Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“The Dead” is the most obviously autobiographical story in the Dubliners (1914) collection in that Joyce offers through the character of Gabriel Conroy a speculation concerning the sort of person Joyce himself might have become had he chosen to build a career for himself in Ireland. Gabriel is a vain and frustrated man who can find no genuine joy or pleasure in a nation that can look only to its past and constantly cherish, as Gabriel proclaims in his after-dinner speech, “the memory of those dead and gone great ones.” Can a nation so obsessed with its past look forward to a promising future?
“The Dead,” then, offers the reverse image of Joyce’s optimistic (though also ironic) reflection of himself posed by Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), an untested but confident artist who leaves his family and his country to escape the environmental ties that would surely impede his artistic development. Joyce was working on “The Dead” at the same time he was transforming his fragmentary Stephen Hero (1944) into the more carefully controlled narrative that was to become his A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. No doubt his mind was playing on two extreme alternatives during this period following the most important decision he had made in his life to that point. “The Dead” can be seen as Joyce’s portrait of the failed artist as an older man (though not necessarily a wiser...
(The entire section is 912 words.)
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When describing his intentions in writing Dubliners, Joyce said that the city of Dublin seemed to him the center of paralysis. By paralysis Joyce meant the inability to act, move, or grow beyond where one is spiritually and emotionally—the inability to live fully. In ‘‘The Dead,’’ Gabriel is paralyzed by his self-consciousness. He is self-conscious about Lily's bitter remarks on marriage and about what he should say in his after-dinner speech. When Miss Ivors accuses him of being loyal to the British, he tries to avoid confrontation. He doesn't want to risk a ‘‘grandiose phrase’’ toward her in a room full of people. He fantasizes about using his speech to criticize Miss Ivors, but by the time he gives it she is gone, and he gives a speech that only serves to please his audience. The story Gabriel tells about Patrick Morkan's horse walking in circles around the statue of King William III suggests Ireland's spiritual paralysis, and Gabriel shows his own paralysis by walking in a circle himself while telling it. Finally, as he and Gretta are walking down the street to find a cab, he imagines himself making various romantic overtures to her, but he actually makes none of them.
Provincial Culture vs. European Culture
The setting of ‘‘The Dead’’ coincides with a period of revival of Irish culture. People wanted to revive Irish music, art, and language. The representative of this in "The Dead''...
(The entire section is 684 words.)