“Eveline” and “In a Station of the Metro”

(I just remembered I forgot to do this one so here it is.)

One of the elements that most connected “Eveline” by James Joyce and “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound was the voyeuristic nature of them. In Pound’s poem, the speaker is reflecting upon “…these faces in the crowd” (Pound) and experiencing how it feels to view them. Similarly, in “Eveline”, the titular character spends the majority of the story staring out the window, reflecting upon her life while viewing others’ lives happening all around her. Both of these visual experiences seems to invoke a deeper emotion than one would expect. Pound takes a single moment in time, standing in a metro, and posits on the way it makes the reader feel, while Joyce uses the image of Eveline, sitting “at the window watching the evening invade the avenue” (2222) to relate to a multitude of past experiences in her life.

Furthermore, both pieces deal with dehumanization. At the end of “Eveline”, she stands, paralyzed, unable to get on the boat with Frank. As this happens, the narrator describes her composure: “She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition” (2225). In this singular moment, Eveline loses her humanity and, in a way, ceases to be anything at all. The idea of dehumanization is echoed in the way that the face in Pound’s poem lose any sense of individualism: “Petals on a wet, black bough” (Pound). Here, the faces of strangers become plant material stuck to a tree branch, being stripped of all humanity as well. Both of these instances happen just for a brief moment, but neither author offers up any sort of explanation or deeper meaning; the reader is left to decide what it all means.

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. 

James Joyce

In both selections from Dubliners, James Joyce uses very poetic prose to get his meaning across.  The way he uses his words has a significant effect on how the story is received.  In Araby, the nameless main character is infatuated with a neighbor girl.  The representation of his emotional state is full of rich imagery and character, such as when he writes, “my body was a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires” (page 2219).  He is almost consumed by his crush on this girl, which is very poetic in and of itself; however, Joyce does a superb job at effectively conveying his emotion, with lines such as, “at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself out into my bosom” (2219).

Eveline is less longing and more unsure and desperate.  She has an opportunity to leave her relatively unhappy life, but she backs out at the last second, feeling obligated to stay by a promise she made to her dying mother.  The final scene at the station is full of emotional imagery which evokes a strong sense of desperation.  When she hears the boat’s “long mournful whistle” (2225) and when “a bell clanged upon her heart” (2225), she panics and clings to the railing, looking “like a helpless animal” (2225).  One of the lines that really struck a chord with me was, “She gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition” (2225), because it provides such a strong sense of helplessness, as though she were completely taken over by her emotions and can no longer function.

Desperation and Insecurity in the Modernist Period

Joyce’s prose embodies the spirit of modernist poetry in two ways: there is a sense of all-consuming desperation, and of disappointment and insecurity. The first selection, “Araby,” perfectly expresses the possessed fervor that overtook early twentieth century art, sparking the many revolutions of the period (artistic style and expression, popular literature, music, pastimes, wars, and radical social changes). The boy in “Araby” is driven to the brink of insanity by his love and obsession, and then plunged to the darkest despair when he fails to find his crush a gift from the bazaar. Although he never speaks to her, he is infatuated by her, and indeed she is all he thinks about: “Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance” (Joyce 2219). Joyce’s  character is barely even able to think or speak around her, and yet, like a stereotypical poet, he is consumed by his need for her. The poetry of the modernist period seems to come much more from the gut than the head, and whereas in previous times meter was just as important as meaning, the modernists utterly rejected that sort of box. Joyce reflects that rebellious, emotional, wilder sentiment in that his prose falls on its knees bowing down to instinct, and indeed impulse, rather than the stifling authority of reason or sense. That technique serves to express the uncontrollable emotions of what is presumably a teenage boy more honestly and accurately than with the formulaic prose of earlier styles.

The second selection, “Eveline,” actually mirrors the sentiments in both poems from Monday’s reading, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot and “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound. Eveline wants to “[e]scape! She must escape!” but finds she is quite trapped, not really by her life, but by herself and a promise no one is asking her to keep (Joyce 2224). When she and her lover, Frank, whom we have no reason to distrust, arrive at the point of leaving, her fear grips her and she is unable to leave her lonely, unpleasant, and, from the description provided, completely unsatisfying life. She freezes, “like a helpless animal,” and is doomed to trudge through the monotony of her daily existence forever (Joyce 2225). This mirrors the work of Eliot and Pound because it demonstrates the self-consciousness felt in the time and expressed in “Prufrock”–” ‘Do I dare?’ and ‘Do I dare?'” (Eliot 2288); and the common theme of the crowd painted in “Station of the Metro”–“these faces in the crowd/Petals on a wet, black bough” (Pound). The great fear of unstoppable change gripping the world in the modernist period led to equally impressive insecurity, which is experienced by Eveline when she is incapable of following the change she both wants and needs. The all-too-common phenomenon of fading into a faceless, dead crowd, often expressed by modernist poets, occurs once more in Eveline, for in failing to do something different, to set a new precedent, she becomes just another face, another petal, another cog in the machine.

Picture Perfect Detail

For me, the single most striking aspect of both “Araby” and Eveline” is Joyce’s extraordinarily precise, yet beautifully artistic use of language to state something quite simple. Before this assignment, I had never read Joyce, and I was absolutely stunned at the combination of art and precision found all throughout “Araby” and “Eveline.”

One line of “Araby” struck me in particular. The narrator goes back into the drawing room where the priest died, and he describes the sound of the rain outside: “I heard the rain impinge upon the earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the sodden beds,” (2220). Joyce could have written this line, not especially important to the overall plot of the story, in a much blander, simpler way. He just as easily could have said, ‘Outside, I heard raindrops falling to the ground.’ However, Joyce does not do that. Instead, he gives life to this picture, describing the delicacy of the raindrops as “fine, incessant needles.” He creates lively motion using words like “impinge” and “playing” in a scene that would otherwise seem extremely commonplace. The attention to detail, a characteristic of imagism, is phenomenal in “Araby.” Even though a certain sentence might not be crucial to the plot, Joyce writes it with the same care and precision as if it were absolutely vital.

Joyce uses this same precision in “Eveline.” One powerful example of this is at the very beginning of the story: “She sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue. Her head was leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the ordour of dusty cretonne,” (2222). With this short passage, Joyce completely draws his readers into the story. He does not say, ‘While it was getting dark, she stared out the window.’ Instead, he uses vivid sensory language, describing the “evening invade the avenue,” and the “odour of dusty cretonne.” Joyce’s choice of words makes the piece both artistic and enjoyable to read. Without resorting to wordiness, Joyce gives beautifully clear descriptions of detail.

Imagism in Joyce’s “Araby”

“At nine o’clock I heard my uncle’s latchkey in the halldoor. I heard him talking to himself and heard the hallstand rocking when it had received the weight of his overcoat. I could interpret these signs.”

In this passage from Araby, Joyce exhibits a tendency to not say directly what he means, but rather, to intimate it through the use of images. The uncle is clearly drunk, but the fact that Joyce does not say the word “drunk” and instead elects to make it implicit is what makes the writing poetic. It is not flat-out narrative, but is a more sensuous style of writing.

The story is also exemplary of modern poetry in that it is told from a cerebral, first person perspective. Joyce rigorously sticks to the point of view of his character to further emphasize the distance he experiences at the beginning of the story between himself and the girl he longs for. In some ways, the main events of the story unfold in his mind only, as when “ I looked over at the dark house where she lived. I may have stood there for an hour, seeing nothing but the brown-clad figure cast by my imagination, touched discreetly by the lamplight at the curved neck, at the hand upon the railings and at the border below the dress.” Here, the only action taking place is an imagined action about an imagined person, relevant only to the narrator.