In Dubliners, Joyce uses the window as a motif and a symbol, at first of paralysis and eventually of hope. An important theme in the book is that people must take responsibility for the directions of their lives instead of making excuses for their failures.
At first, Joyce indicates that those who remain inside the windows are trapped, while those who are outside still have a chance at success. Joyce introduces the window motif in “The Sisters” as the young narrator gazes up at the window trying to determine if his friend, Father Flynn, has passed away. The boy is specifically mentioned to be outside looking into the window. He is Joyce’s first portrayal of the innocence of children in an immoral adult world. Children are yet pure so they remain outside because they are still free from corruption.
By contrast, the first glimpse Joyce gives of Eveline shows her sitting indoors next to the window and gazing outside. Eveline is on the threshold of adulthood, somewhere between the innocence of childhood and the harsh realities of adult responsibilities. She has the opportunity to escape the harsh life that adult Dubliners seem doomed to lead. Yet she gives up that opportunity to stay in Dublin, presumably to repeat the cycle of depression that most Dubliners fall into.
However, Gabriel in “The Dead” changes the significance of the window by breaking the cycle. A middle-aged adult, Gabriel does not wish to be at his aunts’ annual party, giving a speech to people he feels will not appreciate his words. Several times he gazes outside at the snow, wishing he were outdoors instead of being stuck inside with the responsibilities he carries on at the party. Through his interactions with characters such as Miss Ivors, Mr. Browne, his wife Greta and the memory of Michael Furey, Gabriel ultimately reaches a series of epiphanies about his life. He knows that he has not found true passion and happiness, key elements that life should have, and he is now ready to change his life by exploring for those elements. His realization changes the importance of the window, as it now becomes a proverbial “window of opportunity.” By freeing Gabriel from the prison behind that window, Joyce shows that it is possible to break out of a destructive cycle.