In “The Dead,” James Joyce explores the idea of the paralysis that afflicts Dublin through the story’s protagonist, Gabriel. At a Christmas party, Gabriel interacts with a number of guests. Each conversation makes him reflect on a different aspect of his own character and to acknowledge his own shortcomings. Gabriel is an intellectual who greatly values the high opinion that others have of his intelligence and sophistication. Although on one level he is proud of his Irish identity, he feels that his people are rooted in the past and unable to embrace the promises of modernity. Part of Gabriel realizes that he constantly misunderstands other people, including his wife, but he cannot figure out how to develop genuine connections. The paralysis that Gabriel experiences is parallel to the paralysis he identifies in the Irish as a whole.
Gabriel’s conversation with the ardently nationalistic journalist Miss Ivors brings these tensions to a head. Even as he rejects her criticism of him for being pro-English, he thinks that he is “sick of [his] ... country.” Gabriel wants to think that his devotion to his wife, along with his sexual desire for her, indicate his ability to have deep, genuine feelings. Instead, he finds that she harbors feelings for a long-dead suitor. Gabriel’s paralysis is primarily emotional, as he is constantly restrained from taking decisive steps to remedy his situation and live fully.