreaker’s hood and tied it so only her eyes were exposed. She turned away from the rail and climbed down from the bow into the passenger deck. Ten or twelve tourists peered out the windows, happy enough to be safe and dry. Eveline, drenched from her watch above, gazed out an open window from her wooden pew seat. East was her direction now. Her very life was about to begin.

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images are from pixabay.com

 

Say Yes!

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Lawrence: Say yes!

Linda: Yes. What did I just agree to?

Lawrence: Fencing! There’s a ten week class starting at

the Community Arts Center this Thursday.

So, at 17, began my adventure of becoming a Fencer and of meeting a dynamic, unusually talented person who would become a close mentor and a friend for life, the fencing teacher who taught and opened my eyes and heart to allowing adventure, spirituality and love of Life into my world. Until that opening conversation with Lawrence, my life was sheltered and small.

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images are from pixabay.com

This was my Call to Adventure. It opened opportunities and exposed me to ideas and adventures that have shaped my life’s journey ever since.

 

Say Yes! to YOUR adventure, whatever it may be.

 

“Yes I said Yes I said YES!”

(Molly Bloom, from James Joyce’s Ulyssses)

A Learning Encounter

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At the end of each month I will share a personal story about our monthly Archetype theme. The month of December being associated astrologically with the Sagittarian TEACHER archetype, let me share with you a story of how teaching/learning has enhanced my Life Path.

One of my greatest Learning—and Teacher–encounters I associate with one of my greatest Mentors, Dr. Antoinette Mann Paterson (or as her closest students would lovingly call her, ‘Tone-the-Bone Paterson’). She wrote a book called The Infinite Worlds of Giordano Bruno. Toni Paterson was a professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York College at Buffalo, my undergraduate alma mater.

Toni was a beguiling, dynamic professor and a strong friend. She would stand before a large class of students and teach often with her eyes closed. Then she would pop her eyes open to stare at one student and ask a direct question, waiting for their answer before continuing. She is the person I have blogged about before who handed an acorn to her son in a park and declared, “There is God!” She also took a nap every day on a little cot at her home. She told me this was so that “Every day, I swim in the Ocean!” Mind you, this was in Buffalo, New York.

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One Fall day in Buffalo on campus, I encountered Toni P. while I was walking between classes. I hadn’t seen her since over the summer.

“Can I take an Independent Study with you this semester?” I queried.

“What topic?” she asked.

On the spot and not having thought in advance of this chance encounter with my mentor, I answered what came to mind: “Silence. A         philosophy of Silence.”

“See me next Monday. 10 AM, my office.”

That Monday when I went to Toni’s office for our first session, shortly after some small talk about how I had been (I was feeling down over some emotional issues), she directed  me:

“So take out a pencil and a piece of paper.” (I did.) “Now, write down this question: ‘So … What?’ Answer that question for next week. I’ll see you then.”

All week I researched philosophical and poetic or literary topics that might pertain to this topic. “So What?” suddenly seemed to me the most vital, important question I had ever considered. “So What?” was the question of existence (Descartes) or of transcendence (as in a Ralph Waldo Emerson essay where he spoke of identity as a “transparent eyeball”).

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The next Monday I arrived with many pages of notes. Toni never asked to see them. Instead she brought me to a table where she had laid out a large sheet of sketch-pad paper. With a marker she began to form a diagram. Who? What? Where? When? Why? These were words she wrote around the borders of the page.

“Where do these intersect?” she probed.

I didn’t understand.

Toni then drew lines from each of the bounding terms that intersected squarely at the center of the page. She wrote one word: “W-H-A-N”. “Whan!” she said, pleased. That is the answer to “So, what?” WHAN!!!

And she was so right! Whan certainly was the correct answer to, “So what?”  It came to mean, for me, that the answer is not materialistic. “Whan” means “It Just Is!” and that is Enough! Where all the WH-Questions combine and intersect and even cancel each other out, see? There doesn’t need to be a substantive answer. IT JUST IS! Life Just IS, and that is Enough. That is Good; Life is Good. WHAN!

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We read a lot that semester, and I journalled a lot—about the nature of existence and about the nature of Silence. Whan is a principle that ever since, I associate with my own Silence. I see it everywhere, hear it whispered in all of existence. It is associated for me with a Word found in many religions, too: HU! This is an ancient, sacred name for God found in many religions and sung as a mantra or song of love for God (on the outgoing breath as H-u-u-u-u-u-u). While in college around that time I was also studying James Joyce’s ULYSSES. In the structural center of the text (however I may have figured that out back then), I found these lines:

“What’s the word?”

“HU!” A bird, sitting on a wire, chirped…

So, WHAN! And, that’s enough then.

Merry Christmas to All.

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images from pixabay.com

James Joyce’s “Eveline” Re-Visioned

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I wrote my Masters thesis in Linguistics about James Joyce’s short story “Eveline”, from his Dubliners book. Eveline is a young Irish woman in 1914 Ireland. Her mother has died several years prior to the action of the story. Eveline has taken care of her father and brothers ever since. But now a sailor from another country, Frank, has romanced Eveline and he wants to take her away with him, to Buenos Aires.

“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.”

So James Joyce’s story of “Eveline” opens. The question Joyce poses with this opening Dubliners story is simple: Will Eveline leave family, Church and nationality to go away with the sailor to another land? Buenos Aires–”good” or fresh “air”–contrasts with the “dusty” air of Eveline’s home and world. There is hardly ever a question in the story really of whether Eveline will leave; to Joyce, she can not. By the end, when the final time for her to decide arrives with the boat on which Frank has bought them passage, we see Eveline in a state of near paralysis, like a frightened animal:

“She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror. Escape! She must escape! Frank would save her. He would give her life, perhaps love, too. But she wanted to live. Why should she be unhappy? She had a right to happiness. Frank would take her in his arms, fold her in his arms. He would save her.

She stood among the swaying crowd in the station at the North Wall. He held her hand and she knew that he was speaking to her, saying something about the passage over and over again. The station was full of soldiers with brown baggages. Through the wide doors of the sheds she caught a glimpse of the black mass of the boat, lying in beside the quay wall, with illumined portholes. She answered nothing. She felt her cheek pale and cold and, out of a maze of distress, she prayed to God to direct her, to show her what was her duty. The boat blew a long mournful whistle into the mist. If she went, tomorrow she would be on the sea with Frank, steaming towards Buenos Ayres. Their passage had been booked. Could she still draw back after all he had done for her? Her distress awoke a nausea in her body and she kept moving her lips in silent fervent prayer.

A bell clanged upon her heart. She felt him seize her hand:

“Come!”

All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her. She gripped with both hands at the iron railing.

“Come!”

No! No! No! It was impossible. Her hands clutched the iron in frenzy. Amid the seas she sent a cry of anguish.

“Eveline! Evvy!”

He rushed beyond the barrier and called to her to follow. He was shouted at to go on but he still called to her. She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.”

My re-vision of “Eveline” transpires in contemporary Ireland, where 62% of the population is urbanized and globalization offers many options to the youth for emigration and jobs.

“Eveline” Revisited:

Eve stood at the railing of the Odyssey’s prow; straining to find Frank in the harbor crowd as the boat’s powerful engines pulled it away from the shore. Why had he not come? She felt deeply into the pocket of her windbreaker, palming the passage stub, a misty rain in the morning air obscuring her view of all that she was leaving: her father, the rocky countryside, the steeple of the church she had attended since baptism. Her woven purse was secure in her pocket, with all the money she had saved from weekly allowances over the last thirteen years. She covered her head with the windbreaker’s hood and tied it so only her eyes were exposed. She turned away from the rail and climbed down from the bow into the passenger deck. Ten or twelve tourists peered out the windows, happy to be safe and dry. Eveline, drenched from her watch above, gazed out an open window from her pew seat. East was her direction now. Her very life was about to begin.

——————————–

What story would you choose to re-vision with a Better Ending? Why this story and not another? I chose “Eveline” because her inability to leave, her bondage to family, church and nationality, has stayed with me through the years as a cautionary tale. I have a strong aversion to any bonds that do not serve fulfillment for all concerned; therefore, in my projection, Eve departs.

I invite your Comments. Which stories might you wish to revise and why?

“Eveline” Re-Visioned

1051-st-patrics-day-1100026180-10232013

I wrote my Masters thesis in Linguistics about James Joyce’s short story “Eveline”, from his Dubliners book. Eveline is a young Irish woman in 1914 Ireland. Her mother has died several years prior to the action of the story. Eveline has taken care of her father and brothers ever since. But now a sailor from another country, Frank, has romanced Eveline and he wants to take her away with him, to Buenos Aires.

“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.”

So James Joyce’s story of “Eveline” opens. The question Joyce poses with this opening Dubliners story is simple: Will Eveline leave family, Church and nationality to go away with the sailor to another land? Buenos Aires–“good” or fresh “air”–contrasts with the “dusty” air of Eveline’s home and world. There is hardly ever a question in the story really of whether Eveline will leave; to Joyce, she can not. By the end, when the final time for her to decide arrives with the boat on which Frank has bought them passage, we see Eveline in a state of near paralysis, like a frightened animal:

“She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror. Escape! She must escape! Frank would save her. He would give her life, perhaps love, too. But she wanted to live. Why should she be unhappy? She had a right to happiness. Frank would take her in his arms, fold her in his arms. He would save her.

She stood among the swaying crowd in the station at the North Wall. He held her hand and she knew that he was speaking to her, saying something about the passage over and over again. The station was full of soldiers with brown baggages. Through the wide doors of the sheds she caught a glimpse of the black mass of the boat, lying in beside the quay wall, with illumined portholes. She answered nothing. She felt her cheek pale and cold and, out of a maze of distress, she prayed to God to direct her, to show her what was her duty. The boat blew a long mournful whistle into the mist. If she went, tomorrow she would be on the sea with Frank, steaming towards Buenos Ayres. Their passage had been booked. Could she still draw back after all he had done for her? Her distress awoke a nausea in her body and she kept moving her lips in silent fervent prayer.

A bell clanged upon her heart. She felt him seize her hand:

“Come!”

All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her. She gripped with both hands at the iron railing.

“Come!”

No! No! No! It was impossible. Her hands clutched the iron in frenzy. Amid the seas she sent a cry of anguish.

“Eveline! Evvy!”

He rushed beyond the barrier and called to her to follow. He was shouted at to go on but he still called to her. She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.”

My re-vision of “Eveline” transpires in contemporary Ireland, where 62% of the population is urbanized and globalization offers many options to the youth for emigration and jobs.

“Eveline” Revisited:

Eve stood at the railing of the Odyssey’s prow; straining to find Frank in the harbor crowd as the boat’s powerful engines pulled it away from the shore. Why had he not come? She felt deeply into the pocket of her windbreaker, palming the passage stub, a misty rain in the morning air obscuring her view of all that she was leaving: her father, the rocky countryside, even the steeple of the church she had attended since baptism. Her woven wallet was secure in her pocket, with all the money she had saved from weekly allowances over the last thirteen years. She covered her head with the windbreaker’s hood and tied it so only her eyes were exposed. She turned away from the rail and climbed down from the bow into the passenger deck. Ten or twelve tourists peered out the windows, happy to be safe and dry. Eveline, drenched from her watch above, gazed out an open window from her pew seat. East was her direction now. Her very life was about to begin.

——————————–

What story did you choose this week, or might you choose, to re-vision for a Better Ending? Why this story and not another? I chose “Eveline” because her inability to leave, her bondage to family, church and nationality in Joyce’s poignant sketch, has stayed with me through the years as a cautionary tale. I have a strong aversion to any such bonds; in my version, therefore, Eve departs.

Please feel free to share your Comments and tell us about what stories you would revise and why. Our next topic begins tomorrow: Relationship Changes with respect to Better Endings.