In The Dead by James Joyce, is there anything ironic about the substance of Gabriel's speech?

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Gabriel's speech in "The Dead" is full of irony and foreshadowing . The irony is primarily dramatic irony, which occurs when the reader knows something that the character doesn't. At this point in the story, readers haven't come to fully appreciate Gabriel's character flaws, but by the end...

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Gabriel's speech in "The Dead" is full of irony and foreshadowing. The irony is primarily dramatic irony, which occurs when the reader knows something that the character doesn't. At this point in the story, readers haven't come to fully appreciate Gabriel's character flaws, but by the end of the story, they can look back to this speech and realize that his remarks reflected more on his personal situation than he comprehended.

It turns out that the words Gabriel uses in the speech to bemoan the shortcomings of "this new generation" describe his own flaws. He states,

I fear that this new generation, educated or hypereducated as it is, will lack those qualities of humanity, of hospitality, of kindly humour which belonged to an older day.

He urges his readers to

cherish in our hearts the memory of those dead and gone great ones whose fame the world will not willingly let die.

He then references the "sadder thoughts" of the past and "absent faces" that people are bound to miss, but he insists it is pointless to "brood upon them always" because they will interfere with the "living duties" each must perform. He declares he "will not linger on the past" or let "gloomy moralizing intrude" upon the evening.

After the party, Gabriel notices his wife's somber mood. When she shares with him the tale of a former boyfriend who died for love of her, the words of Gabriel's speech gain personal import. Gabriel realizes he himself "lacks . . . qualities of humanity," for he has never loved as deeply as that young lad. His wife has been cherishing a memory of a young man, dead and gone but worthy of fame, and Gabriel has never even heard the story before. She is brooding upon "sadder thoughts" and "absent faces" that Gabriel knows nothing of. Despite his declaration, he allows himself to enter into Gretta's dwelling on the past, and he lets "gloomy moralizing intrude" on his own life, preventing him from sleep as he contemplates the new revelations about himself and his relationship with his wife, whom he doesn't know as well as he assumed he did.

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One further example of irony comes when Gabriel enjoins his audience to cherish the memories of the dead in their hearts. Even by his standards, this is pretty insincere stuff. For later on, when Gabriel's wife Gretta fondly recalls the memory of her long-departed lover, Michael Furey, Gabriel flies into a rage. In Gabriel's world, some of the dead are clearly more deserving of devotion than others.

Invoking the dead during his speech was nothing more than a cynical rhetorical strategy on Gabriel's part to win over his audience. It's blatantly obvious from his subsequent outburst against Gretta that he didn't mean a single word he said. For all his outward confidence, his urbane sophistication, and his pretensions to be some kind of intellectual, Gabriel is a deeply insecure man, threatened by the living memory of a young man long since dead and buried. When all's said and done, Gabriel is more spiritually dead than the dead themselves, and that's quite ironic.

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Insincerity runs through Gabriel's Christmas speech. He feels obligated to repeat truisms he himself does not believe. Two ironies, however, emerge, and I am sure more can be found.

First, smarting from Miss Ivor's accusation that he is a "West Briton"—a person without real allegiance to Ireland—he criticizes the "younger generation" as living in "a thought-tormented age." The irony is that there is probably nobody in the room, young or old, more "thought-tormented" than Gabriel himself. Gabriel is a tangle of insecurities and doubts.

Second, Gabriel speaks bombastically about those who have died, saying that many people's thoughts undoubtedly dwell on the "absent faces that we miss here tonight."

He rattles this off as a meaningless cliche, not knowing that his own wife is dwelling—or will be soon—on the "absent face" of her former love, who died very young. This phrase about the dead, a glib string of words when Gabriel says them in his speech, will come back to cut him to the core when he learns Gretta once loved somebody other than him.

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Two ironies exist in Gabriel's speech in "The Dead," by James Joyce.

First, Gabriel praises the tradition of Irish hospitality.  The lavish table his aunts have set is worthy of praise, but Gabriel's praising of it is ironic, because he generally does not think much of Irish tradition.  He is more continental Europeon, than traditional Irish.  He praises his aunts' hospitality, while at the same time he thinks of them as old and ignorant.

Second, Gabriel criticizes the new generation of intellectuals.  This is ironic because he considers himself as somewhat of an intellectual.  He worries most of the night that his speech will be too intellectual for his listeners, whom he views as his intellectual inferiors.   

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