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

The climax of "The Dead" is Gretta's story about Michael Furey. Gabriel has been sitting there, thinking he is in love with his wife and not knowing she had a first love who died for her. It brought back memories for her, and made Gabriel realize that life is short and we should do what we can to make the most of it.

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"The Dead " climaxes when Gretta shares the story of the boy who loved her, Michael Furey. She loved him greatly, but often, the already sick Michael insisted on meeting her in the damp chill and then later died. Gretta believes because of that, he died for her love...

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"The Dead" climaxes when Gretta shares the story of the boy who loved her, Michael Furey. She loved him greatly, but often, the already sick Michael insisted on meeting her in the damp chill and then later died. Gretta believes because of that, he died for her love and she still greatly regards him, even after her marriage to Gabriel.

As Gretta sleeps, Gabriel's ardor cools (he's spent much of the evening hoping to have some sex with Gretta before they go to bed) and he begins to think about his own life compared to Michael's brief existence. Even though Michael died a young man with no great professional or social success, he left his mark regardless. His life had more meaning than Gabriel's longer one.

Gabriel is reevaluating his own life as he watches the snow fall on "the living and the dead" alike. He realizes he will not live forever, that one day he will become only a memory and then more than likely forgotten. However, Joyce does not present this as a sad thing, but as the reason why people should live and love more fully while they can. Though we are not told how Gabriel approaches his life and relationships after the ending, it is likely Gabriel will not go on as he has, ending the story on a bittersweet but cautiously hopeful note.

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At the climax of "The Dead," we find Gabriel trying to achieve a sexual intimacy with Gretta, as it has been long since the two have had a hotel room to themselves. His hopes are dashed when she breaks down with emotion, remembering a boy named Michael Fury. Gretta says that Michael "died for her," as he braved the winter rain to see her even though he was already sick.

After revealing these things to Gabriel, Gretta falls asleep. At first, Gabriel is upset that something so significant could have occurred in his wife's younger years without him knowing about it. He contemplates the role of the dead in the lives of the living, and finds an affirmation in the fact that one day he and everyone he knows will be only a memory.

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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 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.

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