Gabriel experiences painful personal growth at the end of the story. Through most of it, he is self-centered, seeing the world entirely from his own self-satisfied perspective. At the end of the story, however, he has an epiphany or awakening when he realizes his wife, Gretta, was in love with, and still thinks about, a young man, Michael Furey, who died years ago at age seventeen.
It is a shock to Gabriel that his wife was in love with someone before they met. He feels a sense of anger in having this dead lad as a rival for his wife's affections. Then his emotion turns to shame. At the Christmas party, he had been feeling good about himself and superior to some of his relatives, such as his aunts. Now he feels diminished. He thinks that:
While he had been full of memories of their secret life together, full of tenderness and joy and desire, she [Gretta] had been comparing him in her mind with another. A shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him. He saw himself as a ludicrous...
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