What was Joyce's attitude towards women as it is portrayed by the narrator in the story?I'm writing a paper using feminist theory and trying to better understand the attitude towards women in "The...

What was Joyce's attitude towards women as it is portrayed by the narrator in the story?

I'm writing a paper using feminist theory and trying to better understand the attitude towards women in "The Dead."  

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Critic Florence Walzl in "Dubliners:  Women in Irish Society" contends that Joyce challenges an authoritarian power structure by drawing "acerbic caricatures of masculine bravado."  Joyce, she states, comically deflates the stereotypes of male prowess and female passivity, suggesting a more enlightened ideal of non-gender behavior.  Female characters are at the focal point of Joyce's critique of Dublin's society with many of the stories in The Dubliners depicting women as societal victims, condemned to spinster and barren lives, or to loveless marriages and altruistic motherhood as they are subservient to partriarchal husbands or fathers.  Often they vent their anger and frustration "through shrewish or manipulative practices."

In his final story of The Dubliners, "The Dead," Joyce's two aunts are spinsters and not regarded well by their supercillious nephew who thinks, "What did he care that his aunts were only two ignorant old women?"  He clearly patronizes them before the group as he refers to them as the "Graces" in his Christmas speech. The aunts are also treated with disrespect by the drunken Freddy Malins who

...bade the Misses Morkan good-evening in what seemed an offhand fashion by reason of the habitual catch in his voice....

  And, of course, he tries to patronize Lily, whose "bitter and sudden retort" discomposes him. With disapproval, he waves her away as she tries to return the coin; she finally retreats, saying "thank you, sir."

Of course, Gretta is condemned to the loveless marriage, for as Gabriel observes how she has color in her cheek and her eyes shine, he is stirred only selfishly by her beauty and internalizes it to his own feelings.  Hoping to make love to her after the party, he rents a hotel room and engages in a romantic reverie.  However, when he finally asks her what she is thinking about, Gretta cries and hides her face.  Again, in a patronizing fashion, he asks her about the song and the person she remembers. When she tells him that she recalls someone she knew in Galway where she grew up, Gabriel becomes angry that she has been comparing him to another person as he has "been full of memories of their secret life together."  Then, when she tells him that the boy died for her, Gabriel expresses no sympathy; instead he feels

A vague terror...as if, at that hour when he had hoped to triumph, some impalpable and vindictive being was coming against him, gathering forces against him in its vague world.

As he touches Gretta's hand, she does not respond to his touch. As he watches her, Gabriels' condescension and pity finally change to admiration:  "Generous tears filled Gabriel's eyes."  Thus, as Gabriel sits on the bed watching his wife, Joyce deflates the bravado of Gabriel and sympathizes with Gretta as the repressed female.

The women of "The Dead" provide the screen against which Gabriel acts out his narcissistic behavior.  Molly Ivors, clearly a foil to Gabriel as the Irish patriot, helps to elucidate Gabriel's bravado and pettiness.  Lily reflects his patronizing attitude as do his aunts.  Gretta points to the patriarchal attitudes of her husband. 

 

 

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