What would you consider the nature of masculinity in "The Dead"?
In "The Dead," Gabriel understands masculinity as power and potency, especially the power to command attention. Gabriel, for example, gives a speech after dinner, in which he praises “warmhearted courteous Irish hospitality.” Even in private conversation Gabriel assumes an authoritative voice and expects to be listened to, especially by the women, who he sees as lesser beings than himself. When he insults Molly Ivors by saying he is "sick" of Ireland, she leaves rather than argue with him. In his private thoughts, his potency is tied to his feelings of superiority to the other guests. Most importantly, he believes in his wife Gretta's undivided devotion.
It's therefore a shock to him him when, full of amorous feelings after the Christmas party, he finds he is not at the center of Gretta's thoughts. She is thinking instead of a former boyfriend who died, Michael Furey. As Gabriel absorbs the idea that his wife has a life apart from him, and especially an attachment to another male, Gabriel's sense of masculinity is shaken. All along, we as readers understand that he is not a potent man, but instead paralyzed: cold like the snow rather than hot like Michael Furey.
At the end of the story, having suffered a narcissistic wound, Gabriel himself comes to realize that he is not as potent as he had believed and that the world does not revolve around him. Instead, his sense of masculinity becomes less self-centered and his understanding of humanity broadens to include both the living and the dead.
Greta's long-held secret about her lover, Michael Furey, turns out to be the lynchpin that undoes Gabriel's sense of self and his masculine identity. In the time period of this story's publication, the identities of married women were bound up in their husband's lives, names, livelihoods, and property. Furthermore, in Ireland there is the dominating presence of the Catholic Church, whose customs suggest women are subservient to men.
Although Gabriel loves Gretta and respects her, his shock at finding out she still harbors feelings for a lover from her youth goads him into realizing that her loyalty to him is conditional, and that her true love is a boy who died many years earlier. Gabriel realizes he cannot compete with a dead man, and his vitality as a man is on some level no match for the memory of Michael Furey, who, for Gretta, represents not just a lost love but her lost youth.
As the couple began to grow old together, Gabriel may have felt comfortable in being Gretta's solid male companion and protector. But Gretta's revelation of her devotion to this frail boy (Michael's illness and death by heartbreak signify he is somewhat less "manly" than Gabriel) forces Gabriel to redefine his own identity as a man.
Masculinity is a consistent area of critical intervention in relation to James Joyce's works. I think one can also add to the theme of moral paralysis in The Dubliners, the theme of emasculation or crisis of masculinity.
Whether it is A Painful Case or Eveline or The Dead, what Joyce deals with is a problematic relation of the two sexes. The basic pattern is something like this. The masculine patriarchal self ironically enough needs an authorization from its sexual Other, the woman. It is on this authorization of the Other, that their identity depends. The woman has to masquerade in this situation. On the other hand, in most of Joyce's stories, women either fail to authorize or they deliberately do not. Wherever the feminine desire is at work, the man is only perplexed e.g. the end of Eveline. The three encounters in The Dead from Lily to Molly--all bit by bit corrode Gabriel's illusion of a stable selfhood and at the end, he is a dissolved masculine subject; a dead subject at the emergence of the unknowable feminine desire of Molly Ivors.