As the final story in Joyce's "Dubliners," a complex structure with much symbolism, that Joyce himself said he created "to betray the soul of that hemiplegia or paralysis which many consider a city." Gabriel's character is the final stage in a modern version of the ages of man. In Joyce's work, many characters play representative roles. For example, Miss Ivors of "The Dead" is Irish Ireland (western), Little Chandler represents the typical Revival poetaster, the harp personifies Ireland, Father Flynn the spiritually ignorant priest, whose past contains some unmentionable shame.
Thus, in this final story, Gabriel's conflicts are representative of many of the previous ones: the pettiness of life under British rule against the beauty of Irish Ireland, the compromising of oneself in the interest of getting ahead, the lack of self-understanding and understanding of others. At the end of "The Dead," Gabriel reaches this epiphany and feels "The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward." (Earlier in the story, Molly Ivors encourage Gabriel to go west and see the "Irish Ireland.")
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.
In Dublin, the city of the British who control the jobs and wealth, the Irish soul "swoons" and the living are not in control. Their hope is only in a return to the Irish roots and independence which they have abandoned.