Isolation and Fading Happiness in Joyce’s “Eveline” and Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro”

            James Joyce’s “Eveline” and Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” both share a gloomy tone and address the similar theme of isolation.  Eveline experiences many of the same emotions as rider on the metro would.  While Eveline yearns to “explore another life with Frank” (2223), she is struck by feelings of melancholy for her old family life.  Someone waiting at the metro station is likely traveling somewhere, which is usually an exciting affair, yet he or she cannot seem to find any joy in the activity.  These sensations set the vapid scene of each piece. The “petals on a wet, black bough” (Pound) is representative of this notion of fading happiness as people, like all things in life, are eventually lost.             

            Both characters are disconnected from the world in which they live.  The metro would likely be buzzing with a multitude of people and subways, but it still very easy to feel alone.  The bustling people look more like an “apparition” (Pound).  They are all so isolated from one another that all the metro-goers seem more like ghosts.  Eveline is in a similar state of limbo as she dreams of her future and reminisces about her past.  She remembers happier times when “the children of the avenue used to play together in that field” (2222) and wishes to return to her past.  Joyce is hinting at one of the prevailing themes of modernity: alienation.  Similarly, the advent of advanced technology, such as the subway system, evokes sadness and a longing for a simpler time. 

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Similarities between In a Station of the Metro and Eveline

Within Ezra Pound’s In a Station of the Metro and James Joyce’s Eveline, there was one enormous element that stood out to me. Both pieces of writing are from the viewpoint of an individual who from the outside appears to be just observing the world around. Pounds mentions, “the apparition       of these faces,” while Joyce begins his piece with the narrator saying, “ she sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue.” Both quotes portray a person who has taken a step back to observe something. Although both narrators are observing different things, one the people around them and the other their own life, they both leave looming feelings of uncertainty at the close of the text.

 

Though these two pieces of writing are drastically different in topic and style of writing, their tone is the same. The way the words are written allows a reader to feel a rhythm that essential to communicating the message of the writing. Besides the spaces in In a Station of the Metro designed to create an emotional resonance by prolonging the reader just slightly before the next set of text, the piece is similar to Eveline because it uses colorful language that inserts you into the writing. Both pieces of writing are developed to make you understand precisely what the narrator is going through.

Signs of the times in BLAST magazine

I recently purchased a 1969 copy of Life magazine. It was a double issue and the topic was a general retrospective look at the 60s. It was interesting to see how much everything has changed (I think the most interesting thing was an ad for the “new educational television show” Sesame Street), as well as to see how people in 1969 felt about the things that were going on at that time. It is hard to find unbiased history without going straight to the source.

I think it is perhaps even more interesting to look at a magazine that comes straight from 1914. The BLAST magazine starts out with what is basically a mission statement (which is pretty intense). The line, “We need the unconsciousness  of humanity—their stupidity, animalism and dreams,” is interesting, because it suggests the idea that art is based on human foibles, but also on human hope. Although these would seem to be two very different concepts, I think they could be related, because human hope tends to be based on desiring to overcome human foibles. The opening ends with the statement, “We want those simple and great people found everywhere. Blast presents an art of individuals.” This is interesting, because I would imagine that prior to this time there was very little focus on individualism, and it certainly was not considered a good thing to stand out from the crowd.

The magazine then goes into a manifesto. The way the manifesto is structured, aesthetically, is interesting, because the fonts of different sizes resemble something you might find on Tumblr or Pinterest today. The parts of the manifesto that start with “Blast” seem to maybe require some insider knowledge (I thought they were confusing). However once it has switched to “Bless” it gets a lot clearer. The basic concept of “Bless Englishmen” and “Bless English Humour” makes sense to me (although I’m not sure why you would “Bless France” [can’t decide if it is sarcastic]).

It is interesting that the art in “Blast” is abstract. It seems to be indicative of a time period in which people were just learning how to express individuality. I think this goes hand-in-hand with the way the manifesto is structured (in that the words are different sizes, and sort of weirdly arranged) because, again, this seems to be indicative of an expression of individuality, of going against the norm. Much like looking at a 1969 copy of Life, looking at a 1914 copy of BLAST gives a much greater insight into the culture and thought processes of the time, than does just reading about it.

Araby and In a Station at the Metro

Well, this blog post is the worst because your area of specialty is James Joyce so it’s a little intimidating trying to write anything intelligent or fresh or worthwhile about his writing style having only read two short stories.

But anyway, Ezra’s talking about what I guess is this pretty recent technological innovation—underground electric railways—which I imagine was probably even more shocking a development than the steam engine.  I mean, trains in the open air are one thing, but put ’em underground and they’re doubly scary, right?  Anyway, so he calls what he’s seeing an apparition, which means it’s got this ghost-like quality to it, or maybe it’s literally a ghost.  And yeah, it’s kind of a ghostly, creepy scene.  You’re underground, and it’s really crowded, and everybody’s standing around just waiting, and it’s probably damp and cold, and the lighting’s probably bad, so people’s faces maybe have this pale unearthly glow, and after all they’re working in factories and traveling underground so they probably start to look pale and sickly and overworked and just in bad shape—inhuman.  And everybody’s there together, but there’s no sort of spirit of community or any bonds that are shared, but rather just isolation and alienation.  Anyway, then he compares their faces to petals on a black, wet tree branch.  Which makes sense.  These people are delicate and fragile and precious and have a strange sad beauty (the petals having been separated from the flower—broken, incomplete, but still pretty) and could be blown away at any moment.

So Ezra paints what to me seems to just be a real bleak snapshot picture of life in the modern industrial world.  “Araby” too comments on some aspects of modern life.  Joyce mentions that the field where the kids used to play became the site for some new and improved building project.  Joyce includes a crowded train station in his story.  “Araby” too is pretty bleak.  It depicts this kid’s loss of innocence—how he goes from playing stupid games in the street with his pals to falling in love with his buddy’s sister to realizing by the end kind of how powerless he is.  All he’s been dreaming about for weeks—buying his crush a present from the Bazaar—all his dreams are just kind of dashed against the rocks.  His uncle forgets to come home early, so he’s late to the fair and most of the stalls are shut down, and the shopkeeper at the stall that is open doesn’t take him seriously, and he doesn’t have enough money to buy anything.  He realizes he’s just a kid, and that dreams get shattered, and that he’s alone, and that it’s a tough world, and all that stuff.  “Araby” too uses a lot of poetic language.  There’s some really beautiful lines, and I compiled some that seemed most notable:

“The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns.  The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed.”

“But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.”

“The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces.”

“I had never spoken to her, except for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood.”

“Through one of the broken panes I heard the rain impinge upon the earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the sodden beds.”

“The air was pitilessly raw and already my heart misgave me.”

“I heard a voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out.  The upper part of the hall was now completely dark.”

“Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.”

Joyce gives a lot of detail to sensory experience.  He says a lot in this story just like, “I heard this” or “I saw this” or “I felt the wind”—just real factual and detailed.  And that seems kind of poetic to me.  Overwhelming the reader’s senses.  Putting them there in the moment.

Humankind and Nature in Robinson Crusoe and Frankenstein

Compared to the passage from the Enlightenment writing Robinson Crusoe, the passage from the Romantic work Frankenstein focuses more on humanity’s incomplete and immoral control over nature. Robinson Crusoe is able to control nature, such as when he is able to make the cave he is in more spacious for himself, while also constructing furniture for his leisure. Crusoe remarks that “by making the most rational judgements of things, every man may be, in time, master of every mechanic art,” which demonstrates how the novel focuses more on how humans can control nature than nature’s control over humankind (Defoe). In Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein has much of the similar initial view as Crusoe, but polarized to an extreme; he arrogantly states that “Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world” (Shelley 692). Though Frankenstein is able to create his creature, seeing the creature disgusts him and shows how the laws of nature cannot be overridden by human desires.

Similar to how both novels focus on humankind’s relationship with nature, Frankenstein and Robinson Crusoe also are juxtaposed on the subject of slavery. Crusoe talks about trading for slaves as a commodity to be compared with beads, hatchets, and other material goods without questioning the morality of slavery (Defoe). In Frankenstein’s creature’s journey to understanding how he was created, the creature also views himself as a subject of whomever his creator is, but as the creature finds the doctor’s lab notes on his creation, he realizes that he is viewed as “odious and loathsome” (Shelley 693). While Frankenstein does not directly address slavery, it suggests that the creature is like a slave who is viewed as inhuman to his master, Frankenstein. It is evident that the creature feels like an atrocious creature below Frankenstein when he wants to ask “Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust” to his creator (Shelley 693). The novel contrasts with the novel Robinson Crusoe’s apathy towards slavery’s effects.

Pound and Joyce: It’s the Little Things

While it initially seems odd to compare a short story to a poem composed of a mere fourteen words, Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” and James Joyce’s “Eveline” are incredibly similar in the style with which they depict images and environments. Both works employ a listing of short, simple, and disjointed descriptions of the scene in order to provide a surprisingly realistic account of it. For example, Pound’s poem—in its entirety—describes “the apparition of these faces in the crowd; // petals on a wet, black bough.” As abstract as this may appear for literature, it is an incredibly accurate representation of the human sensory experience. The speaker of the poem is observing his or her surroundings and processing them one detail at a time. For most people, this is true. As life rushes by franticly, it is often important to pay careful attention to the fine details of an environment in order to truly understand it.

This is equally true in Joyce’s “Eveline.” For instance, the story opens on Eveline as she experiences her surroundings—her home—for perhaps the very last time. The record of her home, however, is very disjointed and simple. Rather than going into an elaborate description of the house and its contents, she notices “the odour of dusty cretonne.” Jumping from image to image, she hears “the man out of the last house [as he] passed on his way home; she heard his footsteps clacking along the concrete pavement.” Like Pound’s poem, these details seem very random and even insignificant. However, she is noticing these details knowing that this is her last time to ever notice them. It is even possible that this is the first time she has noticed them; as she has lived her life in the service of her family, trying to maintain the household, it is possible that she never stopped to pay any attention to the subtleties of her home. In this way, it truly is the little things that she will miss because she was so unaware of their presence in her life in the first place.

In a Station of the Metro : On a Dock in Dublin

The resemblance between Ezra Pound’s shockingly short “In a Station of the Metro” and ‘Eveline’ an excerpt from James Joyce’s Dubliners, comes from its vividly sombre imagery and solemn tone. Even though Pound’s poem is only fourteen words in entirety compared to the substantial section of Joyce’s ‘Eveline’, both tell equally of emotional numbness, imposed by one’s self and one’s surroundings.

For instance, as Eveline prepares to embark on her new life with Frank, the scene of the crowd at the dock reminds her of her life at home and awakens a fear of the unknown that lies ahead of her. She is suddenly rendered motionless, and worse, emotionless. Because of her inability to discern her emotions, she is now doomed to live an unfulfilling life, just like her mother. A similar lack of emotional stimulus is evoked in the “apparition” of faces in Pound’s poem. Indifference in the crowd prevents individuals from protruding and quashes their appearance, and by extension, their existence.