What is the significance of the snow imagery in "The Dead"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In the main characters in "The Dubliners" there is an emotional and spiritual paralysis; the realization of this is a character's epiphany. Gabriel reaches his epiphany as snow falls.

Uncomfortable with the openness of feeling shown by the Irish from the west, he prefers English influences.  He is angered by remarks made by Miss Ivors and her jokingly calling him "West Briton."  Later, there is irony to his toast in which he speaks of the "memory of those dead and gone," for his wife is thinking of her dead lover.  After they walk home along the river in the snow, Gretta confesses her thoughts about a boy who died for her.  Realizing that his wife loves a dead man effects Gabriel's epiphany.  Like the snow, their lives have been frozen in time; she never loved him: "He watched her ...as though he and she had never lived together as a man and wife."  Yet, in this epiphany, Gabriel has a "strange friendly pity for her."  As the snow falls, boundaries between the living and the dead blur as though one were peering through this falling snow; Gabriel's condescension to Greta is replaced by an admiration much like the admiration expressed by the old aunts regarding the old traditions. As snow falls "upon all the living and the dead," Gabriel contemplates his journey to the west, toward the dead.  His soul "swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling..." The snow suggests a communion of all.


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