How Past Memories Shape The Present: Analysis Of Joyce’s Eveline

‘Time’ as the main theme of this essay, it represents the idea of lifetime; past, present, and future. Memories from the past throughout the lifetime can shape the main character in each story of such behaviors and decisions in the present, which links to the future. It is frequently told to us that the use of flashbacks within the recollections of the characters, at that point moves the plot closer to the end. This essay will explain about the impact of time and how occasions from the past influences the choices made by the character in James Joyce's story Eveline, as well as how this relates to the world’s context.

Eveline is a girl who lives with her abusive father in Ireland. Her mother passed away when she was young. The death of her mother left her with memory and promise, which she remembers deep at heart. In the present, she has a responsibility to take care of her father, even though he is sometimes violent to her. This makes Eveline is about to get tired of this life. In addition, she meets her love named Frank. Frank comes to light up Eveline’s world; therefore, she decides whether to go with him to start a new life. However, as closer as the day will come, she likes to think of old times, how happy she and her old family were, as well as promise with her death mother. This in turn affects Eveline decision not to go with Frank.

The memory that touches the heart of the main character (Eveline) the most, which illustrates such key of this story is, the memory of her mother. Her mother died when she was young. Also, she made a promise with her mother to take care of her family, which she still remembers up to the present.

“That was a long time ago, she and her brothers and sisters were all grown up her mother was dead. Also, she made a promise with her mother that she will take care of her family and keep the home together. She knew the air Strange that it should come that very night to remind her of the promise to her mother, her promise to keep the home together for as long as she could. She remembered the last night of her mother’s illness; she was again in the close dark room at the other side of the hall...” (Joyce, 1914).

This memory shapes the way the main character’s behaviors that Eveline has to take responsibility to take care of her father. Even though her father often drunk and speak badly to her when she asks for some money to buy food for him. As soon as her father gives her money, she does routine on Saturday night by going to the shop and buy food at the last minute, and prepare it for Sunday’s dinner. Unfortunately, she is getting tired about her life. This influences Eveline to make decision whether to leave or to stay.

“In the end, he would give her the money and ask her she had any intention of buying Sunday's dinner. Then she had to rush out as quickly as she could and do her marketing, holding her black leather purse tightly in her hand as she elbowed her way through the crowds and returning home late under her load of provisions. She had hard work to keep the house together and to see that the two young children who had been left to hr charge went to school regularly and got their meals regularly. It was hard work - a hard life - but now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life.” 

The reasons to support her decision to go away is her father’s violence and her new life. She takes time to think about the negative and positive aspect of whether to leave or stay.

“Even now, though she was over nineteen, she sometimes felt herself in danger of her father’s violence”. Furthermore, she becomes anxious as she always hesitates between leaving home to start her new life or staying the same place with things and people she familiar with. “She tried to weigh each side of question. In her home anyway she had shelter and food; she had those whom she had known all her life about her.” (Joyce, 1914).

Between her thoughts, she thinks that her father might be good sometimes due to past memories and she will feel guilty if she leaves him alone. No one will going to look after him.

“She remembered her father putting on her mothers bonnet to make the children laugh.” (Joyce, 1914).

At the end, which is the biggest changing point of the story. She is about to go with Frank (her lover) to start a new life. Just one step getting into the ships, so she can have a new beginning.

“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.” (Joyce, 1914).

However, suddenly, her eyes show no sign of love to Frank. The reason why this happens, is because the memory of her making promise with mother to take care of family, which she tightly holds on; as well as her good memory about father. The memories in the past affect her decision not to go with Frank, but to stay with her father and live her old life.

Joyce, the writer, was likely to interest in the relationship between past and future. In Ireland, which is the place setting of Eveline, Joyce realized that Irish people often had a habit of nostalgically looking backwards and holding onto the past, so it needs to see progress to bring itself up into modern. Joyce wrote the life of Eveline to be dull and have no inspiration. In addition, she compares Eveline’s abusive father as old generation that should be cast off so the nation can move on. At the peak time choosing to whether to start a new life, Joyce wrote Eveline character to choose her old life over Frank, which can compare that Ireland often faces difficulties to move on because they cannot let go of the past. Even though there were some good aspects, comparing Eveline’s mother and brother, it was all dead and gone. This also can illustrate how women are viewed and treated in the past, especially in Europe. Most women have to take care of family, even though they might not be the most preferred one for her parents. Therefore, Eveline character was written to fulfil her role of being a daughter even though she has to sacrifice her happiness.


Based on analysis of this short story in the theme of time; how memories from the past throughout lifetime affect the present and future behaviors of such a person. In Eveline, the memories of her mother shapes her decision to continue taking care of her father and let go of her lover.  I find out that even though memories in the past shape our present and future, we should not hold it tight to make every decision based on it. Because the memories can be something incomplete and cause bias. To clarify, in Eveline, the memories of her mother and what actually happened could be not matched since she remembers from her very young age. In addition, it makes her too afraid to go out from her safe zone. Thus, we should learn to adapt, let go of the past, and let things be. Also, we should not be in our safe zone for too long, life is always challenging, which we should go out and explore. Last, we should always do good to other people, and do it as best as we can in that particular moment. When we get older, we can be such good memory to some other people to remember, as well as, we will not have to regret about things we did bad in the past old days. 

16 December 2021
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