There can be many reasons why short stories that were penned by James Joyce endured to become classics. It can be his ability to bring the reader into a particular time and place, making them feel as if they are there like witnesses to a very interesting personal tale of people struggling to survive in a world that is full of challenges. Great writers like Mr. Joyce can guide a reader into discovering a lesson or truth that otherwise would not have been obvious without the help of the wordsmith. This is made possible by Joyce’s ability to describe the feeling of a person when faced with a certain dilemma.
The writer is obviously an astute student of human nature and when he begins to pain his characters so well that the reader is in for a treat. Eveline The narrator sees the whole landscape from the eyes of Eveline the main character. The reader then gets a tour of her world through her eyes. It is clear that Joyce wanted the reader to first, empathize with Eveline. Secondly he wanted the reader to see her need to go away. And finally Joyce wanted the reader to get a feeling that Eveline’s hometown is small, with very limited opportunities while the world out there is so big waiting to be explored. The plot construction is very admirable.
Joyce was like a builder that started first with the foundation and then created a framework from which he can attach the major pieces and then finally the finishing touches as the story gets its resolution phase. Joyce began by letting the narrator describe Eveline’s world. In doing so Joyce achieved two things. He first showed that once upon a time, Eveline had a happy childhood. And then he showed that her world began to crumble. The happy past was described using the following line; “One time there used to be a field there in which they used to play every evening with other people’s children”.
And then with sudden force without warning the sad part came rushing with this excerpt, “That was a long time ago; she and her brothers ad sisters were all grown up her mother was dead”. Then this gradually builds into a crescendo of pain and unhappiness as Joyce began to describe how Eveline’s father became a drunkard and alluded to his increasing violence towards the children. Joyce did not stop there. He began to paint a claustrophobic world where Eveline was reduced to being a slave for her father and two little siblings.
If this was not enough Joyce added a few more villains into the plot by introducing Eveline’s employer Miss Gavan, whom Joyce described saying that, “She had always had an edge on her, especially whenever there were people listening”. The major catalyst for her idea to leave her hellish existence came in the form of Frank the sailor whom she fell in love with. Joyce made the reader understand the intense longing for adventure and escape when the author wrote that Frank practically traveled around the globe and not only that Frank has a home in Buenos Ayres, a land that seemed so far away and exotic for Eveline.
But the pull to go and explore the world came from other sources as well. The first one came when Joyce pointed out that Eveline’s father had a friend living in Melbourne, Australia and in inserting into the story a group of musicians that came from Italy. Now, Argentina, Australia, and Italy provided for three reference points for Eveline to understand that world is much bigger than what she may have perceived. But even as the pull to travel and adventure is strong enough, the pull to stay is even stronger. The longing for adventure and freedom could not overpower her love for her mother and siblings.
At the end even Frank’s love could not carry her away from home. The Boarding House In the next short story produced by the prolific writer one can see the familiar basic framework. It is of a girl tormented by an abusive man who happens to be also alcoholic. Yet the major difference with this one is that the young lady matured into a grown woman and decided to turn her life around rather than live the rest of her days feeling trapped, abandoned, and insecure. Thus, Mrs. Mooney decided to open up a boarding house for the town’s transients and locals who find it practical to pay fifteen shillings a week for board and lodging.
It turns out that the business was both a blessing and a curse. It was a good source of money especially for a woman who practically is a widow without a husband to support her. On the other hand the business was a constant smear to her reputation. When her own daughter Polly grew to embody a song that she popularly sang for the guests and the song according to Joyce goes like this: I’m a naughty girl. You needn’t sham You know I am At the end Polly could no longer simply flirt and evade the young men who frequent her mother’s business. It was Mr. Doran a thirty-something wine merchant who finally did something more than tease Polly Mooney.
And when the two lovers did something unlawful it was time for Mrs. Mooney to set in motion the greater part of her plan. Suddenly Polly realized that her own mother was not simply acting for her own interest but that she played along to her schemes. Joyce then began to show how Mrs. Mooney sprang the trap that got her a husband for her daughter. Mrs. Mooney used three forces to compel Mr. Doran to marry her daughter or as Joyce would put it, to make reparations. The first step is to make Mr. Doran uneasy with the social pressure and the possibility of losing his job.
Joyce made this clear by mentioning that the establishment to which Mr. Doran was connected was ran by “great Catholics”. This means that they will rather let go of a rogue sales person rather than get their reputation sullied by rumors and innuendo. The second force that Mrs. Mooney used was her daughter himself to wreak havoc on Mr. Doran’s emotions. By sending Polly to Mr. Doran’s room before the final confrontation she made sure that the offender has destroyed something fragile and of course reparations has to be made. But the final pressure came from Jack Mooney, Mrs. Mooney’s son.
The psychological warfare was working successfully because as Mr. Doran was going down he met Jack carrying two bottles of liquor and if that was not enough to scare the lover Joyce wrote that Jack had thick bulldog face and thick short arms. At the end Mr. Doran relented to the unforgiving viselike grip of Mrs. Mooney’s schemes. Still the author provided no happy ending for this story. Aside from the prospect of an uneasy relationship as a result of a shotgun marriage, Joyce is also hinting on the fact that Jack is on his way to becoming an alcoholic like his father.