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The Pale Threat: Imagery Essay, Research Paper

The Pale Threat:

Imagery of Dust in Eveline

It turns the brightest colors to gray. It collects in corners, on shelves, under bureaus, and over door moldings. Left unchecked it will embolden and encroach from these safer areas on the whole of a home, eventually blending every feature into a uniform drab. To many people it is a threat to health. Beginning with discomfort of the eyes and nasal cavity, this elusive enemy can continue to effect some people to the point of debilitation, taking away their ability to breath. Lungs and throats can be irritated, and vision impaired. This bane is often undetectable; but when it gathers itself together, takes on a gray shapeless appearance and is noticeable to the fingers. It has a dull, almost numb feeling under a human digit.

Dust, civilization s most irritating internal foe, can probably be found in the home of the cleanest person. It often seems that dust gathers faster than a person can wipe it up. In James Joyce s Eveline, the title character wonder s where on earth all the dust came from (29). We can now know that much of household dust is composed of human skin cells; if a house has pets living in it, the animal dander will certainly be large contributor to the dust. If a road runs near a house, passing traffic kicks up enough dust to add to the problem. Despite these easily conceived sources of dust, an isolated house is still in danger of dust collection. When inhabitants of a house or apartment leave it for an extended length of time, they will often cover objects in that home with sheets to protect them against dust. There are no people to shed skin cells there; there are no animals to produce dander; there is no one to open windows or doors to allow dust from the street to wonder in. Where indeed on earth? Dust has a mysterious, almost supernatural way of persisting. It is this powerful mystique and ungraspability of dust that makes it such a strong image for Joyce s story.

Several times in Eveline, the young woman notices the dust gathering around her. Strangely, these times signal powerful emotional moments and important shifts in Eveline s thinking. Directly from the start, in the second sentence in fact, we have the smell of dust. Eveline inhales its odor, and we are told that she is tired. This is our first image of Eveline, and the dust makes her tired. Perhaps what the dust represents to her makes her tired, perhaps sick and tired. To Eveline dust means her way of life. As she surveys the objects she has dusted, she takes stock of her life, of her home that has used her life to care for. This dust makes her think of age and stagnation and long for her new home, in a distant and unknown country (30). This dusting was repetitive, always the same objects, always in the same places, never any change, always more dust. Later Eveline again notices the smell of the dusty drapes. She begins to remember. She thinks of her mother, and she thinks of death. She thinks of illness and final insanity. This dust of her mother s life grows unacceptable to her, terrifyingly unacceptable. Fear and indignation grip in this climactic moment. But she also thinks of a promise that she has made, a promise which may ultimately play a small part in her decision to stay.

One could venture that it is fear that steers Eveline throughout the present of the story. Yes, she enjoys Franks company, but the last reason the story gives for her desire to go is that Frank will save her she wants to live. Eveline fears the dust; she fears what her life could do to her. But she more fears the being without it; she as a greater fear of the unknown and finally finds the dust more comforting, perhaps in its dependability, than threatening.

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