What is significant or symbolic about the title " The Dead"?  Dubliners by James Joyce

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The last story in James Joyce's Dubliners, "The Dead" combines all the categories of the other stories; that is, it combines childhood, adolescence, mature life, public life, and married life, unifying them in their spiritual paralysis.  In this story it is the defeated, colonial city that is dead; there is yet hope that the Irish people may have the spiritual resources to break this paralysis and counter the malaise in which they live.

The main character of the story, Gabriel Conroy, tries to escape squalid reality in reverie as he perceives his wife romantically as she stands at the top of the stairs, and then again he finds her attractive in the cab and while he watches the snow.  When they reach the hotel room, however, his wife confesses that she has been in love with a man who died for her sake, and the lines between the living and the dead begin to blur, just as the lines between reverie and reality have:

...the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling.

While Gabriel looks westward and watches the snow falling,

he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Gabriel has had an incomplete recognition, but he has gained some admiration for his wife, Greta.  And, he offers some hope for the Dubliners who in this last story are united, living and dead:

Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. 

The title, "The Dead," symbolizes the inner death, the spiritual paralysis of those who escape their squalid reality in reveries, but they are yet limited in their imaginings.  At the party Molly Ivors calls Gabriel a "West Briton," accusing him of lack of loyalty, and he later learns that he does not really know his wife.  In short, Gabriel realizes later that he has been living his life as though he were dead.  However, he feels that it is better now to live life "in the full glory of some passion...."  So, with death, there is a resurrection of spirit in its recognition of the human condition.  And, this is the significance of the title of "The Dead": there can be a resurrection of spirit for the Irish although their capital city is as a colonial city is effete.


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The Dead

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