The Dead is the last story in the Dubliners collection by James Joyce. It is described as a Novella since it’s the longest with 15,952 pages. The story encompasses an interesting exposition of the Irish identity and expounds on universal themes such as loss and love. It is a highly rated piece of literature with some institutions and authors describing it as one of the finest short story ever written in English. As such, it is has been adapted to plays and films in addition to being described as a linchpin in Joyce’s work whose expostulation can offer interesting information to a reader and a literature analysis. This paper builds noninterpretative interests while at the same time engaging in a broader literary conversation with existing research on the story.
The Setting of the Story
The Dead story is set in Dublin, Ireland in early twentieth century. The story takes place during winter in the protagonist’s aunt’s countryside home. As the story approaches its end, the setting changes to a cab ride whereby the reader interacts with the thoughts of the pratogonjusts. Finally, the story ends in a hotel room whereby the story’s main characters are to spend their night. The time setting of the story can be said to be that of a historical generation (Riquelme 488). However, the time setting is not ancient as to be irrelevant to the contemporary reader.
Summary of the Story
The short story opens with Gabriel, the principal point of view character arriving at his aunts’ holiday party with his wife. It is cold outside since its winter time and Gabriel and his wife are anxious to get indoors and keep warm. There is a merry mood in the house. At some time, Gabriel goes downstairs and meets Lily, his aunt’s maid who seems to have grown up. He asks her whether she plans to get married and gets a curt response, something which reminds him of the disconnect that is building between him and the younger generation. Soon the guests start to play music and dance.
In as much as Gabriel loves music, he notices that the ‘Academy piece’ being played by a younger pianist is full of unmelodic tunes which are hard to understand and hence he does not like it. This is the second indication of the built-up disconnect between him and the younger generation. His least pleasant part of the story takes place later when he finds himself closely dancing with Molly Ivors, a younger lady who is deeply into her generation’s politics (Whelan 60). She takes pride in all Irish activities and seems to be impatient with Gabriel’s ‘continental’ culture and his love for the broader European. During the dance, Molly calls Gabriel twice a West Briton which was a serious derogatory term especially for an Irishman who prefers the English culture more than his own culture.
The less pleasing dance concludes and the party proceeds to dinner whereby Gabriel sits at the end of the table and takes the pleasing task of carving the goose. The dinner conversation is mostly among the older generation people. Afterwards, Gabriel makes a speech on culture and attacks Molly Ivors’ sentiments only to realize that she had not stayed for dinner. After the dinner, the story jumps to the morning hours whereby guests are hailing horse cabs to their homes or hotels. As he is admiring his wife and fantasizing about making love with her, she bursts into tears as she remembers a time when her boy she had a crush on died due to ill health. As she sleeps off, Gabriel looks outside at the falling snow and realizes that his generation will soon be dead and buried in the depths of time.
The story’s principal characters
The story encompasses some characters whose interaction with each other contributes to the formation of the story. The main character is Gabriel Conroy. He is a nephew to the two aunts who are hosting the party in the story. He is a professor and sees himself as a liberal intellectual. Gretta Conroy, Gabriel’s wife, is also an important character who contributes significantly to the story. Molly Ivors is a guest at the party who has a radical political perception which makes her disagree with Gabriel. Miss Julia and Miss Kate are the hostesses of the party in which most of the story takes place (Norris 500). Lastly, there is Michael Furey who is the boy that was dated by Gabriel’s wife years ago.
Themes in the Story
In the story, The Dead, Joyce expostulate on the aspect of social norms and their power over the people. She shows that norms are simply encapsulated in a society in order to control the public. As such, the merits of having a non-norm governed system encompasses being able to avoid useless self-destructive behavior that is encouraged by rigid execution of routines reinforced by spreading deviations due to imitations. The author shows how norms embed in the characters minds leading them to live as if they are part of a machine. They all seem to have functions which follow a certain ritual that they follow. These norms are shown in some of the characters such as the story of the Monks that Gabriel shares at the start of the book and the case of the extremely obedient Lily who follows set norms to the latter (Whelan 60).
The narrator, Gabriel Conroy explores the issue of mortality painfully as the story approaches its end. As he looks at his wife with romantic feelings, it is clear that her mind is somewhere else. Finally, Gretta breaks into sobs and tells Gabriel that she had been remembering Michael Furey who had died years ago when they had been courting. This is a shock to Gabriel who realizes that his wife had been thinking about another man when he was admiring her. Moreover, he feels insignificant to his wife when it is ascertained that a man had died for her love. He also sees that they have aged as shown in the line “the face for which Michael Furey had braved death, 223“. This line of thought leads to him thinking about mortality and about his aunts who will soon be dead(Norris 500). Further on, he looks outside at the snow which blankets everything without discrimination, and it reminds him of mortality for every person.
The theme of isolation appears clearly throughout the story. Gabriel spends most his time during the journey to the hotel admiring and thinking about his wife. On the other hand, his wife is thinking of something else. He is soon to discover that during the ride to the hotel, they are in different words. Whereas Gabriel is fondly thinking of Gretta, she, on the other hand, is thinking about a past love with Michael Furey. The night ends with Gretta falling asleep ahead of Gabriel even though he had earlier hoped for a romantic night her.
In this case, it can be seen that Gabriel becomes isolated from his wife, whom he had earlier on been admiring. The theme of isolation is further shown by the aspect of the snow outside the hotel window blanketing everything and thus isolating it from the rest of the world. Ironically, the snow also symbolizes the final destiny of all the characters which is death since every one of them will be indiscriminately consumed by death.
The theme of love expostulates in the story. In as much as the story does not encapsulate a central approach to expostulation on love, the reader gets some glimpses on matters concerning love that was experienced in hither years. In the scenario whereby Gretta recounts of the story whereby Michael Furey throws gravel at her window on a rainy night, the reader is transported to the center of a tragic love story which is full of untold passion. However, this same scenario also shows a painful miscommunication that happens between a man and his wife. While Gabriel is busy admiring his wife and having lustful thoughts of her, she is engrossed with her past love, Michael. It is at this point whereby Gabriel is not sure anymore whether he had ever loved a woman with Michael’s passion and whether his wife had loved him in the first place.
The epiphany experienced at the end of the story is a relevant theme in the story. After Gabriel’s wife’s confession on her past love affair, he realizes that he might not be sure of who his wife is and whether they had shared a love-filled marriage. At this point, Gabriel realizes painfully that he has never been able to love a woman with a great passion as the one shown by Grett’s past lover and hence might not have loved at all. He also wonders whether what they had been sharing over the years was love at all especially when it can be speculated that his wife had been comparing him with her past lover all along. At one scene, Gabriel looks into a mirror and sees a very different figure than the person he thinks he is (Cupchik, Oatley, and Vorderer 270). This type of realization also seems to open some truth about himself. It is at this moment that he is able to connect with the rest of the characters, with his Irish soul, and hence it is the death of his self-centered character.
Style and Techniques
The story, The Dead represents a complex application of the epiphany tool. The story encompasses a naturalistic narrative involving a realistic character trapped by his environment which ends with imagistic as shown by the falling snow. The story is structured to encapsulate both subjective and objective epiphanies. For example, the story’s subjective epiphany is Gabriel’s new perception of Gretta’s past, which changes his significance in her life into a new light.The objective epiphany as understood by the reader encompasses Joyce’s revelation about the quality and the nature of life in Ireland (Whelan 60). The story also combines the stylistic device of the epiphany with symbolism to make the story to be catchier and also to give the reader a unique perception into the occurrences in the story. Overly, from the narration of the story from the protagonists point of view, epiphany is used throughout the story; an aspect which transports the reader into the thoughts of the narrator. However, the story’s use of the epiphany tool is made to be made to be more interesting since the reader is also able to figure out things which the narrator is not aware of such as the fact that the narrator thinks too highly of himself.
This technique is used widely in the story. Careful analysis of the story shows a complex symbolism whereby Gretta is courted by two angels. One of the angels is Gabriel, the archangel who is said to awaken the dead at the final day just like the narrator awakens the dead existence of his marriage at the end of the story. The second angel is militant Michael with a last name ‘Furey” which symbolizes a natural furious passion that the more intellectual Gabriel lacks. However, the most complex symbol offered by the story is the unifying metaphor of the snow which represents isolation and coldness (Gibbons 148).
The snow’s coverage over everything symbolizes the eventual mortality of all the characters and is a painful reminder that eventually, every person will be blanketed in the history of time, in the same way, that the snow covers the surface of the earth. It is also suggested that the snows coverage of everything could symbolize the end of the love between Gabriel and Gretta since everything has been uncovered leading to the burring of the fond feelings that Gabriel had for Gretta.
The story encompasses different types of ironies. Dramatic irony is shown to the reader when Gabriel unconsciously reveals himself to the reader via his thoughts, words, and actions. As such, the reader is able to see some aspects of the story that the narrator does not see such as the scenario whereby Molly Ivor’s lightheartedly chides Gabriel on his beliefs yet he takes everything seriously. It is also an irony how Gabriel perceives to be intellectually superior yet he is unable to hold a conversation with Lily. The story also encompasses a dramatic irony as shown by the impact felt at the reversal of Gabriel’s perception of his wife which leads to a change in how he perceives himself.
The story The Dead is an interesting piece of literature which is carefully written. Its exposition brings into new light aspects which might not be obvious to a reader. An expostulation of the story transports the analyzer to the world that was inhabited by the narrator, opens the analyzer’s eyes to view the story differently and hence helps in a deeper understanding of the story. The above expounding on the story builds on interpretative interests and engages in a broader literary conversation hence leading to a profound understanding of the story and the literary approach employed by the author. From its analysis, it is a great piece of literature and is recommendable for literature scholars.
Cupchik, Gerald C., Keith Oatley, and Peter Vorderer. “Emotional effects of reading excerpts from short stories by James Joyce.” Poetics 25.6 (1998): 363-377.
Gibbons, Luke. “The Cracked Looking Glass” Of Cinema: James Joyce, John Huston, and the Memory of” The Dead.” The Yale Journal of Criticism 15.1 (2002): 127-148.
Joyce, James. The Dead. Dubliners, 1914.
Norris, Margot. “Stifled Back Answers: The Gender Politics of Art in Joyce’s” The Dead”.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies 35.3 (1989): 479-503.
Riquelme, John Paul. “Joyce’s” The Dead”: The Dissolution of the Self and the Police.” Style (1991): 488-505.
Whelan, Kevin. “The Memories of” The Dead”.” The Yale Journal of Criticism 15.1 (2002): 59-97.