What's the climax of "The Dead" by James Joyce?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The climax of this incredible story comes at the end of the tale, after Gretta has told Gabriel about her former lover, Michael Furey, and his unfortunate demise. After this revelation, Gabriel watches his wife sleep and ponders the meaning of Michael Furey and experiences a massive epiphany, or revelation about himself and his place in the world:

One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.

Gabriel compares himself to Michael Furey and finds himself wanting, realising that although he had a short life, he lived his life fully and "passed boldy" into death rather than doing what he is doing and "fading and withering" dismally into old age and death. Gabriel realises that his life is spent not really living: he has never loved anyone else truly and throughout the story seems obsessed by what others think of him and doing and saying the right thing. It is this moment that represents the climax of "The Dead," as Gabriel is left to decide what to do with this moment of tremendous self-knowledge.

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Joyce's short stories, the climax comes at the moment of epiphany or sudden revelation. The term epiphany refers to the Wise Men who saw and recognized that the infant Jesus was the Messiah. In Joyce, epiphanies are internal climaxes where a main character realizes something in a flash of insight that causes him to see the world and his own life in a new and different way.

All through this story, Gabriel has been associated with snow, which is a symbol of death and stasis. At the end of the Christmas party, when he is alone in his bedroom with his wife, Gabriel realizes that his wife has had life and love apart from him with her former beloved, Michael Furey, who died at seventeen. As the snow falls, Gabriel suddenly realizes that the dead impact his life as much as anyone else's  in Ireland, and he realizes that he too shares a connection with the dead. 

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The Dead

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