How does Gabriel Conroy transform throughout "The Dead"? 

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Gabriel Conroy starts out as a rather superficial man. He cares more about appearing charming and intelligent than actually being so. His relationship with his wife, Gretta, lacks much as well. He is largely concerned with making sure they have sex when they come back from the party. He is...

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Gabriel Conroy starts out as a rather superficial man. He cares more about appearing charming and intelligent than actually being so. His relationship with his wife, Gretta, lacks much as well. He is largely concerned with making sure they have sex when they come back from the party. He is disappointed when his wife is too crestfallen to want to engage with him physically.

Gabriel's big change happens when Gretta tells him about her first love, Michael, who died young but whom she never forgot or stopped loving. Gabriel realizes that even though he seems to have accomplished much, and even though Michael is long dead, he cannot compete with Gretta's earlier love, because he has never genuinely loved anyone else. When he dies, no one will remember him. This realization causes Gabriel to reassess his behavior and attitude about life. Though we don't know what he will do after this epiphany, one is left with the idea that he will change his ways.

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Gabriel Conroy starts out smug, self-satisfied, and with a feeling of superiority to many of the people at the Christmas party, such as his aunts, to whom he condescends. He calls them ‘‘two ignorant old women.’’ While he is a somewhat timid and insecure person, he feels secure that his wife, Gretta, loves him and always has. He takes her love for granted.

Gabriel changes when, after the party, back in their room, he lusts after Gretta, but she is distant from him. He asks her what she is thinking and finds, to his shock, that she is remembering her former love, Michael Furey, who died young. Gabriel is utterly shocked that he is not the be-all and end-all of his wife's thoughts and feelings. He has to adjust himself to the idea that he is not the center of her universe and to incorporate the idea that the dead continue to live on with us in memory, perhaps more fully than the living. He ends up more humble and self-aware than when he started.

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Joyce is very careful to present to us Gabriel's character as a man who is defined by indecision and worry. He is introduced as he tries to charm Lily, but fails drastically. He endlessly concerns himself with how he is going to be perceived by those around him, and debates whether he should include a literary reference in his speech or not in case it will make his New Year's speech too snobbish. He is unsure of how to respond to Miss Ivor's jibes and wants to make romantic advances to his wife, but does not know the best way to go about it. In short, he is so focused on appearances and his own neuroses that he forgets to really live in the full heat and passion of the moment.

What changes him at the end of the novel is the epiphany he experiences after hearing about his alter ego, Michel Furey, who, as his name suggests, lived life in its fullest sense. Note what Gabriel says to himself as he watches his sleeping wife:

One by one they were all becoming shades. Better to pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and whither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover's eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

Gabriel suddenly realises that he has never really loved at all, nor has he lived life fully. He is one of those who, unless something changes, is doomed to "fade and whither dismally with age." He is granted the double-edged sword of self-knowledge, and is changed utterly as a result of this self-realisation.

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