What role does the snow have in the last scene of "The Dead"?

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

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One of the central themes of "The Dead" and indeed all of the stories from the book in which this story appears, Dubliners, is that of paralysis and the way that the past and deadening routines can actually produce in us a real paralysis that prevents us from making decisions or acting upon our feelings and judgements. Take Gabriel Conroy, for example. He is a character that is obsessed by the image that others have of him, that really prevents him from doing anything meaningful. He worries constantly about his speech, and whether including a poem would make it too "high-brow" for the audience. He wants to kiss his wife at one stage, but never actually gets round to it. He is a character who defines the kind of paralysis that Joyce is writing about, in sharp contrast to Michael Furey.

At the end of the story, the snow acts as something that unites both the dead and the living in this state of paralysis:

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.

However, interestingly, although the snow is shown to cover all of Ireland, suggesting that the entire nation is subject to this state of frozen paralysis, there is some hope offered by Gabriel's last thoughts, as humans might be able to free themselves from this state of paralysis: "Better to pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age." Letus remember that snow is rare in Ireland in January, and therefore will not last forever.

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