Gabriel, the nephew of Julia and Kate Morkan and cousin of Mary Jane, is the main character of the story. He is a young man, married and the father of two. Critics point out that Gabriel is the name of one of the archangels in the Bible, the messenger who announced the coming births of John the Baptist to Zechariah and the Messiah to Mary. The other archangel, Michael, is portrayed in the Bible as a warrior. In "The Dead'' Gabriel is a more passive character than the dead Michael Furey. Critics note parallels between Gabriel and Joyce, surmising that Gabriel might be Joyce's portrait of his future self had he not left Ireland. Like Joyce, Gabriel lost his mother when he was younger; he writes reviews for the Daily Express; he is a literary person and an English professor; and he is less provincial than his contemporaries, seeing importance in absorbing European as well as Irish culture. Kate and Julia are both anxious for him to arrive at the party, give him the honor of carving the goose, and have him give a dinner speech every year. However, to some he comes across as condescending, for he smiles at the way Lily pronounces his surname, and when he inadvertently arouses her anger, he gives her money to appease her rather than making up for his carelessness in a more personal manner. He believes that if he quotes poetry by Robert Browning in his dinner speech, his audience will not understand his ‘‘superior education.’’ Finally, he thinks his aunts are ‘‘two ignorant old women.’’ Yet at the same time he is a sensitive, self-conscious, and timid person who is shaken by Lily's retort to his attempt at casual conversation. He does not know how to react to Molly Ivors when she accuses him of being a West Briton and thus sympathetic to English rule. He is afraid of ‘‘risking a grandiose phrase with her'' in a public forum. Some believe that although he clearly loves and cares about Gretta, Gabriel treats his wife as more a prize than a human being. He fusses over her as if she were a child, making her wear galoshes although he knows she doesn't mind the snow. He jokes that she takes three ‘‘mortal hours’’ to get ready to go somewhere. When she becomes excited at the prospect of going back to Galway, where she grew up, his annoyance with Molly makes him curt with Gretta, and he tells her that she can go alone if she wants. For most of the story Gabriel takes Gretta for granted, beaming at her with pride and, later, lust. Not until after she tells him about Michael Furey does he see his relationship with her differently. Gabriel is the one character who seems to go through a change at the end of the story, where he has a sudden realization about his relationship with his wife as well as a realization about himself and the human condition.
Mr. Bergin Mr. Bergin is one of the young men attending the Morkans' party. Mr. Browne turns to talk to him after having been ignored by Miss Furlong and Miss Daly. He dances a dance called "quadrilles'' with Miss Furlong.
Bessie Bessie is Gabriel and Gretta Conroy's housekeeper.
Mr. Browne One of the guests at the Morkans' party, Mr. Browne likes to drink whiskey and flirt with the ladies. People do not seem to take to him as well as he would like to think—Kate Morkan, for example, walks away when he begins to explain why women are so fond...
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of him. Some critics see him as symbolizing English rule over Ireland. Aunt Kate says of him in an irritable tone, ‘‘Browne is everywhere,’’ just as the presence of Britain is ominously everywhere in Ireland. Also, he is the only Protestant in the story, while the rest of the people are Irish Catholic. In Ireland it was and still is characteristic of Protestants to favor British rule, while Catholics tend to favor independence. He seems to be condescending toward other people. He continually mispronounces Freddy Malins's name as "Teddy," and after Miss Julia sings, he mockingly says she is his latest discovery, then "laughs heartily'' at his comment. When Freddy tells him that he might make a worse discovery, Browne keeps his condescension, saying, ‘‘I think her voice has greatly improved.’’ At one point, Kate signals to him to make sure that Freddy Malins drinks no more whiskey, as if Browne serves some authoritative function, like a policeman.
Constantine Conroy Constantine is Gabriel Conroy's brother and a senior curate.
Ellen Conroy Gabriel's mother, Ellen, was Julia and Kate's older sister. She has been dead some time. Gabriel remembers that she opposed his marriage to Gretta and that she called Gretta, in a derogatory way, "country cute.'' Unlike her sisters, she was not very musical, but her sisters considered her more intelligent. Her sisters have described her as "serious" and "matronly." Gabriel credits her with seeing that her sons got an education that allowed them to have a higher rank in life.
Eva Conroy Eva is the daughter of Gabriel and Gretta Conroy. She is mentioned in passing when Gretta says that Gabriel forces Ellen to eat her "stirabout," or Irish porridge.
Gretta Conroy Gretta is the wife of Gabriel Conroy. Like Joyce's wife, Nora, Gretta comes from Galway, a rural region of western Ireland. She seems to love Gabriel and playfully teases him about his solicitous manner toward herself and their children. Gabriel is not, however, the first person she has loved. After hearing Bartell D'Arcy sing "The Lass of Aughrim,’’ she is reminded of a former love, Michael Furey, who she says ‘‘died for her.’’ According to Gretta, Michael was passionately in love with her when she was a young woman. Knowing that she was going to a convent, Michael stood outside her window at the end of the garden in the rain the night before her departure. He told her that he didn't want to live, and he died after she had been in the convent only a week.
T. J. Conroy Gabriel Conroy's father.
Tom Conroy Tom is the son of Gabriel and Gretta Conroy. Gabriel makes him wear green eye shades at night and work out with dumbbells.
Miss Daly Miss Daly is one of the young women attending the Morkans' party. She plays a waltz and is one of the women with whom Mr. Browne flirts.
Mr. Bartell D'Arcy D'Arcy, a tenor, is one of the guests at the party. Though he is self-conscious about his voice because he has a cold, he sings the song ‘‘The Lass of Aughrim,'' which reminds Gretta Conroy of her old lover,
Michael Furey Michael is the love of Gretta Conroy's past, a gentle and delicate youth, mentioned only near the end of the story. Critics point out that Michael is the name of one of the biblical archangels, who is portrayed as a warrior as opposed to the archangel Gabriel, who has a more passive role as a messenger. Even Michael's last name connotes passion. Michael is an example of living life passionately, where Gabriel Conroy lives it more timidly and passively. Gabriel realizes that he has never loved anyone the way Michael loved Gretta. Gretta tells Gabriel that Michael was an excellent singer and wanted to study music, but he had poor health and worked at the gasworks. When Gretta was a young woman, she left Galway to spend the winter at a convent in Dublin. At the time she had a relationship with Michael, who was seventeen. He came outside her home on the cold, rainy night before she left, told her that he did not want to live, and died a week after she reached the convent. Gretta believes he died for her.
Miss Furlong One of the young women at the Morkans' party, Miss Furlong is a student of Mary Jane.
Miss Molly Ivors Molly Ivors, a friend of Gabriel's with whom he shares a dance, functions in the story as a contrast to Gabriel's politics. Gabriel notes that their lives are parallel: they went to the university together and they both teach. A passionate Irish nationalist, she feels that it is important to know the Irish culture; Gabriel feels that one should also cultivate the European culture and languages. He tells her that Irish isn't his language, implying that English is what people speak. Molly accuses Gabriel of being a ‘‘West Briton’’ because he writes for the Daily Express—‘‘West Briton’’ being a derogatory term denoting someone loyal to British rule in Ireland, and the Daily Express a newspaper with the political stance favorable to the British. Molly wears a brooch with an Irish design and uses an Irish good-bye, ‘‘beannacht libh,’’ when she leaves the party before dinner.
Mr. Kerrigan Mr. Kerrigan is one of the young men attending the Morkans' party. Mr. Browne turns to talk to him after having been ignored by Miss Furlong and Miss Daly. He dances a dance called "quadrilles'' with Miss Power.
Lily Lily is the first character introduced in the story. She is the caretaker's daughter, the caretaker being a fellow tenant in the building where the Morkans live. She works as the Morkans' housekeeper, and at the beginning of the story she is busy meeting the guests at the door. Lily makes Gabriel feel uncomfortable after she responds curtly when he asks her if he might be going to her wedding in the future. She says, "The men that is now is only all palaver and what they can get out of you.'' Kate says that she does not know what has come over Lily and that ‘‘she's not the girl she was at all.’’
Freddy Malins A friend of the Morkans' and a guest at their party. Freddy has a drinking problem—Julia and Kate are concerned that he will come to the party "screwed." Some critics think Freddy is Gabriel's counterpart because he comes to the party at almost the same time and they are physically similar. Freddy calls Mr. Browne on a sarcastic remark about "discovering" Julia's singing, defending her with the words, ‘‘Well, Browne, if you're serious you might make a worse discovery. All I can say is I never heard her sing half as well as long as I am coming here. And that's the honest truth.’’
Mrs. Malins The mother of Freddy Malins.
Mary Jane Morkan Mary Jane is Gabriel Conroy's cousin. She is the daughter of the now deceased Pat Morkan, who was the brother of Kate and Julia. Mary Jane moved in with her two aunts after her father died. She plays the organ on ‘‘Haddington Road,’’ which is the conversational name for a Roman Catholic church. She is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music and teaches children from upper-class families.
Miss O'Callaghan Miss O'Callaghan is one of the young women attending the Morkans' party. While she, Gabriel, Gretta, and Mr. D'Arcy are crossing O'Connell bridge on the cab ride home, she points out an old saying that one never crosses the bridge without seeing a white horse. Gabriel says he sees a white man—the snow-covered statue of Daniel O'Connell, who was an Irish Catholic civil rights leader in the early 18th century.
Miss Power A young woman attending the Morkans' party, Miss Power dances with Mr. Kerrigan.
Julia Morkan Julia is Gabriel Conroy's aunt and one of the hostesses of the party. Julia sings lead soprano at Adam and Eve's, a Catholic church in Dublin. The narrator says her face gives the appearance of a ‘‘woman who does not know where she is going.’’
Kate Morkan Kate is Gabriel Conroy's aunt and one of the hostesses of the party. She is too feeble to go out much, so she gives music lessons to children at home. Though feeble, she is described as the more vivacious of the two sisters and gets rather passionate about the way she feels the Catholic church is unjust to women with Julia's talent.
Pat Morkan Pat was the brother of Ellen, Julia, and Kate, and father of Mary Jane Morkan.
Patrick Morkan Patrick was Ellen, Julia, Kate, and Pat's father and Gabriel's grandfather. Gabriel tells a story about him bringing a horse to a military parade in the park. The horse worked in a starch mill and was used to walking around in a circle in order to run a machine that ground the starch, so when Patrick took the horse to the park, it started walking in circles around a statue of King William III of England. Some critics note that the horse walking around the statue represents the state of Ireland beat into submission by Britain.