Ophelia, Eveline, and the Great Glass Ceiling
Both Shakespeare’s Ophelia and Joyce’s Eveline are naive and victimized women, taken advantage of by the men in their lives. This life of repression and control is a physical, mental, and emotional reality. Both Ophelia and Eveline are dominated by the men in their lives, though Eveline is given a chance to be with a man who may not take advantage of her like her father. Thus, Eveline represents the mental oppression of women to a greater extent than Ophelia, who portrays the absolute pity and hopelessness of a woman with no physical escape.
Ophelia is controlled by the men in her life, namely her father Lord Polonius and her brother Laertes. Polonius forbids her to interact with her lover, Hamlet, and uses her as bait to discover the root of Hamlet’s madness. Laertes also controls Ophelia; he tells her how to approach her relationship with Hamlet and tells her to guard her chastity, although he isn’t behaving very chastely himself. Laertes’s “advice” to Ophelia clearly depicts a double standard regarding sexual activity. Ophelia is completely dominated by the men in her life, and their domineering most likely drives her to madness. She is passive and basically incapable of action in her own right, for her father and brother attempt even to control her emotions. Hamlet also exploits Ophelia’s passivity, first by entreating her to have sex with him and then by condemning her for obeying his wishes. Ophelia never resists the men in her life, but attempts to please all of them.
Like Ophelia, Eveline is dominated by her abusive father. Her father hit and verbally abused her mother, and is likely to soon start beating Eveline. Frank, Eveline’s betrothed, is Eveline’s only option for escape. Eveline plans to elope with Frank and create a life for herself with Frank in South America, and writes letters for her father and absentee older brother alerting them of her elopement. Her brother, Harry, escaped the hell of his home life, but he does not attempt to help his younger siblings. Eveline is unable to act without a male catalyst: she cannot leave her home unless a man, such as Frank, offers to help. However, even Frank expects Eveline to do his wishes. When Eveline is struck with indecision before boarding the ship, Frank repeatedly shouts after her, “Come!” expecting her to obey him. Eveline ultimately decides to stay with her abusive father, although this means she will have no freedom in her life.Though this choice is partially a result of concern for her helpless younger siblings, it also reveals her inability to choose a life of uncertainty. Though Eveline is given the choice to live a life of freedom, she freely chooses to remain subjugated and helpless since she knows no other life. Ophelia is never given the option to make her own decisions, but she would most likely be just as paralyzed as Eveline.
The hopeless, pitiful situation of subjected women is conveyed in Ophelia’s passive and naïve character. Ultimately destroyed by the desires of men, Ophelia is ruined by her sexuality. A sympathetic character who is exploited by Hamlet and the men in her family, she is driven to insanity and her life is ruined because she is unable or unwilling to take a stand for herself.
Similarly, Eveline is a victim of her father’s vindictive and controlling behavior. She is unable to act unless a man gives her the opportunity. However, unlike Ophelia, she is given a chance to be free of her father’s oppression. Though she is given free choice, Eveline still chooses subjugation. Eveline portrays the inability to leave the familiar for the new and uncertain. Ultimately, she holds herself back.
Ophelia and Eveline have similar relationships with the men in their lives, particularly with men in their families. Hamlet takes advantage of Ophelia in addition to her father and brother, while Frank courts Eveline and offers her the opportunity of a better life with him. Eveline is only able to contemplate escaping life with her father due to Frank’s presence in her life, so in a sense she is still controlled by men. Ophelia is given no such chance, however. Eveline, by rejecting the opportunity to escape physical repression under her father, demonstrates the deep-rooted consequences of being controlled by another to the point of losing one’s autonomy.