Gender Roles In The Eveline By James Joyce

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Gender roles, an issue that has caused controversy between men and women for years and has made itself seemingly vague in many areas of society. So, what is gender roles in the real sense? ‘’In short, it is a non-specific category built within society. It varies depending on many psychological characteristics and references to gender roles based on biological sex by the society.’’ (Helgeson, 2005). In other words, gender roles can be interpreted as traditions and behaviours imposed by society on women and men. Particularly in societies that care about preserving their traditions, they have the idea men and women should behave in a specific way in order to maintain social order. In patriarchal societies, it is inevitable to encounter a huge gap if one compares the sense of responsibility attributed to men and to women. Unfortunately, this is not just limited to the past. Even in the twentieth century, women are being worked like slaves by being forced to do household chores without being paid or appreciated. While what is expected of men is to go to work and bring home money, the woman is expected to take care of her baby, her children, her husband and to cap it all, be responsible for cleaning the house and food. Either with the rise of awareness of women or with the elapsing of the time, those roles or expectations started to change in every aspects of our life. At this point, the role of literature in guiding women’s life and being the voice of women is undeniably significant. James Joyce’s short story Eveline gives insight to the reader about how those gender roles have severe effects on woman and society in the past. In this essay, I am going to discuss Eveline’s path to finding her way through the societal oppression she is under and the oppression of the male figures in her life. The story starts with the portrait of a bright brick house which is started to fade away with the memories of Eveline’s family and her childhood. While reader sees Eveline’s daily life in the house and with the objects in it, her limitations clearly show itself. It gives an insight about Eveline’s inner-self to reader, since those limitations occur as a result of depressing life which she has to live with his abusive father, patriarchal society. ‘’Home! She looked round the home reviewing all its familiar objects which she had dusted once a week for so many years, wondering where on earth all the dust come from.’’ (1). As it is seen from this line, while she feels belong to the house, she is also suffering the difficulties of being strangeness towards the house at the same time. On the one hand, this house is her comfort zone, the fact that being in that house for years, knowing every corner of that house, and that feeling of familiarity puts Eveline into a dilemma whether she should stay or not. She is acquainted with stuffs in the house, but there is one thing should not be forgotten that even though it seems normal to not go out of the familiar situations and spaces, this situation can cause great harm to the person, just like the dust Eveline used to smell in her house. Even though this detail does not seem significant, it undermines to Eveline. She dusts over and over again but it still remains, it does not go anywhere. The dust might be representation of the passing of time motionlessly. Indeed, it bears a quite resembles with Eveline’s situation, as the dust represents her own state and colorless lifestyle. Besides, it could easily associated with Eveline’s self-despair, which she has been looking for desperately behind the window; she is always designing the plans of how she could run away from this monotous life but at the end of the day she somehow ended up in the house of frontiers. However, Eveline realized that she was not a little girl anymore, it was her turn to leave the house. And after she decided tho leave house, now this time the questions in her head did not give her any comfort. Effects of social oppression on Eveline clearly reveals itself again in this quotation: “What would they say of her in the Stores when they found out that she had run away with a fellow?” (2). At the beginning of the 20th century, the opportunities and rights given to women were limited, not only in Ireland, but also in many parts of the world. Therefore, Eveline had sadly suffered from the discrimination caused by the gender norms in working environment, at home and on the street basically in every social environment she could be part in. Hence, even when it comes to her own happiness, she is questioning her decision because of society’s judgment, and fear of losing her reputation instead of leaving her house and running away with her love,Frank. Only this fact alone is a demonstration of how women are unhappy with their lives, because of they are scared of what people might think of them. Furthermore, Eveline thinks how she possibly feels if she leaves home and adds: “She would not cry so many tears leaving Stores” (2). Eveline is aware of the fact that she does not feel satisfied with her tidious and monotonous life at all. She can not live spontaneously. For example she can not go for a walk at the middle of the night, or with sudden decision, she can not want to go to another country when she wakes up. There is not even one thing which can surprise her at some times of the day, unfortunately, she is not able to do something in her life to make her feel alive. The days of her life just pass of by wishing to live as she wants, but the situation she is in pathetically shows that Eveline is living the life completely different from what she imagines. Just like Ms. Hill, Eveline’s mother, she has taken up many tasks that need to be done. In short, devoting her life to satisfy her father, and while carrying all those burdens on her shoulders by her own, she forgets that she has also a life. This is why, Eveline does not think that she is going to be affected negatively by the idea of leaving stores, because by staying there, nothing is going to change.

Speaking of Ms. Hill, she has also crucial effect of Eveline’s life as female figure, even if she is not living anymore, her testament’s weigh which brings on Eveline’s conscience still obtains, in her inheritance she states that : “Strange that it should come that very night to remind her of the promise to her mother, her promise to keep the home together as long as she could” (5). After Ms. Hill’s death, now Eveline assumes mother role in the house. Despite living her best years recklessly, she acts like mother and wife to her brothers and father; she is taking care of them and trying to make sure they do not feel their mother’s absence. Considering her age, it is quite more than she can handle. It is not just Eveline’s responsibility to take care of everybody. Although they had not bequeathed, their father and brother could act to take responsibility for the house and make Eveline feels emotionally good, but instead of doing their part, they preferred something common which we can see in the male-dominated society and they wanted something done for them. Unfortunately, the signs of gender norm indicate itself again, they have that idea is that just because she is a woman and female figure always seem, someone, who should take care of everything regardless of their age or if she is experienced enough or not. Another major figure which is related to my topic is Eveline’s father. He is mentioned in this phrase by : “Even now, though she was over nineteen, she sometimes felt herself in danger of her father’s violence” (2). Taking into account that Eveline is just nineteen years old, it is not hard to guess how much she needs her father’s attention as a little girl who has just lost her mother. But instead of respecting his daughter and contribute her progress, he is just taking advantage of being father by using his authority in a negative way. He is using his power destructively on Eveline. And in some way, he managed to make Eveline feel scared and that fear gives shape the way how she lives. Moreover, while she is trying so hard not to upset her father, it makes her feel disappointed to see that the way how he treats getting worse every day. She starts to feel inadequate because taking into consideration her age, and lack of experience she is trying her best and her efforts are not appreciated. She is suppose to play outside with her friends and go to school just like her peers instead of bring home to bacon. If there was someone who would still look after them, maybe none of these would have happened, what a good time when her mother was alive, she did not have any problem. In those lines, the reader confronts Eveline’s longing to old days : “Still they seemed to have been rather happy then. Her father was not so bad then; and besides, her mother was alive” (1). If her mother was still alive, maybe she would not have gone through any of this hard conditions. She is bringing back old memories in her mind, she remembers the old days when her family was happy before Eveline’s mother death. She is seeking those happy days. With sudden realization, Eveline thinks that maybe her mother was the only thing that draws the family together and happy. How helplessly she wishes for her mother was still alive. Maybe it would not be so hard to be happy. But it did not take long, she knows she is thinking like that because she is having an emotional moment right now. After a while, in spite of their they happy moments, Eveline started to see the big picture more clearly, her family was never happy at all, her mother was neither. Just like he did to her mother, now Eveline is facing with how it feels like to sharing live with this monster.

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The trauma which caused by her mother’s death, her father’s abusive attitude, her brother’s departure from the house thoroughly isolated Eveline. The emotional emptiness created by the monotonous and boring life of Eveline led her to desire something. So, what we desire? ‘’For Lacan, the very nature of desire means that it is always unfulfilled: ‘I always find my desire outside of me, because what I desire is always something I lack, that is other to me.’’ (Sarup,1992,68-69) So, according to the context, what is Eveline lack of? She has this feeling that she needs to be seen and treated as an individual. Not being treated as a second-class citizen because of her gender. Eveline states her thought about what is the key factor for women to be seen someone as independent: “…Then she would be married- she, Eveline. People would treat her with respect then” (2). Pathetically, in order to be respected as a woman, there is a necessity that they need to belong someone, a male figure of course. This might be their husband, their boyfriend and eventually women are expected to have children from their husband. There is no way to be considered as an independent individual for women by themselves. This patriarchal mindset introduce women to society someone as who should always produce something they can produce babies,foods just like a factory. In these circumstances, Eveline sees Frank and marriage as a escape way from the malestream which always practices double standards. And she adds: “He would give her life, perhaps love, too. But she wanted to live. Why should she be unhappy? ‘‘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.” (5). Eveline starts to think more consciously and wisely. She finally realizes that she deserves a better quality of life. She is thinking about Frank’s pros and cons. Actually, there is no reason she should not run off with Frank. He is extremely polite and caring toward to Eveline, besides he is the only male figure in Eveline’s life, who accepts her as she is. Besides, if she runs away with Frank, she will not live like a slave in a house, as she lived with her abusive father.

Now it is time for Eveline to decide. Although she had very good dreams at the beginning, she was confused in the last minute by the fear created by obscurity. She suddenly remembered the house she lived in. In spite of all the bad sides, it was a house that she knew and had full control of. She states her desperation in those lines: “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” (6). It is a demonstration of how gender norms might play a significant role in one’s life so that it can both decide how the individual should behave and set the decisions that one can take in the name of her own happiness. In despair, she just keeps herself away from Frank. She feels obligated to honor her mother’s dying wish and for that, she is unable to build herself a life of her own without having to take care of the family. Eveline’s fears overwhelm her and she gives up running away with Frank.

[bookmark: _gjdgxs]In conclusion, the reader gets the chance to dart into Eveline’s inner world, her dilemmas. We witness that how desperately Eveline lost control of her life, her identity as a result of society’s imposion in front of our eyes. Thanks to Joyce, the way he uses the metaphors, the settings, the language he guides the reader to understand much more easily Eveline’s mood changes, the reasons behind that she feels restricted, and at the end of the story, how those all factors influence Eveline’s decision.

Work Cited

  1. O’Brien, Eugene. “’Because She Was a Girl’: Gender Identity and the Postcolonial in James Joyce’s ‘Eveline’.” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, vol. 93, no. 370, 2004, pp. 201–215. JSTOR,
  2. Sarup, Madan, Jacques Lacan, Hemel Hemsted: Harvester Wheatsheaf, (1992)
  3. Joyce James, ‘’Eveline’’, 1904
  4. Helgeson, V. H. (1992). Moderators of the relation between perceived control and adjustment to chronic illness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(4), 656–666.


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