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Discuss the themes of frustration and desire in "The Dead."

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riveav | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 10, 2009 at 9:20 PM via web

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Discuss the themes of frustration and desire in "The Dead."

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 20, 2013 at 6:07 AM (Answer #1)

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The themes of frustration and desire are most clearly seen in Gabriel's wife's memory of her love for Michael Furey, that seems to be so intense and strong, and stands in such contrast with their own passion and love. What makes this memory so ironic is the way that Gabriel was thinking at the same time of his own passion for Greta:

Gabriel felt humilated by the failure of his irony and by the evocation of this figure from the dead, a boy in the gasworks. While he had been full of memories of their secret life together, full of tenderness and joy and desire, she had been comparing him in her mind with another. 

Desire therefore is expressed by Gabriel towards his wife, but she shares the desire that she had, and to a certain extent the attraction that she still feels, for a figure from the past, Michael Furey, who is now long gone. However, the frustration that Gabriel feels as a result of this is a direct commentary on his own lukewarm desire and his curious paralysis that he lives with. Gabriel recognises that he is "fading and withering dismally with age," and that the figure of Michael Furey, as his name suggests, was better to "pass boldly into that other world" because of his passion and his determination to live life. Frustration therefore is a key theme of this short story, because it reveals how Gabriel's epiphany at the end of the story presents Gabriel as a man who is himself deeply frustrated with his own way of living and his lack of passion. This is of course heightened by the way that Joyce presents Gabriel and Michael Furey as foils for one another, heightening the contrast between them. 

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