The Dead Characters
by James Joyce

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Gabriel Conroy

(Short Stories for Students)

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.

Other Characters

(Short Stories for Students)

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 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 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...

(The entire section is 2,135 words.)