“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. 

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.