One evening a very tired young woman sits at the window watching the evening descend and listening to the sound of passing footsteps. At nineteen, Eveline thinks of her family and the neighbors she has known for years. Her mother is dead, and her brothers have grown. Soon, she will leave Dublin and Ireland for ever: "now she was going to go away like the others" (25). She feels glad about leaving her job: "she would not cry many tears at leaving the Stores," but ambivalent about leaving her cruel father who threatens to beat her as he did her brothers, one of whom is dead (26). Her father accuses her of spending too much money even though she gives him all her salary. She is to leave Dublin for Buenos Aires with a sailor named Frank who treats her with great tenderness. After her father quarreled with Frank she had to see him secretly.
She nevertheless loves her father, and feels she is abandoning him to a miserable old age. She fondly remembers the time he put on her mother's bonnet and made the children laugh and she also recalls the promise to keep the family together that she made to her mother. Her mother died in "craziness," obsessively repeating the phrase "Derevaun Seraun!" This memory prompts Eveline to jump up in terror: "escape!" (28). She believes that Frank will save her. However, at the boat she finds herself paralyzed with fear and she cannot move. When Frank shouts "come," she can only grasp the iron rails: "all the seas of the world tumbled about her heart.he would drown her." Frank calls and calls to her, but she stares passively at him "like a helpless animal," with no sign of love or recognition (29).
In the fourth Dubliners story, Joyce moves forward from childhood to youth. The author is highly regarded for his insights into women's lives, possibly from observing his own impoverished mother. Eveline carries too much weight on her shoulders for a young adult on the threshold of marriage. She lives in poverty and already has taken on the responsibility of her mother's family. Her dead-end thankless job and her abusive father will end up destroying any chance for happiness. Indeed, the abuse she suffers will escalate. She, like her mother, will live a life "of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness," babbling incoherently (28).
The twin themes of escape and paralysis dominate this work. While the narrators in the earlier stories, particularly "An Encounter," are too young as yet to flee Ireland, here we see a young girl who is old enough and even with the means to take flight and leave her bleak, cruel life and her ungrateful, brutal parent behind. Yet, Eveline, a metaphor for all the Irish, is completely paralyzed and cannot spread her wings and escape. Full of fear, she chooses instead to remain mired in permanent poverty and maternal guilt to live out a dismal life.