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Working with Narratives (Literaturwissenschaft)
James Joyce belongs to the many Irish writers who contributed to the wealth of English literature and, above all, to the elaboration of English prose. In the following passage, the first two paragraphs of “Eveline”, one of the stories from his collection Dubliners (1914), he programmatically turns from first-person narration to other forms of telling stories. This can be seen as a first step in a trajectory that leads him from conventional story-telling straight to the narrative experiments of Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939).
"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 odour of dusty cretonne. She was tired.
Few people passed. The man out of the last house passed on his way home; she heard his footsteps clacking along the concrete pavement and afterwards crunching on the cinder path before the new red houses. One time there used to be a field there in which they used to play every evening with other people’s children. Then a man from Belfast bought the field and built houses in it – not like their little brown houses but bright brick houses with shining roofs. The children of the avenue used to play together in that field – the Devines, the Waters, the Dunns, little Keogh the cripple, she and her brothers and sisters. Ernest, however, never played: he was too grown up. Her father used often to hunt them in out of the field with his blackthorn stick but usually little Keogh used to keep nix and call out when he saw her father coming. Still they seemed to have been rather happy then. Her father was not so bad then, and besides her mother was alive. That was a long time ago; she and her sisters were all grown up; her mother was dead. Tizzie Dunn was dead, too, and the Waters had gone back to England. Everything changes. Now she was going to go away like the others, to leave her home."
Try (after reading the chosen passage above) to answer the following questions by ticking the correct box.
Who speaks (pretends to be speaking) in the text?
If there was no one pretending to be telling Eveline’s story we (as readers) could not enter into the illusion of believing that there is actually some telling going on and, as a consequence, would not get a story. The author James Joyce wrote the story in the past tense, so he is not pretending to be speaking to us now in the present. Eveline is not telling her story herself either (lack of first-person pronouns) and since the author is writing but not speaking, there must be someone else actually telling the story (or, fictitiously, pretending to be telling the story).
Who sees (perceives the world) in the passage?
The author writes about Eveline’s world and the narrator is the one who is telling the story, but neither of them is part of this world. Therefore, they cannot perceive anything (as Eveline can, with her senses). Eveline is the character who is built up as the one who sees and perceives everything that is going on around her in her world. With Eveline ‘watching’, feeling the ‘window curtains’, smelling the ‘dusty cretonne’ and ‘hearing’ the ‘footsteps’, she is insistently confirmed as the character through whose (restricted) point of view we get access to the fictitious world.
When does the perception switch from what is outside to what is inside Eveline?
Considering the fact that we first get information on what Eveline can perceive and then on what she is thinking about in her mind, there must definitely be a (textually) marked shift from what is called external focalization to an internal one within the given passage. The verb ‘watching’ establishes Eveline as the medium through whose eyes the reader is allowed to see the world. From then on, what we first get is a perception of what is outside her: the ‘avenue’, the ‘curtains’. The second paragraph does not change this. What we now get are further outward perceptions through Eveline’s vision: the ‘people’, the ‘houses’, the ‘cinder path’ etc. With the words ‘One time...’ there is a switch from what Eveline can perceive at that moment while ‘sitting at the window’ to what she remembers and what is not there: the ‘field’, the ‘children’, her ‘brothers and sisters’ and, above all, her ‘mother’.
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