The Dead Questions and Answers
by James Joyce

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How does James Joyce manage to convey a sense of futility, the theme of an unlived life, in his short story "The Dead"?

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The themes of futility and an unlived life are most clearly expressed in the final scene of the story, when Gretta and Gabriel have a conversation about a boy she loved when she was very young. She is reminded of him when Bartell D'Arcy sings a traditional song, "The Lass of Aughrim." The final lines of the song are "My babe lies cold within my arms but none will ever know." When Gretta says she is reminded of someone she knew who used to sing this song, Gabriel misunderstands and becomes jealous. But Gretta relates that the young man Michael Furey died long ago, at the age of seventeen, and she believes he died because of her.

As Gretta tells this story, Gabriel holds her hand, but she is unresponsive. He recalls holding her first letter to him that same morning. This image conveys a sense of longing and unrequited love: Gabriel's thoughts of Gretta are literally in his hands, but she "did not respond to his touch."...

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