One of the story's themes is that past times—symbolized by the dead—are always with us, part of the pattern of life. The Christmas party setting reinforces this theme, for the past is woven throughout this party and is embedded in objects in the room where the party is held. Joyce emphasizes the party's connections with times past:
For years and years it had gone off in splendid style, as long as anyone could remember.
His aunts Kate and Julia, the hosts, bring back his past, and when they look at him, they see remembrances in him of their dead sister, his mother. She is part of both Gabriel's memory, triggered by the objects in his aunts's room, and she is physically present as well, through a picture that is part of the backdrop of the room. Gabriel thinks as he looks around:
His mother had worked for him as a birthday present a waistcoat of purple cabinet, with little foxes' heads upon it, lined with brown satin and having round mulberry buttons. It was strange that his mother had...
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