Examine the scene in The Dead by James Joyce when Gretta explains why she is wearing galoshes. What picture of her marriage with Gabriel emerges from the interchange (spoken and unspoken) between Gretta, Gabriel, and Aunts Kate and Julia?
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The Dead by James Joyce is from The Dubliners series of short stories, all of which reveal aspects of society or flaws of human nature. Gabriel considers himself to be a knowledgeable man, superior to most of the fiercely proud Irish family and friends who have gathered at the annual dance. He is affectionate and loving towards his aunts and his wife but his tone is patronizing. As they have arrived late at the dance, Gabriel blames his wife for her efforts to get ready, since she took "three mortal hours to dress herself." Joyce is setting the scene and creating the stereotypes to ensure that the reader understands the traditional roles against which Gabriel measures each person.
While discussing the journey he and Gretta will make home after the party Gabriel insists that he and Gretta will not be taking a cab home because cabs are insufficiently insulated against the cold and Gretta may, like last year, become ill. He overrules his wife's decision to take a cab home and this decision is accepted without question. His patriarchal ways are characteristic of his generation and his position of power and control in the marriage. His Aunt Kate respects everything he says, herself supporting the view that women are weak and unable to make their own decisions.
When Gabriel refers to his wife's apparent foolishness saying "she'd walk home in the snow if she were let," he reveals that he is the one who must make decisions, as hers will no doubt be reckless. Gretta gains control the only way she can by joking about Gabriel's insistence that she wear galoshes. She can playfully hide any displeasure by making light of the situation. She is perpetuating the stereotype by suggesting how ridiculous it may seem for women to wear galoshes, and what makes it acceptable and fashionable is the fact that "Gabriel says everyone wears them on the Continent." It is significant that Gabriel is the one who makes the assertion of their popularity, confirming his authority. Gretta enjoys the attention he gives her but also wants to assert herself occasionally.
Of the old aunts, Aunt Julia is more well-informed than her sister but both dote on Gabriel and hang on his every word. Aunt Kate even laughs unreservedly without any understanding of what galoshes are and only stops to question it when she realizes that she has no idea what is under discussion - such is her trust in her nephew.
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