James Joyce has referred to his novel Dubliners as a chapter of the “moral history” of his country and a first step towards its “spiritual liberation.” He believed that Dubliners affords his countrymen “one good look at themselves” in a “nicely polished looking glass.” What is the significance of “The Dead,” and how does it contribute to the meaning of the work as a whole?

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One of the primary recurring themes when speaking broadly about Dubliners is the idea of slow stagnation or complete paralysis in one's personal development and how that might relate to a larger cultural paralysis. The primary character of "The Dead" is no stranger to this feeling.

Widely considered to be the greatest of all the works in Dubliners, "The Dead" concerns a professor named Gabriel who is attending a Christmas party. We are given evidence that Gabriel's life is largely devoid of any sort of passion, but he does feel an uncommon longing and lust when he sees his wife's passion for the music. Later, he attempts to make a sexual advance on her, but he comes to understand that her passion in that moment was for the memory of a previous, deceased lover.

Gabriel is overwhelmed by the weight of his stagnated relationship but is struck with a sort of epiphany in how it relates to the state of Ireland at the time. In the climax of the play, it is related that "one by one they were all becoming shades." For the first time in his life, Gabriel feels profoundly connected to all of Ireland, both the living and the dead, despite largely renouncing it as a dying culture previously. "The Dead" brings all of the stagnation from previous stories to a national metaphor, and Gabriel himself is largely a culmination of all previous characters in terms of his many burdens and frustrations.

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