What are the sources of Gabriel's discomfort, agitation, and insecurity?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Gabriel Conroy, as the protagonist of "The Dead", exhibits many of the qualities common to many characters in James Joyce´s collection of short stories, the Dubliners. He appears to have many different personalities - he is a caring family man to his aunts who acts as the head of the houshold by carving the goose and giving a speech. His awkwardness and perhaps anxiety is demonstrated through his relations with other female characters, such as Lily, Miss Ivors and his wife. Trying to establish a relationship with them often goes awry as he either offends or doesn´t understand them. Thus Gabriel becomes a man whose inner conflict and life battles to process and fit into the reality of the world around him. The grand event of the year, the Morkans´celebration of New Year, demonstrates that Gabriel is a social performer - he puts on a pleasing act, scrupulously monitoring his speech and thoughts, but he struggles in contexts where he cannot easily guess the other´s feelings, as in his conersation with Lily. His character is symbolic of the interaction between social isolation and personal confrontation.

As we see during Gabriel´s epiphany at the end of the story, much of his anxiety or sense of insecurity comes from this need he feels to play a part and live life in a very controlled, regulated fashion. The revelation of his wife´s relationship with Michael Furey triggers off his epiphany where he is able to see himself for the hollow man that he really is:

A shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him. He saw himself as a ludicrous figure... the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror.

He realises that because of his insecurities and his paralysis he has never really truly loved, and that Michael Furey lived a far fuller life than he has ever lived. He cannot share in the love his wife has felt because he has never truly loved.