The Dead


The Dead Essay, Research Paper

The Dead” is a story saturated in music. In it, the Morkan women – Aunt Julia, Aunt Kate, niece Mary Jane, all music teachers – are giving their annual Yuletide fete, complete with song and dance. Most of the “The Dead” takes place at a Christmas party in Dublin about a century ago. The annual celebrations is right around Christmas time and takes place in a very traditional Irish fashion.

Among the guests is their nephew Gabriel Conroy, a teacher and writer who acts as a somewhat pompous master of the rebels. In my view he is one of the main characters and a lot of focus is put on the annual speech he is giving at the dinner feast as well as the influence that someone from the dead has on his life. Gabriel does not want to be identified with Ireland. He wants to be identified as a citizen of the world. His arrogance is revealed in his interaction with others.

A primary example would be the way he treats his wife Gretta as an object. The images reflect Gabriel?s ego in a sense, at the same for his marital relationship, and at the end death, which may not be physical but spiritual. Gabriel who is tallish and stout symbolizes authority and also wants to be perfect for all times. He suffers from a mental block, which makes him believe that he is more superior and different than others are. Gabriel believes the others in the room might have a hard time understanding his speech. He’s built a screen around himself, which stops him from identifying himself with the “common? people.

Much of the evening is given over to song. Because each of the main characters sings a party piece, the temptation is to go with the flow and drift into soft Victorian nostalgia. Many of these songs reveal truths about the guests? lives or the inner workings of their hearts.

Aunt Julia?s expresses the touching memory of a lost love while the delicate intimacy of the love between Gretta and Gabriel can almost be felt. This assumption would be fatally untrue to the story though. For what concerns Joyce is not just the music but also the way songs summon memories of the dead. The power of “The Dead” lies in the wonderfully delicate balance between the vivid joy of a festive celebration and the ghostly recollection of those who are no longer present at life’s feast.

Joyce’s intended theme of paralysis is exemplified in the symbolization of snow. In the story, snow has a major role as it symbolizes the political situation at the same time where everything was cold and dead due to the political uncertainty at the time. Snow also plays a major role as it interprets the reader to be on the alert, as things at the end are not going to be as smooth as Gabriel had predicted.

This, seen in the shift of mood when after the party had concluded, Gabriel and his wife are heading towards the hotel and he’s in a very romantic mood and looking forward to a night of romance. On the way, snow suggests that things are not going to be so smooth. “The morning was still dark. A dark yellow light brooded over the houses and the river; and the sky seemed to be descending. It was slushy underfoot; and only streaks and patches of snow lay on the roofs, on parapets of the quay and on the area railings” (51).

The snow at the end of the story takes a different form. As when Gabriel realizes that his wife Gretta has really been thinking about someone else while he thought that all her thoughts would be about him, especially at the moment where he is in a romantic state of mind. His world comes hurdling down when Gretta informs him that she has been thinking about her life when she was an adolescent and had a seventeen-year-old boy who was madly in love with her. Despite the fact that he was suffering from tuberculosis, he waited in the rain just to have a glimpse of her. This aggravated his condition and eventually he died. “I think he died for me.” “A vague terror seized Gabriel at this answer as if, at that hour when he had hoped to triumph, some impalpable and vindictive being was coming against him, gathering forces against him in it’s vague world” (57).

At this moment Gabriel realizes that he has failed as a husband and that his ideas about love and relationships were all wrong and he was not as perfect as he thought he was. “A man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life” (58). At this moment when he looks out the window and sees the snow, it is not slushy anymore but beautiful. He perhaps wants to go outside and disunite himself from everyone by getting lost in the snow. Also, as snow is water, which can be a symbol of rebirth, as it can also be implied that at that very moment he was reborn. “A few light taps upon the pane made him turn towards the window.” “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead” (59).

This can also signify Joyce’s intended theme of paralysis as Gabriel is paralyzed emotionally, as he does not know what is going to happen next. The short story by James Joyce has a powerful impact on the reader, it keeps the reader tied into the storyline until the end, when the reader sees a glimpse of the pain that Gabriel feels.


1. Charters, Ann, The Story and Its Writer, fifth edition, Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin?s Press.


3. Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Grolier Inc. 1999.

4. Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. Microsoft Inc. 1998.

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