Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 882
"The Dead" Joyce, James
The following entry presents criticism of Joyce's short story "The Dead," published in his collection Dubliners (1914). See also James Joyce Short Story Criticism.
Joyce was the most prominent writer of English prose in the first half of the twentieth century. Many critics maintain that his verbal facility equaled that of William Shakespeare or John Milton, and his virtuoso experiments in prose redefined the limits of language and the form of the modern novel. "The Dead," the final and longest story of his collection Dubliners, is considered one of the most beautifully executed stories in the English language and the culmination of Joyce's critical and ironic portraits of everyday life in turn-of-the-century Dublin. Its subject is the epiphanic revelation of Gabriel Conroy, who, as his illusions are dispelled, realizes the shallowness of his love for his wife, Gretta.
Plot and Major Characters
"The Dead" takes places on the religious feast of Epiphany, at the holiday party of Julia and Kate Morkan, the spinster aunts of Gabriel Conroy. Gabriel, a teacher and literary reviewer, favors continental culture to that of his native Ireland, and thus arrives at the party with an attitude of disdain for the provinciality of his aunts and their guests, although he keeps his thoughts largely to himself. His pomposity and self-centeredness appear in his several encounters with the other guests, including Miss Ivors who playfully rebukes him for his loyalties to England as a reviewer for the pro-British newspaper Daily Express, calling him a "West Briton." Gabriel mistakes this banter for a personal attack, and attempts to redeem himself before the gathered attendees in his annual speech, a smug and highly self-conscious display of rhetoric and cliché. Near the close of the party, Bartell D'Arcy, a noted tenor in attendance, sings an old Irish song, "The Lass of Aughrim." Later, after retreating to the Hotel Gresham, Gabriel speaks to his wife, Gretta, a beautiful woman from the Irish west. Distracted from the conversation, Gretta is haunted by the song, which has reminded her of a former love. When Gabriel presses the subject, she reveals that many years ago she knew a young man who worked in the gasworks named Michael Furey. Afflicted with consumption, Furey died after leaving his sickbed on a rainy night to keep vigil outside Gretta's window on the eve of her leaving Galway for Dublin. Gretta later observes, "I think he died for me." Gabriel, contemplating himself in a mirror, becomes aware of his own pettiness, and realizes that he has never loved his wife as Michael Furey did. At the close of the story Gabriel looks out the window of his room and watches the snow; "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."
The title of "The Dead" points to its underlying subject, though critics have continued to argue exactly which "dead" are to be emphasized in explication, and even which characters comprise the "dead." To some, "The Dead" refers only to those mentioned in the story as dead, most notably Gretta's tragic love, Michael Furey. To others, "The Dead" signifies everyone at the Morkan's party but Gabriel, and through association, everyone in Ireland. Also widely debated is the ambiguity surrounding Gabriel's epiphany at the conclusion of the story, which closes with his assertion that it is time to begin his journey westward and his vision of the snow falling over all Ireland and metaphorically throughout the universe. The meaning of the journey westward is sometimes associated with death, but a more prevalent recent view is that Gabriel's journey westward signifies a rejuvenated view of life. Similarly, the meaning of the snow, which in some readings signifies the pall—or even shroud—of death covering Ireland, in others represents universal cleansing, bringing expanded consciousness and renewed life to all upon whom it falls. Florence L. Walzl has asserted that ambivalence and ambiguity were purposefully written into the narrative by Joyce to reflect his changing, somewhat more positive attitude toward Ireland at the time he wrote the story.
When it was first published, and for several decades thereafter, Dubliners was considered little more than a slight volume of naturalist fiction evoking the repressive social milieu of Dublin at the turn of the century. It was overlooked in favor of Joyce's later, highly innovative works, most notably A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922), and Finnegans Wake (1939). In the ensuing years most critics have recognized that Dubliners holds a greater significance than had previously been attributed to it, and subsequent studies have examined the symbolic significance, structural unity, and autobiographical basis of the stories. Critical interest in "The Dead," in particular, has remained intense in recent decades as scholars debate the thematic importance of this final story in the volume, especially its presentation of Gabriel's spiritual awakening—a theme which likely transcends the moral and spiritual paralysis of the entire cast of Dubliners. Likewise, the story is the primary focus of this collection, which has been said to illustrate the multidimensional narrative method that would revolutionize modern literature. Overall, "The Dead" is thought the masterpiece of Joyce's most accessible collection of work.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2064
SOURCE: "The Wings of Daedalus: Two Stories in 'Dubliners,'" in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring, 1958, pp. 31-41.
[In the following excerpt, Kaye examines "The Dead" as a study of Gabriel Conroy's epiphany and traces Joyce's ironic religious symbolism in the work. ]
"The Dead" is the acknowledged masterpiece ofDublin'ers. Even those critics who have poohpoohed many of Joyce's stories as mere sketches have expressed admiration for it; and it has probably received as much critical attention as all the other stories put together. It is therefore surprising that students of Joyce have left so many questions unanswered. They have not even been able to agree on what happens to Gabriel Conroy: some think he suffers spiritual death; others believe that he is reborn.
Several critics have pointed out that "The Dead" contains the ultimate epiphany of Dubliners; but no one has observed that the story takes place on Epiphany. The Misses Morkan's annual dance takes place at the end of the Christmas season. Aunt Kate says of Mr. Browne that '"He has been laid on here like the gas . . . all during the Christmas'." She also comments on the fact that Freddy Malins has come drunk to her party: '"Now, isn't he a terrible fellow!' she said. 'And his poor mother made him take the pledge on New Year's Eve'." In Europe the end of the Christmas season is not New Year's Day—which is, moreover, ruled out by the absence of New Year's greetings at the party 6—but Epiphany or Twelfth Night, traditionally associated with Christmas festivities.
The most convincing reason for reading "The Dead" as an Epiphany story, however, is that it works. Mr. Brewster Ghiselin has pointed out that in Ireland every one must accept material substitutes for spiritual values and that the feast in "The Dead" is a material substitute for spiritual communion. In my opinion, the principal incidents of "The Dead" are a bitter parody of the events celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church in its Epiphany Offices: the marriage at Cana, the visit of the Magi, and the Baptism of Christ. 7 In Joyce's Ireland, these revelations are mocked.
The marriage at Cana is represented in "The Dead" by the encounter of Gabriel with Lily, the caretaker's daughter. Gabriel gaily suggests that '"we'll be going to your wedding one of these fine days with your young man, eh?'
The girl glanced back at him over her shoulder and said with great bitterness:
'The men that is now is only all palaver and what they can get out of you.'
Girls who cannot afford enough wine for the wedding do not usually get married at all in Joyce's Dublin. And Gabriel is reduced to consoling Lily for the loss of love by giving her a gold coin—a poor substitute for the turning of water into wine.
The visit of the Magi to the Christ child and their showering of gifts upon Him becomes the Misses Morkan's annual dance. Gabriel refers to the three hostesses as "the Three Graces of the Dublin musical world" and praises them for their hospitality. But although they are genuinely kindly and hospitable, they are certainly not searching for a new revelation. Their name—Morkan—suggests that they are mawkins or spectres. They are the "three potatoes"—probably cold—which Lily reserves for Gabriel.
Mary Jane, the niece, saves the best slices of goose for her pupils. Her artistic gift to the party is an elaborate academy piece which no one enjoys and which is performed principally to exhibit her technical virtuosity and to advertise her merits as a teacher. Aunt Julia—who, like one of the Three Kings, is rather hard of hearing—sings Arrayed for the Bridal "with great spirit," but Gabriel sees her arrayed for the bridal of death.8 Her voice is alive, but she is not. Aunt Kate, although she gives piano lessons, has very little knowledge of music. She does not realize that the singer Bartell D'Arcy is hoarse, but she stoutly maintains that a tenor of her youth named Parkinson—which is also the name of a disease symptomatized by progressive paralysis9—is the greatest of all singers. One must admit that, despite their loyalty and lovableness, Aunt Julia and Aunt Kate are, in Gabriel's words, "only two ignorant old women"—mawkins rather than Magi.
Their world suffers, like the rest of Joyce's Dublin, from Parkinson's disease. The possibility of rebirth, of regeneration—the revelation commemorated in the Epiphany service as the Baptism of Christ—is very small indeed. Brother Pat (Patrick for Ireland, perhaps) has long been dead, and his daughter Mary Jane is a middle-aged spinster.
Their sister Ellen seemingly attempted to escape from the sterility of Ireland.10 At any rate, she married T. J. Conroy of the Port and Docks. Described as "the brain carrier of the Morkan family" and as "serious" and "matronly," she "had chosen the names of her sons for she was very sensible of the dignity of family life." Unable to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to see the Infant Jesus, like the Magi, or to discover the Cross, like her prototype St. Helena, Ellen instead devotes her son Constantine to the Church. St. Helena went to the East; her son Constantine made the city of Constantinople his capital, primarily to facilitate the establishment of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire against the opposition of the conservative, pagan Roman aristocracy. Ellen also seems instinctively to have recognized the East as a source of life.11 Constantine is part of the Roman Catholic Church, which is of course international and centered on the Continent.
Her other son, Gabriel, with his university education—for which, we are told, his mother is largely responsible—attempts to remain in touch with contemporary Europe. He spends his vacations on the Continent to keep up his languages, and he tells Miss Ivors, who wants him to vacation in the Aran Isles instead, that Irish is not his language. He makes a pitiful attempt to be European, for Europe is life to him too. But he lives in Monkstown, and his wife Gretta, whom his mother had disliked as "country cute," comes from Nuns' Island in Galway. His children Tom and Eva, at home with their nurse Bessie (a variant of Eliza), belong to the transatlantic world of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and his very name, as Gerhard Friedrich has noted, belongs to the hero of Bret Harte's Gabriel Conroy, which begins by describing a group of pioneers trapped by a blizzard in the Far West. His cousin and aunts, who live on Usher's Island—a place doubly significant because it suggests not only the decadent house of Usher but the transatlantic origin of Poe—have also "gone west."
In the climactic scene of the story, Gabriel hopes to win his wife to a new life with him—in a sense, to escape with her from Ireland: ".. . he felt that they had escaped from their lives and duties, escaped from home and friends and run away together with wild and radiant hearts to a new adventure" (my italics). He had been thinking of their honeymoon abroad—an escape from Ireland—and he felt that they could escape again. But the attempt is doomed to failure. Gretta belongs completely to the west. Even the word goloshes, which to Gabriel represents the progressiveness of European life,12 reminds her of the west—that is, "of Christy Minstrels." Moreover, she has been deeply moved by Bartell D'Arcy's singing of a song in "the old Irish tonality," The Lass of Aughrim.
At the hotel Gabriel hopes to begin a new life—i.e., to be baptized, as Jesus was by John on Epiphany. But the other Epiphany revelations have been parodied rather than celebrated, and Gabriel's failure to fulfill his scriptural role as consoler13 is repeated. All the omens foretell disaster. The electricity in the hotel has failed, and Gabriel rejects the candle which the porter offers him. The light from the street—which Joyce describes as ghastly—will be enough for them, he says. The natural symbolism of the rejection of light is strongly reinforced by the symbolism of the lighted candle in the Epiphany ritual of the Primitive Church, in which lighted candles were carried in procession to "symbolize the spiritual illumination of Baptism."14
In the "ghastly" light he learns that not only are he and Gretta not to escape again, but also that they never had escaped; that Gretta has always loved Michael Furey, her girlhood sweetheart from the West of Ireland, who, she believes, died for her. The dead had been with them from the very beginning.
The final revelation of "The Dead" is of the dead Michael Furey, Gretta's dead saviour—not the risen Christ. And the change in Gabriel—interpreted by some critics as the birth of a new and better man from the death of an outworn self—is his final acquiescence in death. He can afford to weep "generous tears" because he accepts the fact that he belongs among the dead. "It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He watched her while she slept, as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife." Later he confesses to himself that he has never loved. "He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love." Then "His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. . . . The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward."
Michael, the Archangel of snow, has conquered Gabriel, the Archangel of fire.15 When Gabriel goes west (i.e., dies), the world is left to Michael, and Joyce's ultimate epiphany is of Ireland covered by snow. It is the domain of a dead man, not of the leader of the Messiah's Hosts at the Armageddon which precedes the Day of Judgment. Although surrounded by the emblems of the Passion—crosses, spears, thorns—Michael's grave is filled, not empty. His cross is covered with snow (frozen water), not dipped in flowing water, as it is in the Greek Church's commemoration of the Baptism on Epiphany. Gabriel sees the snow "falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead." The Day of Judgment has come, but Michael is dead. The epiphany of "The Dead" is a revelation of death.
6 A coachman to whom Gabriel has given a shilling tip wishes him "A prosperous New Year," but the coachman might have done that at any time during the first week of the year.
7 See "Epiphany" in Catholic Encyclopedia, V, pp. 504-506.
8 In Ulysses, p. 654, "Stephen thinks of his godmother Miss Kate Morkan in the house of her dying sister Miss Julia Morkan at 15 Usher's Island." Richard Ellmann's "The Background of Ulysses," pp. 352-353, gives an account of the autobiographical background of "The Dead." There was an annual dance at which Joyce's father acted as his aunts' toastmaster. But it was Joyce himself who wrote for the Daily Express. And Gabriel is of course a James Joyce who remained in Ireland. Moreover, there are many parallels between Gabriel's wife and Joyce's.
9 Pp. 256-257. Aunt Kate's memory of her youth—and she is among the oldest of the company—is of paralysis, of Parkinson. And Dubliners begins with Father Flynn's paralysis. The first sentence of "The Sisters" is: "There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke."
10 She is probably the dying woman named Ellen whom Stephen visits with his mother in A Portrait, pp. 74-75.
11 See "The Unity of Joyce's Dubliners," p. 82. Mr. Griselin points out the movement of Gabriel's soul from "vital east to deathly west," but he does not indicate how Joyce represents this movement fictionally.
12Webster's New International Dictionary, 2nd ed., unabridged, states that golosh derives from the Latin solea gallica (Gaulish sandal).
13 See "Gabriel" in Catholic Encyclopedia, VI, p. 330; see also "Gabriel" in Jewish Encyclopedia, V, pp. 540-543.
14 See "Epiphany" in Catholic Encyclopedia, V, pp. 504-506. This article points out that Gregory of Nazianzus speaks of the carrying of candles on Epiphany.
15 See Friedrich, pp. 442-443; see also "Gabriel" in Jewish Encyclopedia, V, pp. 540-543. Michael is snow; Gabriel is fire.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8104
SOURCE: "The Backgrounds of 'The Dead,'" in The Kenyon Review, Vol. XX, No. 4, Autumn, 1958, pp. 507-28.
[In the following essay, Ellmann uses biographical details to illuminate Joyce's highly autobiographical approach to "The Dead. "]
Works of Art begin before the writers who create them are born; they cling to their childhood and pierce their maturity. To write seems to be unable not to write. As the pressure of hints, sudden insights, and old memories rises in the mind, the artist, like King Midas' barber, is compelled to speech.
"The Dead" is a story with such a long waiting history, depending as it does upon two generations of Joyces. But its immediate gestation began in Galway, Ireland, in 1903. A young woman there named Nora Barnacle used to walk out with a handsome, black-haired young man called Sonny Bodkin—his real name was Michael Bodkin. His father had a candy shop, her father a bakery. They were "great" with each other at the time, but Bodkin contracted tuberculosis and had to be confined to bed. Shortly afterwards Nora, because of family difficulties, decided she would have to go to Dublin to live, and when Bodkin heard of her plan he stole out of his sickroom, in spite of the rainy weather, to bid her goodbye. Soon Nora learned in Dublin that Bodkin was dead, and not long afterwards she met a young man who first attracted her because he resembled Sonny Bodkin; his name was James Joyce, and within four months the two of them went off to the continent together.
Joyce's instinct was to ferret out details, and the details of Nora's life had a special, slightly galling fascination for him. In his play Exiles he gives examples of the minute interrogations of his wife which he conducted. Even before their elopement he began to ask Nora about her past, and when he heard of Sonny Bodkin he was disconcerted. It was not pleasant to be compared with a young man who had a job in the Galway gasworks, or to know that his companion's heart was still moved by the recollection of her dead sweetheart. The notion of being in some sense in rivalry with a corpse buried in the little cemetery at Oughterard was one that came easily, and tormentingly, to a man of Joyce's jealous disposition. He complained in fact to his aunt Josephine Murray, after he and Nora had left Dublin together, that Nora persisted in regarding him as much the same as other men she had known, an attitude he found intolerable.
A few months after expressing this annoyance, while Joyce and Nora Barnacle were living in Trieste in 1905, Joyce received another impulsion toward "The Dead." His brother Stanislaus happened to mention in a letter attending a concert of Plunkett Greene, the Irish baritone, which included one of Thomas Moore's Irish Melodies called "O, Ye Dead!" The song, a dialogue of living and dead, was eerie enough, but what impressed Stanislaus was that Greene rendered the second stanza, in which the dead answer the living, in a low, sepulchral tone, as if they were plaintively avaricious of life, whimpering for the bodied existence they could no longer enjoy:
It is true, it is true, we are shadows cold and wan;
And the fair and the brave whom we loved on
earth are gone;
But still thus ev'n in death,
So sweet the living breath
Of the fields and the flow'rs in our youth we
That ere, condemn'd, we go
To freeze 'mid Hecla's snow,
We would taste it awhile, and think we live once more!
James Joyce was interested and asked Stanislaus to send him the words, which he learned to sing himself. His feelings about his wife's dead lover found a dramatic counterpart in the jealousy of the dead for the living in Moore's song: it would seem that the living and the dead are envious of each other. Another aspect of the rivalry is suggested in Ulysses, where Stephen cries out to his mother's ghost, whose "glazing eyes, staring out of death, to shake and bend my soul, . . . to strike me down," he cannot put out of mind; "No, mother. Let me be and let me live." That the dead do not stay buried is, in fact, a theme of Joyce from the beginning to the end of his work; Finnegan is not the only corpse to be resurrected.
Joyce did not begin his story in Trieste. At the end of July, 1906, he and Nora, with their baby son Giorgio, went to Rome. His sojourn there was to last only seven months, but it was long enough to consolidate in him the elements of his story. Joyce reacted to Rome violently. Its grandeur did not fill him with awe; if it had, "The Dead" might never have been written. He felt quite other emotions, none of them suitable for travel brochures. The modern city and its government he found insipid, while the ancient city, as he was to remark a few months later to a Triestine friend, was like a cemetery. That "exquisite panorama," he declared, is "made up of flowers of death, ruins, piles of bones, and skeletons." This was his immediate as well as his considered impression. A week after his arrival, he wrote Stanislaus Joyce that the neighborhood of the Colosseum was "like an old cemetery with broken columns of temples and slabs." The presence of ghoulish tourists from England did nothing to mitigate the effect. While Joyce, Nora, and Giorgio were in the Colosseum, "looking at it all round gravely from a sense of duty," Joyce wrote his brother, "I heard a voice from London on one of the lowest galleries say:
Almost at once two young men in serge suits and straw hats appeared in an embrasure. They leaned on the parapet and then a second voice from the same city clove the calm evening, saying:
—Whowail stands the Colisseum Rawhm shall stand
When falls the Colisseum Rawhm sh'll fall
And when Rawhm falls the world sh'll fall—
but adding cheerfully:
Kemlong, 'ere's the way aht—
Joyce was willing to grant, he said, that in the time of Caesar Rome had been a fine city, but Papal Rome he thought to be like the Coombe in Ireland or old Trieste, "and the new Ludovisi quarter is like any secondary quarter of a fine metropolis. Not as fine as Pembroke township, for example. I wish I knew something of Latin or Roman History. But it's not worth beginning now. So let the ruins rot." He was indignant with Henry James for what he called James's "tea-slop" about Rome, which ignored its funerary reality. Even his dreams were affected. He complained in September, 1906, of a series of "horrible and terrifying dreams: death, corpses, assassinations, in which I take an unpleasantly prominent part." On September 25, after a sightseeing expedition to the Forum, he summed up, "Rome reminds me of a man who lives by exhibiting to travellers his grandmother's corpse."
Joyce did not write tea-slop about Rome; in fact he never wrote about Rome at all. But what he found in Rome affected what he thought of the equally Catholic city he had abandoned, a city as prehensile of its ruins, visible and invisible. Joyce's head was filled with a sense of the too successful encroachment of the dead upon the living city; there was a disrupting parallel in the way that Dublin, which he had buried behind him, was haunting his exile. This, along with his wife's account of Sonny Bodkin, and Tom Moore's "O, Ye Dead!", helped him to his theme of the hold of the past upon the present. In Ulysses the theme was to be reconstituted, in more horrid form, in the mind of Stephen, who sees corpses rising from their graves like vampires to deprive the living of joy. The bridebed, the childbed, and the bed of death are bound together, and death "comes, pale vampire, through storm his eyes, his bat sails bloodying the sea, mouth to her mouth's kiss." That we can be at the same time in death as well as in life came home to Joyce.
By February 11, 1907, after six months in what he later ironically called "that eternal Rome," Joyce knew in general what story he must write. Some of his difficulty in beginning the composition of "The Dead"—Which, by the way, was the title he knew from the first he would use—was due, as he said himself, to a row in Dublin. This was the rioting at the Abbey Theatre in January and February of 1907, over Synge's Playboy of the Western World. Joyce knew Synge well; they had both tried to live in Paris on their income from writing, and both had failed. Synge took Yeats's advice to go to the Aran Islands for his material, while Joyce, when Yeats tried to persuade him too to find his inspiration in the Irish folk, said his own mind was much nearer to God than anything the folk could offer. (As Stephen blusters in Stephen Hero, "My own mind is more interesting to me than the entire country.") Joyce had ostentatiously stayed outside the national literary revival: in 1901 he wrote his pamphlet, "The Day of the Rabblement," to denounce the fomenters of the Irish theatrical movement for their provincial insistence on producing Irish plays instead of European masterpieces. When Synge showed him in Paris the manuscript of Riders to the Sea, which Yeats called Aeschylean, Joyce criticized it severely as un-Aristotelian. But the riot over the Playboy aroused his envy; he had hoped to keep the task of shocking the Dubliners in his own capable hands. "This whole affair has upset me," he wrote Stanislaus, "I feel like a man in a house who hears a row in the street and voices he knows shouting but can't get up to see what the hell is going on. It has put me off the story I was going to write—to wit: 'The Dead'."
Joyce felt Synge's rivalry too keenly to side with him in the controversy, but the contest of nationalism against art was to find small echoes in his story. There the nationalistic Miss Ivors tries to persuade Gabriel to go to the Aran Islands, the scene, by the way, of Synge's Playboy, and when he refuses, twits him for his lack of patriotic feeling. Though Gabriel thinks of defending the autonomy of art and its indifference to politics, he knows such a defense would be pretentious, and only musters up the remark that he is sick of his own country. But the issue is far from settled for him.
After many delays Joyce began to write "The Dead" before he left Rome, but had to stop when, at the beginning of March, 1907, he returned to Trieste. It took him most of the spring to reinstate himself in Trieste as a language teacher; then Nora had her second child, a girl, so duplicating the family of Gabriel and Gretta Conroy; and then during the summer Joyce suffered an attack of rheumatic fever. This disease must have helped him to see more clearly the ending of the story in an atmosphere of fatigue, of weariness, and of swooning; during his convalescence he dictated the ending to his brother Stanislaus, in the autumn of 1907. It was the last story of Dubliners to be written.
"The Dead" begins with a party and ends with a corpse, so entwining "funferal" and "funeral" as in the wake of Finnegan. That he began with a party was due, at least in part, to Joyce's feeling that the rest of the stories in Dubliners had not completed his picture of the city. On September 25, 1906, he had written his brother from Rome: "Sometimes thinking of Ireland it seems to me that I have been unnecessarily harsh. I have reproduced (in Dubliners at least) none of the attraction of the city for I have never felt at my ease in any city since I left it, except Paris. I have not reproduced its ingenuous insularity and its hospitality, the latter "virtue" so far as I can see does not exist elsewhere in Europe." He allowed a little of this warmth to enter "The Dead." In his speech at the Christmas party Gabriel Conroy explicitly commends Ireland for this very virtue of hospitality, though his expression of the idea has its share of after-dinner pomposity: "I feel more strongly with every recurring year that our country has no tradition which does it so much honour and which it should guard so jealously as that of its hospitality. It is a tradition that is unique as far as my experience goes (and I have visited not a few places abroad) among the modern nations." This was Joyce's very oblique way, in language that almost mocked his own, of beginning the task of making amends.
The selection of details for "The Dead" shows Joyce making those choices which, while masterful, suggest the preoccupations that mastered him. He had committed himself by this time to the rendering of small subjects greatly, and fastened upon the seemingly dull and tawdry life of his family as his primary material. Once he had determined to represent an Irish party, the choice of the Misses Morkans' as its location was easy enough. He had already reserved for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man a Christmas party at his own house—a party, I might mention, which is also clouded by a discussion of a dead man. The other festive occasions of his childhood were associated with his hospitable great-aunts and their house at 15 Usher's Island, a street that runs beside the river Liffey. This house was called the "Misses Flynn school," Flynn being the maiden name of Mrs. Callanan and Mrs. Lyons (as well as of Joyce's maternal grandmother); they were aided by Mrs. Callanan's daughter, Mary Ellen. It was Mrs. Lyons who had studied with Michael Balfe, the composer of The Bohemian Girl. That the school was in good repute is suggested by the fact that Katharine Tynan, Yeats's friend, whose family was comfortably situated, was a fellow-pupil of Joyce's mother at the school. Every year Joyce and his brothers and sisters, when they were old enough, were invited with their father and mother to the Christmas party, and John Joyce, James's father, would carve the goose and make the speech. Stanislaus Joyce says that the speech of Gabriel Conroy in "The Dead" is a good imitation of John Joyce's oratorical style. He excepts the quotation from Browning, which Gabriel decides to omit, but even this was quite within the scope of the man who, when lending his son James money, could quote Virgil's Non ignara mali, miseris succurrere disco.
In Joyce's story Mrs. Callanan and Mrs. Lyons, the Misses Flynn, become the spinster ladies, the Misses Morkan, and Mary Ellen Callanan becomes Mary Jane. Most of the other party guests were also reconstituted from Joyce's recollections. Mrs. Lyons had a son Freddy, who kept a Christmas card shop in Grafton Street. Joyce introduces him as Freddy Malins, and situates his shop in the less fashionable Henry Street, perhaps to make him need that sovereign Gabriel lent him. Another relative of Joyce's mother, a first cousin, married a Protestant named Mervyn Archdale Browne, who combined the profession of music teacher with that of agent for a burglary insurance company. Joyce keeps him in "The Dead" under his own name. It has been suggested that Mr. Browne is an allegory of death, but I am inclined to think he was merely a silly relative. Bartell d'Arcy, the hoarse singer in the story, was based upon Barton McGuckin, the leading tenor in the Carl Rosa Opera Company; Joyce knew about him from his father, who had once sung at the Antient Concert Rooms with McGuckin in the audience. As John Joyce would tell later, "After this concert when McGuckin used to pass me in the street he used watch and look after me. I used wonder why he looked so hard at me and by God I never could make out what it was all about; and it was only after he was dead for some years that I heard the story. John Phelan said to me, 'You had the best tenor in Ireland.' 'Yerra, my God, what put that into your head?' said I, and he said, 'I heard it from the very best authority.' 'Who was that?' says I. 'Well,' says he, 'did you ever hear of a gentleman named Barton McGuckin?' 'I did indeed,' said I, and John said, 'That is my authority.' And that accounted for the way he used to look so hard at me." There were other tenors, such as John McCormack, whom Joyce might have used, but he needed one who was unsuccessful and uneasy about himself; and his father's often-told anecdote about McGuckin furnished him with just such a singer as he intended Bartell d'Arcy to be.
The making of his hero, Gabriel Conroy, was more complicated. Joyce's work is always heavily autobiographical, and the root situation, of jealousy for his wife's dead lover, was of course Joyce's. The man who is murdered, D. H. Lawrence has one of his characters say, desires to be murdered; there are some stomachs that hunt ulcers, and some temperaments that demand the feeling that their friends and sweethearts will betray them. The feeling is, at any rate, in all Joyce's books: Stephen is bedevilled by Cranly, who, thwarted in his possessive affection for Stephen, takes an interest in Stephen's girl; at the end of the Portrait, Emma Clery seems about to shift her affections from Stephen to his best friend. In Ulysses Stephen is betrayed by Mulligan, who wants power over him, and by Lynch, who leaves him in the lurch, while Bloom is betrayed by his wife. In Exiles Richard Rowan is betrayed, more or less, by his best friend and by his wife, and in Finnegans Wake Earwicker is compared to King Mark, the hapless husband of Iseult. Joyce's conversation often returned to the word "betrayal," and the entangled innocents whom he uses for his heroes are all aspects of his conception of himself. Though Gabriel is less impressive than Stephen, Bloom, Richard Rowan, or Earwicker, he belongs to their distinguished, put-upon company.
There are several specific points at which Joyce attributes his own experience to Gabriel. The letter which Gabriel remembers having written to Gretta Conroy early in their courtship is one of these; from it Gabriel quotes to himself the sentiment, "Why is it that words like these seem to me so dull and cold? Is it because there is no word tender enough to be your name?" These sentences are taken almost directly from a letter Joyce wrote to Nora in 1994. It was Joyce, too, who wrote book reviews, just as Gabriel Conroy does, for the Daily Express. Since the Daily Express was pro-English, he had probably been teased for writing for it during his frequent visits to the house of David Sheehy, M.P. I suspect that one of the Sheehy daughters, Kathleen, was the model for Miss Ivors, for she wore that austere bodice and sported the same patriotic pin. In Gretta's old sweetheart, in Gabriel's letter, in the book reviews and the discussion of them, as well as in the physical image of Gabriel with hair parted in the middle and rimmed glasses, Joyce drew directly upon his own life.
I have suggested also that his father was deeply involved in the story. Stanislaus Joyce recalls that when the Joyce children were too young to bring along to the Misses Flynn's party, their father and mother sometimes left them with a governess and stayed at a Dublin hotel overnight instead of returning to their house in Bray. Gabriel and Gretta do this too. Gabriel's quarrels with his mother also suggest John Joyce's quarrels with his mother, who never accepted her son's marriage to a woman of a lower station. Joyce uses this detail again in Exiles. But John Joyce's personality was not like Gabriel's; he had no doubts of himself; in the midst of his many failures he was full of self-esteem. He had the same intractable and unshakable confidence as his son James. For Gabriel's personality there is among Joyce's friends another model. This was Constantine Curran, still alive and nicknamed, though not to his face, "Cautious Con." He is a more distinguished man than Joyce allows, but Joyce was building upon, and no doubt distorting, his memories of Curran as a very young man. That he has Curran in mind is suggested by the fact that he calls Gabriel's brother by Curran's first name Constantine, and makes Gabriel's brother, like Curran's, a priest. Curran has the same blotched complexion and nervous, disquieted manner as Gabriel, and like Gabriel he has travelled to the continent and has cultivated cosmopolitan interests. Curran, like Conroy, married a woman who was not a Dubliner, though she came from only as far west as Limerick. I am not urging that Gabriel Conroy is a fair portrait of Curran, only that Gabriel was made mostly out of Curran, Joyce's father, and Joyce himself. Probably Joyce knew there was a publican on Howth named Gabriel Conroy; or, as Gerhart Friedrich has suggested, he may have borrowed the name from the title of a Bret Harte novel. But the character, if not the name, was of his own compounding. As for the name of Conroy's wife Gretta, Joyce borrowed this from another friend, Gretta (actually Margaret) Cousins, the wife of James H. Cousins, a Theosophist, vegetarian, and poetaster. In a letter written to his brother at the same time that he was meditating "The Dead," Joyce says, "I have come to the conclusion that it is about time I made up my mind whether I am to become a writer or a patient Cousins," so it is clear that the Cousins household, where he had once stayed several days, was on his mind.
Joyce now had his people, his party, and something of its development. In the festive setting, upon which the snow keeps offering a different perspective until, as W. Y. Tindall suggests, the snow itself changes, Joyce develops Gabriel's private tremors, his sense of inadequacy, his uncomfortable insistence on his small pretensions. From the beginning he is vulnerable; his well-meant and even generous overtures are regularly checked. The servant girl punctures his blithe assumption that everyone is happily in love and on the way to the altar. He is not sure enough of himself to put out of his head the slurs he has received long ago; so in spite of his uxorious attitude towards Gretta he is a little ashamed of her having come from the west of Ireland. He cannot bear to think of his dead mother's remark that Gretta was "country cute," and when Miss Ivors says of Gretta, "She's from Connacht, isn't she?" Gabriel answers shortly, "Her people are." He has rescued her from that bog. Miss Ivors' suggestion, a true Gaelic Leaguer's, that he spend his holiday in the Irishspeaking Aran Islands (in the west) upsets him; it is the element in his wife's past that he wishes to forget. During three-fourths of the story, the west of Ireland is connected in Gabriel's mind with a dark and rather painful primitivism, an aspect of his country which he has steadily abjured by going off to the continent. The west is savagery; to the east and south lie people who drink wine and wear galoshes.
Gabriel has been made uneasy about this attitude, but he clings to it defiantly until the ending. Unknown to him, it is being challenged by the song, "The Lass of Aughrim." Aughrim is a little village in the west not far from Galway. The song has a special relevance; in it a woman who has been seduced and abandoned by Lord Gregory comes with her baby in the rain to beg for admission to his house. It brings together the peasant mother and the civilized seducer, but Gabriel does not listen to the words; he only watches his wife listening. Joyce had heard this ballad from Nora; perhaps he considered also using Tom Moore's "O, Ye Dead!" in the story, but if so he must have seen that "The Lass of Aughrim" would connect more subtly with the west and with Michael Furey's visit in the rain to Gretta. But the notion of using a song at all may well have come to him as the result of the excitement generated in him by Moore's song.
And now, Gabriel and Gretta go to the Hotel Gresham, Gabriel fired by his living wife and Gretta drained by the memory of her dead lover. He learns for the first time of the young man in Galway, whose name Joyce has deftly altered from Sonny or Michael Bodkin to Michael Furey. The new name suggests, like the contrast of the militant Michael and the amiable Gabriel, that violent passion is in her Galway past, not in her Dublin present. Gabriel tries to cut Michael Furey down. "What was he?" he asks, confident that his own profession of language teacher (which he shared with Joyce) is superior; but she replies, "He was in the gasworks," as if this profession were as good as any other. Then Gabriel tries again, "And what did he die of so young, Gretta? Consumption, was it?" He hopes to register the usual expressions of pity, but Gretta silences and terrifies him by her answer, "I think he died for me." Since Joyce has already let us know that Michael Furey was tubercular, this answer of Gretta has a fine ambiguity. It asserts the egoism of passion, and unconsciously defies Gabriel's reasonable question.
Now Gabriel begins to succumb to his wife's dead lover, and becomes a pilgrim to emotional intensities outside of his own experience. From a biographical point of view, these final pages compose one of Joyce's several tributes to his wife's artless integrity. Nora Barnacle in spite of her defects of education was independent, un-self-conscious, instinctively right. Gabriel acknowledges the same coherence in his own wife, and he recognizes in the west of Ireland, in Michael Furey, a passion he has himself always lacked. "Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age," Joyce makes Gabriel think. Then comes that strange sentence in the final paragraph: "The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward." The cliché runs that journeys westward are towards death, but the west has taken on a special meaning in the story. Gretta Conroy's west is the place where life has been lived simply and passionately. The context and phrasing of the sentence suggest that Gabriel is on the edge of sleep, and half-consciously accepts what he has hitherto scorned, the possibility of an actual trip to Connaught. What the sentence affirms, at last, on the level of feeling, is the west, the primitive untutored impulsive country from which Gabriel had felt himself alienated before; in the story, the west is paradoxically linked also with the past and the dead. It is like Aunt Julia Morkan who, though ignorant, old, grey-skinned, and stupefied, seizes in her song at the party "the excitement of swift and secure flight."
The tone of the sentence, "The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward," is somewhat resigned. It suggests a concession, a relinquishment, and Gabriel is conceding and relinquishing a good deal—his sense of the importance of civilized thinking, of continental tastes, of all those tepid but nice distinctions on which he has prided himself. The bubble of his self-possession is pricked; he no longer possesses himself, and not to possess oneself is in a way a kind of death. It is a self-abandonment not unlike Furey's, and through Gabriel's mind runs the imagery of Calvary. He imagines the snow on the cemetery at Oughterard, lying "thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns." He thinks of Michael Furey who, Gretta has said, died for her, and envies him his sacrifice for another kind of love than Christ's. To some extent Gabriel too is dying for her, in giving up what he has most valued in himself, all that holds him apart from the simpler people he has been with at the party. He feels close to Gretta through sympathy if not through love; they are both past youth, beauty, and passion now; he feels close also to her dead lover, another lamb burnt on her altar, though she too is burnt now; he feels no resentment, only pity. In his own sacrifice of himself he is conscious of a melancholy unity between the living and the dead.
Gabriel, who has been sick of his own country, finds himself drawn inevitably into a silent tribute to it of much more consequence than his spoken tribute at the party. He has had illusions of the Tightness of a way of life that should be outside of Ireland; but through this experience with his wife he grants a kind of bondage, of acceptance, even of admiration to a part of the country and a way of life that are most Irish. Ireland is shown to be stronger, more intense than he. This is the explanation of the echo, first discovered by Adaline Glasheen, of Yeats's nationalistic play, Cathleen ni Houlihan, where the old woman who symbolizes Ireland sings a song of "yellow-haired Donough that was hanged in Galway." When she is asked, "What was it brought him to his death?" she replies, "He died for love of me; many a man has died for love of me." At the end of A Portrait of the Artist, too, Stephen Dedalus, who has been so resolutely opposed to nationalism, makes a similar concession when he interprets his departure from Ireland as an attempt to forge a conscience for his race. In Rome and Trieste Joyce learned what he had unlearned in Dublin, to be a Dubliner.
The story of "The Dead" is prophetic in that Joyce did go out to Galway in 1909 and again in 1912, that he got Nora Barnacle's mother to sing "The Lass of Aughrim" to him, and that he visited the cemetery at Oughterard where Michael Bodkin was buried. He was pleased to find, as he told Stanislaus, that it was just as he had imagined it, and that not far from Bodkin's grave was a stone marked "J. Joyce." (In the story he had said Bodkin planned like himself to study singing.) After all, Joyce's roots were in the west too, for it was from the Joyce country in Galway that his forebears presumably came. Not long after his second visit in 1912 he wrote a poem on the same theme as "The Dead." He shifted Bodkin's grave from Oughterard, seventeen miles from Galway, to the Galway cemetery at Rahoon with its more obvious sonorous name, so that "Rain on Rahoon falls softly, softly falling, / Where my dark lover lies," and the dead sweetheart is brought into a mortuary triangle with the two living lovers.
We have yet to discover what made Joyce conceive the events that conclude "The Dead," the second honeymoon of Gabriel and Gretta which ends so badly. It seems to me that Joyce's method of composition was very like T. S. Eliot's, the imaginative absorption of stray material. The method did not please Joyce very well because he considered it not imaginative enough, but it was the only way he could work. He borrowed the ending for "The Dead" from another book. In this other book a bridal couple receive, on their wedding night, a message that a young woman whom the husband jilted has just committed suicide. The news holds them apart, she asks him not to kiss her, and both are tormented by remorse. The wife, her marriage unconsummated, falls off at last to sleep, and her husband goes to the window and looks out at "the melancholy greyness of the dawn." For the first time he recognizes, with the force of a revelation, that his life is a failure, and that his wife lacks the passion of the girl who has killed herself. He resolves that, since he is not worthy of any more momentous career, he will try at least to make her happy. Here surely is the situation that Joyce so adroitly transposed and recomposed. The corpse that comes between the lovers, the sense of the husband's failure, the acceptance of mediocrity, the resolve to be at all events sympathetic: all come from the other book. But in offering this source, I don't mean to minimize the transformation Joyce wrought in it. For example, he allows Gretta to kiss her husband, but without desire, and rarefies the situation by having it arise not from a suicide but from a memory of young love. The book Joyce was borrowing from was one that nobody reads any more, George Moore's Vain Fortune; but Joyce read it, and in his youthful essay, "The Day of the Rabblement," overpraised it as "fine, original work," when it was actually rather crude. While writing "The Dead" he evidently refreshed his memory of Vain Fortune, for his copy of it, now at Yale, bears the date "March 1907." It is amusing to learn that when George Moore was asked his opinion of Joyce's writing in 1916, he said, "The only book of Joyce's that I have read is a collection of stories called Dubliners, some of them are trivial and disagreeable, but all are written by a clever man, and the book contains one story, the longest story in the book and the last story which seemed to me perfection whilst I read it! I regretted that I was not the author of it." But I think we can say that in some sense George Moore was its author.
But Moore of course said nothing of snow. No one can know how Joyce conceived the joining of Gabriel's final experience with the snow; it is perhaps fortunate that only the artist knows everything. But his fondness for a background of this kind is also illustrated by his use of the fireplace in "Ivy Day," of the streetlamps in "Two Gallants," and of the river in Finnegans Wake. At one time in the composition of Ulysses he considered adding a matutine, an entr'acte, and a nocturne, and I suppose these would have supplied a frame similar to that afforded in "The Dead" by nature. How are we to take the snow? It does not seem that it can be death, as so many have said, for it falls on living and dead alike, and for death to fall on the dead is a simple redundancy of which Joyce would not have been guilty. For snow to be "general all over Ireland" is of course unusual in that country. The fine description: "It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves," is probably borrowed by Joyce from a famous simile in the twelfth book of the Iliad: "The snowflakes fall thick and fast on a winter's day. The winds are lulled, and the snow falls incessant, covering the tops of the mountains, and the hills, and the plains where the lotus-tree grows, and the cultivated fields, and they are falling by the inlets and shores of the foaming sea, but are silently dissolved by the waves." But Homer was simply describing the thickness of the arrows in the battle of the Greeks and Trojans; and while Joyce seems to copy his topographical details, he uses the image here chiefly for a similar sense of crowding and quiet pressure. Where Homer speaks of the waves silently dissolving the snow, Joyce adds the fine detail of "the dark mutinous Shannon waves" which suggests the "Furey" quality of the west. The snow that falls upon Gabriel, Gretta, and Michael Furey, upon the Misses Morkan, upon the dead singers and the living, is mutuality, a sense of their connection with each other, a sense that none has his being alone. The partygoers prefer dead singers to living ones, the wife prefers a dead lover to a live lover.
The snow, however, does not stand alone in the story. It is part of the complex imagery that includes heat and cold air, fire, and rain, as well as snow. The relations of these are not simple. During the party the living people, their festivities, and all human society seem contrasted with the cold outside, as in the warmth of Gabriel's hand on the cold pane. But this warmth is felt by Gabriel as stuffy and confining, and the cold outside is repeatedly connected with what is fragrant and fresh. The cold, in this sense of piercing intensity, culminates in the picture of Michael Furey in the rain and darkness of the Galway night.
Another warmth is involved in the story. In Gabriel's memory of his own love for Gretta, he recalls incidents in his love's history as stars, burning with pure and distant intensity, and recalls moments of his passion for her as having the fire of stars. The irony of this image is that the sharp and beautiful experience was, though he has not known it until this night, incomplete. There is a telling metaphor; he remembers a moment of happiness, standing with Gretta in the cold, looking in through a window at a man making bottles in a roaring furnace, and suddenly calling out to the man, "Is the fire hot?" The question sums up his naive deprivation; if the man at the furnace had heard the question, his answer, thinks Gabriel, might have been rude; so the revelation on this night is rude to Gabriel's whole being. On this night he acknowledges that love must be a feeling which he has never fully had.
Gabriel is not, however, utterly deprived. Throughout the story there is affection for this man who, without the sharpest, most passionate perceptions, is yet generous and considerate. The intense and the moderated can meet; intensity bursts out and expires, and the moderated can admire and pity it, and share the fate that moves both types of mankind towards age and death. The furthest point of love of which Gabriel was capable is past. Furey's passion is past except in memory, because of his sudden death. Gretta is perhaps the most pitiful, in that knowing Furey's passion, and being of his kind, she does not die but lives to wane in Gabriel's way; on this night she too is fatigued, not beautiful; her clothes lie crumpled beside her. The snow seems to share in this decline; viewed from inside at the party, it was desirable, unattainable, just as at his first knowledge of Michael Furey Gabriel envies him. At the end as the partygoers walk to the cab the snow is slushy and in patches, and then, seen from the window of the hotel room, it belongs to all men, it is general, mutual. Under its canopy, all human beings, whatever their degrees of intensity, fall into union. The mutuality is that all men feel and lose feeling, all interact, all warrant the sympathy that Gabriel now extends to Furey, Gretta, himself, and even Aunt Julia.
In its lyrical, melancholy acceptance of all that life and death offer, "The Dead" is a linchpin of Joyce's work.
But there is that basic situation of cuckoldry, real or putative, which is to be found throughout. There is the special Joycean collation of naturalistic accuracy of description and speech, with lyrical prose. The final purport of the story, the mutual dependency of living and dead, is something that he meditated a good deal from his early youth. So in his essay on Mangan, which he read to a university society on February 15, 1902, when he was barely twenty, he made a startling defense of death along with life:
Beauty, the splendour of truth, is a gracious presence when the imagination contemplates intensely the truth of its own being or the visible world, and the spirit which proceeds out of truth and beauty is the holy spirit of joy. These are realities and these alone give and sustain life. As often as human fear and cruelty, that wicked monster begotten by luxury, are in league to make life ignoble and sullen and to speak evil of death the time is come wherein a man of timid courage seizes the keys of hell and of death, and flings them far out into the abyss, proclaiming the praise of life, which the abiding splendour of truth may sanctify, and of death, the most beautiful form of life. In those vast courses which enfold us and in that great memory which is greater and more generous than our memory, no life, no moment of exaltation is ever lost; and all those who have written nobly have not written in vain, though the desperate and weary have never heard the silvery laughter of wisdom. Nay, shall not such as these have part, because of that high, original purpose which remembering painfully or by way of prophecy they would make clear, in the continual affirmation of the spirit?
Death is the most beautiful form of life: Joyce had already left the Church and was not referring to a conventional afterlife. Here he joins both death and life in the "great memory," presumably of nature. He had begun already to learn as Gabriel did that we are all Romes, our new edifices reared beside, and even joined with, ancient monuments. In Dubliners he developed this idea. When his German translator, Georg Goyert, suggested that the book be entitled in German translation, So Sind Sie in Dublin, Joyce said it would have to be, So Sind Wir in Dublin. The interrelationship of dead and living is the theme of the first story in Dubliners as well as of the last; it is also the theme of "A Painful Case," but an even closer parallel is the story, "Ivy Day in the Committee Room." This is virtually an answer to his university friends who mocked his remark that death is the most beautiful form of life by saying that absence is the highest form of presence. Joyce did not think either idea absurd. What binds "Ivy Day" to "The Dead" is that in both stories the central agitation derives from a character who never appears, who is dead, absent. Joyce wrote Stanislaus that Anatole France had given him the idea for both stories. There may be other sources in France's works, but the one that occurs to me is "The Procurator of Judaea." In it Pontius Pilate talks with a friend about the days when he was procurator in Judaea, and describes the events of his time with Roman reason, calm, and elegance. Never once does he, or his friend, mention the person we expect him to discuss, the founder of Christianity, until at the end the friend asks if Pontius Pilate happens to remember someone of the name of Jesus from Nazareth, and the veteran administrator replies, "Jesus? Jesus of Nazareth? I cannot call him to mind." The story is overshadowed by the person whom Pilate does not recall; without him the story would not exist. Joyce uses a similar method in "Ivy Day" with Parnell and in "The Dead" with Michael Furey. He cannot have borrowed it from George Moore, for in Moore's book the girl who commits suicide is present in the novel.
In Ulysses the climactic episode, Circe, whirls to a sepulchral close in the same juxtaposition of living and dead, the ghost of his mother confronting Stephen, and the ghost of his son confronting Bloom. But Joyce's greatest triumph in asserting the intimacy of living and dead is the close of Finnegans Wake. Anna Livia Plurabelle, the river of life, flows towards the sea, which is death; the fresh water passes into the salt, a bitter ending. Yet it is also a return to her father, the sea that produces the cloud which makes the river, and her father is also her husband, to whom she gives herself as a bride to her groom:
I am passing out. O bitter ending! I'll slip away before they're up. They'll never see. Nor know. Nor miss me. And it's old and old it's sad and old it's sad and weary I go back to you my cold father, my cold mad father, my cold mad feary father, till the near sight of the mere size of him, the moyles and moyles of it, moanamoaning, makes me seasilt saltsick and I rush, my only, into your arms. I see them rising. Save me from those therrble prongs! Two more. One two moremens more. So. Avelaval. My leaves have drifted from me. All. But one clings still. I'll bear it on me. To remind me of. Lff! So soft this morning, ours. Yes. Carry me along, taddy, like you done through the toy fair! If I seen him bearing down on me now under whitespread wings like he'd come from Arkangels, I sink I'd die down over his feet, humbly dumbly, only to waship. Yes, tid. There's where. First. We pass through grass behush the bush to. Whish! A gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here. Us then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, memémormee! Till thousendsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved a long the
Here, as in "The Dead," Exiles, and Ulysses, Joyce ends with lyrical repetitions of words, and in each of these books the principal character dreams at the end of union. Anna Livia is going back to her father, as Gabriel Conroy journeys westward in feeling to the roots of his fatherland; like him, she is sad and weary. To him the Shannon waves are dark and mutinous, and to her the sea is cold and mad. In Finnegans Wake Anna Livia' s union is not only with love but with death; like Gabriel she seems to swoon away; and this fact made a friend of Joyce say to him, when he heard the passage, "You kept your bitter messages for the end." But Joyce denied that this was what he meant. There is bitterness in it, but much sweetness too. We have to be wary of making Joyce harder than he was. Each of his books ends lyrically and affirmatively, though with important qualifications. At the end of A Portrait of the Artist Stephen goes off to exile, but as he notes in self-mockery, he goes in second-hand trousers. At the end of Exiles Bertha cries, much like Anna Livia but much less eloquently, "Forget me, Dick. Forget me and love me again as you did the first time. I want my lover. To meet him, to go to him, to give myself to him. You, Dick. O, my strange wild lover, come back to me again!" But Richard, though he receives her back with relief, receives her also with doubt, and her final cry half-acknowledges the impossibility of what she longs for. There is a similar pathos in Molly Bloom's recollection of her first moments of love with her husband, with which Ulysses ends; it is after all only recollection, recoverable in the mind but not in actuality.
That Joyce at the age of twenty-five and -six should have written this story ought not to seem odd. Young writers reach their greatest eloquence in dwelling upon the horrors of middle age and what follows it. But beyond this proclivity which he shared with others, Joyce had a special reason for writing the story of "The Dead" in 1906 and 1907. In his own mind he had thoroughly justified his flight from Ireland, but he had not decided the question of where he would fly to. The effect upon him of his stay in Trieste and Rome was to change rebellion to at least partial indulgence. As he wrote his brother from Rome with some astonishment, he felt humiliated when anyone attacked his impoverished country. "The Dead" is his first song of exile.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2002
SOURCE: "Structure and Sympathy in Joyce's 'The Dead,'" in PMLA, Vol. LXXV, No. 9, March, 1960, pp. 149-51.
[In the following essay, Loomis interprets the structure of "The Dead" as a vehicle for reader sympathy.]
James Joyce's "The Dead" culminates in Gabriel Conroy's timeless moment of almost supreme vision. The fragments of his life's experience, of the epitomizing experiences of one evening in particular, are fused together into a whole: "self-bounded and self-contained upon the immeasurable background of space and time."1 Initiated by a moment of deep, if localized, sympathy, his vision and his sympathy expand together to include not only himself, Gretta, and his aunts, but all Ireland, and, with the words "all the living and all the dead," all humanity.
Gabriel's epiphany manifests Joyce's fundamental belief that true, objective perception will lead to true, objective sympathy; such perception and such sympathy, however, ultimately defy intellectual analysis. Joyce carefully avoids abstract definition of Gabriel's vision by embodying it within the story's central symbol: the snow, which becomes paradoxically warm in the moment of vision, through which Gabriel at long last feels the deeply unifying bond of common mortality.
Gabriel's experience is intellectual only at that level on which intellect and emotional intuition blend, and the full power of the story can be apprehended by the reader only if he sympathetically shares the experience with Gabriel. As understanding of himself, then of his world, then of humanity floods Gabriel, so understanding of Gabriel, his world, and humanity in terms of the story floods the reader. The understanding in both cases is largely emotional and intuitive; intellectual analysis of the snow symbol, however successful, leaves a large surplus of emotion unexplained.
Therefore, Joyce had to generate increasing reader-sympathy as he approached the vision, but this sympathy could not be generated by complete reader-identification with Gabriel. If the reader identifies himself unreservedly with Gabriel in the first ninety percent of the story, he will lose that critical insight into him which is necessary for full apprehension of his vision. It is, after all, Gabriel's vision, and there is no little irony in this fact. The vision is in sharp contrast with his previous view of the world: in fact, it literally opens a new world to him. If the reader identifies himself uncritically with Gabriel at any point in the story, he is liable to miss those very shortcomings which make the vision meaningful. Yet, in the actual moments of vision, the reader must share Gabriel's view; in a real sense, he must identify himself with Gabriel: "feel with" him.
Joyce, therefore, had to create sympathy without encouraging the reader to a blind, uncritical identification. One aspect of his solution to this problem is a monument to his genius. In the main body of the story, while he is constantly dropping meaningful, often semi-symbolic details which deepen the gulf between the reader and Gabriel, he is also generating what can best be called "aesthetic sympathy"; by the very structure of the story, he increasingly pulls the reader into the story.
"The Dead" can be divided, not arbitrarily, into five sections: the musicale, the dinner, the farewells and the drive to the hotel, the scene between Gabriel and Gretta in their room, and, finally, the vision itself. A few of these sections are separated by a time lapse, a few flow smoothly into one another; in all cases, however, the reader is aware of a slight "shifting of gears" between sections.
These sections become shorter as the story progresses. The effect of this constant shortening of scenes, together with a constant speeding up in the narrative line, is an almost constant increase of pace. Within each of the sections, Joyce carefully builds up to a climax, then slackens the pace slightly at the beginning of the next section as he begins to build up to a new climax. The pace in the sections is progressively more rapid, however, partially because of the cumulative effect of the narrative. As the story progresses, more things happen in less time.
The effect of increasing pace is complemented and strengthened by another structural aspect of the story. As the pace increases, the focus narrows. The constantly narrowing focus and the constantly increasing pace complement one another and act to pull the reader into the story. He is caught up in a whirlpool movement, ever-narrowing, ever-faster.
There is much activity in the first part of "The Dead," but the activity is diffuse and the effect is not of great pace. We are given a slightly confused, overall picture of activity: dancing, drinking, singing, chatter. Characters are introduced one after another: Lily, Gabriel, Gretta, the Misses Morkan, Mary Jane, Mr. Browne, Freddy Malins and his mother, Miss Ivors, and so on. Our scope is broad and general. Increasingly, Gabriel becomes our mode of consciousness, but he himself cannot assimilate all the activity. He retreats, isolates himself within his deep but insecure egotism. Rationalizing that "their grade of culture differed from his," he bides his time until dinner, when he knows he will be the center of all eyes.
In this first section, it is interesting to note how Joyce gives us Gabriel's point of view without compromising his own fundamental objectivity; even though we see largely through Gabriel's "delicate and restless" eyes, we nevertheless become increasingly aware of his character, of his defensive feelings of intellectual and social superiority in particular. His eyes are offended by the glittering, waxed floors, his ears by the "indelicate clattering" of the dancers, his intellect by all those present, particularly Miss Ivors, who "has a crow to pluck" with him, and constitutes a threat to his shaky feelings of superiority. His attitude can best be summed up by his reflection, ironic and revealing in view of the toast to come, that his aunts are "only two ignorant old women." Such comments are introduced quietly, but they serve to keep the reader from identifying himself too wholeheartedly with Gabriel. We feel with him to a degree even in these early sections of the story, but our sympathy is seriously reserved and qualified.2
In the second section, our focus narrows to the dinner table, and to a few characters at it; the others are blurred in the background. Tension about Gabriel's toast has been built up in the first section; now the pace increases as this particular tension is relieved. The toast, hypocritical and condescending, makes us further aware of Gabriel's isolation from those around him.
The pace in this scene is considerably more rapid than in the first. It builds up to the climax, the toast, in a few brief pages; then there is a slackening with the applause and singing.
There is a time-lapse between the conclusion of the toast and the next section; Joyce seems to shift to a higher range. From this point to the moment of vision, the pace increases and the focus narrows almost geometrically.
The shouts and laughter of the departure signal the end of the party, but are counter-balanced by the fine, almost silent tableau of Gabriel watching Gretta on the staircase. Our focus is beginning to narrow down to these two main characters. Gretta has been deliberately held in the background until this moment; now she emerges.
The repeated goodnights and the noisy trip through silent, snow-blanketed Dublin are given increased pace through Gabriel's increasing lust; the pace becomes the pace of "the blood bounding along his veins" and the "thoughts rioting through his brain." The fires of this lust begin to thaw the almost life-deep frost of his self-consciousness. The superiority and self-delusion are still dominant: there is much irony in his remembering "their moments of ecstacy," for his lust is far from ecstatic love. It is, however, the first step toward the moment of objective vision.
We are now approaching the still center of the increasingly rapid, increasingly narrow whirlpool. The scene in the hotel room between Gabriel and Gretta takes up only a few brief minutes, but in these minutes much happens. Gabriel "discovers" Gretta: suddenly she becomes more than a mere appendage to his ego. He discovers himself, in a mirror. His lust turns to anger, then his anger to humility. Gretta, caught up in her memories of the "boy in the gasworks," Michael Furey, is not even aware of his presence. "A shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him. He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting as a pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous, well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealising his own clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror."
The peak of intensity is reached with Gretta's "Oh, the day I heard that, that he was dead." She collapses on the bed, sobbing, and Gabriel, quietly, shyly, retires to the window. At this moment, Joyce creates another time-lapse to lead into the vision itself.
Until this moment, the pace has increased and the focus has narrowed almost constantly. Now Joyce does something remarkable and effective: he reverses the process. In doing so, he makes the structure of the story not only useful as a means of generating an "aesthetic sympathy" (perhaps "empathy" with its impersonal connotations would be a more accurate word), but also makes it reinforce the ultimate emotional-intellectual meaning of the vision itself.3
Pace simply ceases to exist in the vision, and, of course, this is fitting. We are in an essentially timeless world at this point; true, the vision involves time and mortality, but it is timeless time and eternal mortality, man's endless fate as man. The snow "falling faintly through the universe" measures absolute, not relative time. The impact of this sudden cessation of pace on the reader is great; in fact, it parallels the impact on Gabriel himself. With this sudden structural change, we share Gabriel's vision; we do not merely analyze it.
Gabriel's vision begins with Gretta; it is narrow in focus. The whole story has led us down to this narrow focus. Now, as he does with pace, Joyce reverses the process. As the vision progresses toward the ultimate image of the snow falling through the universe, the focus broadens, from Gretta, to his aunts, to himself, to Ireland, to "the universe." Time and space are telescoped in the final words of the story: The snow falls on "all the living and all the dead."
"The Dead" follows a logical pattern; we move from the general to the particular, then to a final universal. We see Gabriel's world generally; then we focus down to the particular, and from the combination of the general and particular we are given a universal symbol in the vision itself.
The logic of "The Dead," however, is not the logic of mere intellect; it is the logic which exists on a plane where intellectual perception and emotional intuition, form and content, blend.
1 James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York, 1928), p. 249. See also Irene Hendry, "Joyce's Epiphanies" in Critiques and Essays on Modern Fiction, John W. Aldridge, ed. (New York, 1952), p. 129.
2 For an enlightening discussion of the problem of reader-identification and "extraordinary perspective" in 19thand 20th-century literature, see R. W. Langbaum, The Poetry of Experience (New York, 1957).
3 William T. Noon, S.J., in Joyce and Aquinas (New Haven, 1957), pp. 84-85, places Gabriel's epiphany at "the moment when the full impact of Gretta's disclosure of her secret strikes him": before the snow image of the closing paragraphs. Father Noon separates Gabriel's moment of vision from the reader's, and seems to state that the snow image is for the reader's enlightenment, not Gabriel's. I agree with Father Noon that the reader cannot possibly apprehend the depth of Gabriel's sudden sympathy with Gretta until Joyce gives him the closing image, but I do not believe that Gabriel's own vision is complete until this final image; the epiphany begins with his sympathy for Gretta, but is not complete, because not universal, until he "heard the snow falling faintly through the universe."
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2785
SOURCE: "Color and Light in 'The Dead,'" in James Joyce Quarterly, Vol. II, No. 4, Summer, 1965, pp. 304-09.
[In the following excerpt, Smith explores dichotomies of color and light as essential symbolism in "The Dead. "]
There is one feature of "The Dead" that has gone, for the most part, un-noticed—the possible symbolism in Joyce's various references to color and light. Admittedly they constitute a minor motif until the end of the story, but I submit that they are important, and that if one sees the pattern of meaning implicit in them, he can more fully understand the significance of the snow in Gabriel's vision. That pattern is basically simple—references to pale colors on one hand, references to dark and vivid colors on the other, suggestions as to complementing these opposites, and a final reconciliation of opposites in the whiteness of the snow.1
"The Dead" opens and closes with pale people in a pale light. Lily is described as "a slim, growing girl, pale in complexion and with hay-coloured hair. The gas in the pantry made her look still paler."2 Joyce is much less specific about Gabriel Conroy's coloring, but paleness as a normal condition is hinted in the fact that Lily's rebuff causes Gabriel to blush. Moreover, "the high colour of his cheeks pushed upward even to his forehead, where it scattered itself in a few formless patches of pale red; and on his hairless face there scintillated restlessly the polished lenses and the bright gilt rims of the glasses which screened his delicate and restless eyes." These details help to prepare us for the timid, defensive qualities of Gabriel which the story is going to unfold. In their paleness, Lily and Conroy are similar. Where Lily is quite sure that she knows men ("The men that is now is only all palaver and what they can get out of you"), Conroy is equally confident that he knows his wife and himself. Also, if Lily is on the defensive for a moment, Conroy is on the defensive for the rest of the story—against his wife's teasing about galoshes, against the importuning of the patriotic Miss Ivors, and, finally, against the memory of Michael Furey.
The last scene of the story is linked to the opening scene by references to light. Conroy tells the hotel porter, "We don't want any light. We have light enough from the street." Joyce tells us that the light is "ghastly"—reminiscent of the light in Lily's pantry. Moreover, some of the details used in the opening scene to describe Conroy are repeated here. After Gretta breaks away from his arms with the first indication that something is wrong, Gabriel follows her, and, in a mirror, catches sight of "his broad, wellfilled shirt-front, the face whose expression always puzzled him when he saw it in a mirror, and his glimmering giltrimmed eyeglasses." In both scenes the references to eyeglasses are ironic: however much they might help vision, they cannot help Conroy to see his inner self clearly. He is confident that he has "light enough," but here, near the end of the story, what remains of the confidence initially shakened by Lily's mild rebuff has only a few more moments to live.
Against Lily and Conroy, this pale pair, can be set characters associated with dark and vivid colors. Conroy's wife, Gretta, is attractive because of the "rich bronze of her hair," and she nourishes the memory of the long-dead Michael Furey—"Such eyes as he had: big dark eyes!" In addition, it is "a dark complexioned young man"—Bartell D'Arcy, the tenor—who, by his singing The Lass of Aughrim, has reminded Gretta of her lost love. Directly or indirectly, all of these dark, colorful people have an unnerving effect upon the pale Gabriel. In that regard, we should not forget Miss Ivors—she of the "prominent brown eyes."
What else do Miss Ivors, D'Arcy, Gretta, and Michael Furey have in common, from Conroy's point of view at least? They are people of action, they are doers. D'Arcy sings powerfully and beautifully (when he doesn't have a cold!), and Miss Ivors campaigns vigorously for Irish independence. Gretta keeps alive the memory of a beautiful love, and Michael Furey courts death itself to say one last farewell to Gretta. Against these four, the pale people seem to lack purpose; they shy away from experience and are constantly on the defensive. Lily tries to rationalize her approaching spinsterhood by maintaining that all men are basically coarse. Similarly, Gabriel spends a good deal of the evening trying to convince himself that his own attitudes and values are the right ones. Even so, the dark characters are not to be considered as necessarily superior to the pale ones. The important thing is that they are different; the important thing is that Gretta, Miss Ivors, D'Arcy, and Michael Furey all live in ways which Gabriel (and, by implication, Lily) cannot understand.
There remain at least four other characters in the story who are of interest in this matter of color and light references—Aunt Kate, Aunt Julia, Mr. Browne, and Freddy Malins. The two women and the two men pair off more or less naturally. Conroy's aunts are always thought of as being together, while Browne and Freddy are the two most prominently mentioned male characters outside of Gabriel himself, and they leave the party together. What is more interesting, however, is that each pair has a pale member and a colorful member. Notice the way in which Joyce describes Aunt Julia: "Her hair, drawn low over the tops of her ears, was grey; and grey also, with darker shadows, was her large flaccid face." Aunt Kate, on the other hand, had a face "like a shrivelled red apple, and her hair, braided in the same old-fashioned way, had not lost its ripe nut colour." This same pattern prevails in the description of the two men. Freddy's face "was fleshy and pallid, touched with colour only at the thick hanging lobes of his ears and at the wide wings of his nose." By contrast, color is associated with Mr. Browne: in addition to his name, he is described as a "tall, wizen-faced man, with a stiff grizzled moustache and swarthy skin," and he leaves the party "dressed in a long green overcoat."
The lives of the main characters in "The Dead" are incomplete in some way; this condition is as true of the dark and colorful characters as it is of the pale ones.3 Aunt Kate, Aunt Julia, Mr. Browne, and Freddy Malins are incomplete too, but the way in which Joyce pairs them up suggests a relationship that is missing in the treatment of the other characters. Despite their individual short-comings, the pale Aunt Julia complements the colorful Aunt Kate, and the pale Freddy complements the colorful Mr. Browne. Joyce wants us to think of these pairs as going together. He wants us to think of "pale" and "dark" complementing each other rather than being antagonistic. He is subtly preparing us, I submit, for the coming together of all colors, all light, all values in the whiteness of the snow at the story's end. That most of the story beforehand shows the pale Gabriel and his world impinged upon by the dark and the colorful should prepare us for a resolution of the two realms of value far more significant than anything suggested in the comparatively static pairings of Kate and Julia, Browne and Malins.
Two other sections of the story obviously deal with color—Gabriel's viewing of the pictures while Mary Jane plays the piano and Joyce's description of the tables covered with food and drink. The pictures start Gabriel's mind into a stream of associations. The "red, blue, and brown wools" of the picture worked by Aunt Julia remind him of the colors in the waistcoat which his mother had once made for him—a coat of "purple tabinet" with "brown satin" lining and "mulberry buttons." Thinking of his mother, Gabriel is distressed when he remembers how she objected to his marriage to Gretta. This passage in turn is tied to the later passage where Gabriel's powers of association work in the opposite direction—from wife to picture instead of from picture to wife. As the party breaks up, Conroy sees his wife at the head of the stairway and he wonders "what is a woman standing on the stairs in the shadow, listening to distant music, a symbol of. If he were a painter he would paint her in that attitude. Her blue felt hat would show off the bronze of her hair against the darkness and the dark panels of her skirt would show off the light ones." There seems to be a pattern here: Gabriel (with whom we have associated paleness) thinks of colors which, in various ways, help to describe three women in his life—his aunt, his mother, his wife. Each of these women is different from—even alienated from—Gabriel and his attitude toward life. Aunt Julia prefers things Irish to things continental; his mother irritated him because she "had once spoken of Gretta as being country cute"; and Gretta herself keeps the secret which epitomizes the alienation between husband and wife.
The most obvious bringing together of color references occurs in Joyce's description of the party table. He mentions a "fat brown goose," "red and yellow" jelly, "blancmange and red jam," and a "green leaf-shaped" dish holding "purple raisins." There are "chocolates and sweets wrapped in gold and silver papers," "oranges," and decanters of port and "dark sherry." On a nearby piano, pudding can be found in a "huge yellow dish," and, among the bottles of stout, ale, and minerals, some are "black, with brown and red labels," while others are "white, with transverse green sashes." This cluster of color references reinforces a basic theme—the difference between Gabriel and the elements of life around him. While he is "pale," all these colors are associated with the feast, the high point of the party and the ultimate in Irish conviviality. Gabriel partakes and yet does not partake: he cuts the goose and eats after the other guests do, rather than with them. He alone of the male guests refuses Aunt Julia's pudding, but he gets away with it, while the complete outsider D'Arcy is not allowed to refuse the offer of port or sherry. On the surface, then, Gabriel is accepted—he belongs—but we have seen many indications of his alienation from things Irish.
There remains only the snow and what I want is emphasize—its whiteness. Joyce does not mention the snow's color particularly, but he does not have to: snow has instantaneous connotations of whiteness, just as surely as grass is green or blood is red. Along with the color references already discussed, the story mentions snow (whiteness) six times before Conroy's vision. At the outset, Joyce tells us that Gabriel "stood on the mat, scraping the snow from his galoshes," and later he teases Gretta because, in his own words, "she'd walk home in the snow if she were let." Whatever other symbolism might be at work here, 4 the color of the snow itself does not seem important. Toward the middle of the story, however, the whiteness of the snow is specifically linked to Gabriel's frame of mind. Thinking nervously about the after-dinner speech he has to make, Gabriel associates the snow with the possibility of escape from his responsibilities: "How pleasant it would be to walk out alone, first along by the river and then through the park! The snow would be lying on the branches of the trees and forming a bright cap on the top of the Wellington Monument." And later, at the beginning of his speech, Gabriel is still thinking of escape in a passage that repeats many of the details of the earlier passage: "People, perhaps, were standing in the snow on the quay outside. . . . The air was pure there. In the distance lay the park where the trees were weighted with snow. The Wellington Monument wore a gleaming cap of snow that flashed westward over the white field of Fifteen Acres." In these passages Gabriel sees in the snow a promise of release from his problems; by the end of the story he will see in the snow a more mature acceptance of his condition.
Before Joyce reaches the story's conclusion, however, he makes two more brief references to the snow—both ironic in their contrast between what Gabriel feels at the time and what he feels after Gretta's revelations. When Gabriel hears Mary Jane repeat the newspaper report that "the snow is general all over Ireland," he little suspects that he will shortly repeat the observation himself under markedly changed circumstances. Likewise, Gabriel's playful reference to "a white man" covered with "patches of snow" as the cab passes the statue on the O'Connell Bridge is an ironic prelude to Gabriel's more serious confrontation with another figure from the dead—Michael Furey.
In various ways, then, Joyce has been preparing us to associate Gabriel's attitudes with references to snow. It is thus appropriate that his closing vision should be dominated by the image of falling snow. His mood at the end of the story is one of acceptance, even resignation; the question that divides the critics is—what does Gabriel accept? What does the snow symbolize? Several critics associate it with death: O Hehir feels the snow "symbolizes death's egalitarian and pervasive presence," while Frank O'Connor calls the snow "death's symbol." 5 Many other interpretations have been offered, but the line of argument I have been pursuing here supplements interpretations made by critics like David Daiches, Richard Ellmann, and William T. Noon, S. J. Daiches sees the snow as a "symbol of Gabriel's new sense of identity with the world," Ellmann sees it as "mutuality .. . a sense that none has his being alone," and Fr. Noon sees it as "the transcendental unity of the dead with the living, and of all nature with all mankind."6
All of these latter views have at least one quality in common: the snow represents something comprehensive, something all-inclusive, something that goes beyond Gabriel's awareness of self. Is not the whiteness of the snow a most suitable symbol for this concept? As the story unfolds, we have seen references to Gabriel and paleness, while impingements of one sort or another upon his consciousness were associated with dark and vivid colors. The possibility of opposites being reconciled is suggested in the parings of Aunt Julia and Aunt Kate, Mr. Browne and Fredy Malins. But what is only suggested earlier (when the color and light references are a minor motif) is achieved at the end of the story when the whiteness of the snow assumes major importance. As the color white encompasses all the colors of the spectrum, so too Gabriel comes to learn that life encompasses the pale and the dark, himself and others, "all the living and the dead"—with emphasis on the "all."
1 Basic to my reading of the story is the fact that what one sees as whiteness (e.g. snow) is a reflection of all light rays in the spectrum. Cf. this definition of "white" in Webster's Third New International Dictionary (Springfield, Mass., 1961): "the one of the six psychologically primary colors that is characteristically perceived to belong to objects which reflect diffusely nearly all incident energy throughout the visible spectrum" (p. 2606).
2 Even Lily's name, of course, is suggestive of paleness. My text is the one found in the Modern Library Edition of Dubliners (New York, 1954 (1926)), pp. 224-288.
3 Cf. Florence Walzl's claim that the characters in the story are "people who live meaningless lives of inactivity" ("Patterns of Paralysis in Joyce's Dubliners" College English, XXII (1961), 228), and Hugh Kenner's suggestion that "in 'The Dead' everybody is dead" (Dublin's Joyce (London, 1955), p. 62).
4 Brandon O Hehir maintains that "Joyce has elaborated the significance of Gabriel's galoshes into the symbolic key to his tragic position between his wife and the ghost of his mother" ("Structural Symbol in Joyce's 'The Dead,'" TCL, III (1957), 3-4).
5 "Structural Symbol—," p. 12; The Mirror in the Roadway (New York, 1956), p. 29. Cf. Richard Ellmann on the snow as a symbol of death: "It does not seem that it can be death, as so many have said, for it falls on living and dead alike, and for death to fall on the dead is a simple redundancy of which Joyce would not have been guilty" ("The Background of 'The Dead,'" Kenyon Review, XX (1958), 523).
6The Novel and the Modern World, rev. ed. (Chicago, 1960), p. 81; "The Background of 'The Dead,'" p. 523; Joyce and Aquinas (New Haven, 1957), p. 85.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7455
SOURCE: "Gabriel and Michael: The Conclusion of The Dead,'" in James Joyce Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 1, Fall, 1966, pp. 17-31.
[In the following essay, Walzl investigates the ambiguous symbolic qualities of "The Dead, " seeing the story both as the penultimate tale of paralysis in Dubliners, and as one of spiritual development and final redemption.]
Dubliners as a collection and "The Dead" as a narrative both culminate in the great epiphany of Gabriel Conroy, the cosmic vision of a cemetery with snow falling on all the living and the dead. As an illumination, it follows Gabriel's meeting with the spirit of Michael Furey and seems to evolve from it. Though commentators generally agree on the structural design of Dubliners and the plot pattern of "The Dead," they have not agreed on the interpretation of this conclusion, or even of the principal symbol, the snow, which to some represents life, to others death, and to still others life or death depending on the context of the passage. Such lack of agreement at the crux of a work seems surprising. The purpose of this study is to suggest that the ambiguity of this conclusion was deliberate on Joyce's part and that it arose from the history and development of Dubliners as a collection.
The context in which "The Dead" is read affects interpretations of the story. For the reader who approaches "The Dead" by way of the preceding fourteen stories of frustration, inaction and moral paralysis, this story is likely to seem a completion of these motifs, and Gabriel's epiphany a recognition that he is a dead member of a dead society. But when "The Dead" is read as a short story unrelated to Dubliners, the effect is different: the story seems one of spiritual development and the final vision a redemption.
A survey of the critiques of "The Dead" shows significant differences in interpretation.2 Explications which discuss the story and its final vision primarily as the conclusion of the book as a whole, such as those of Hugh Kenner and Brewster Ghiselin, tend to interpret the snow vision as Gabriel's self-identification with the dead.3 However, structural analyses of the story per se, such as those of Kenneth Burke, David Daiches, Allen Tate, and others, generally agree that the story is one of maturation and that the snow vision is a rebirth experience.4 Though studies of the symbolism vary greatly, a number, among them the critiques of Ellmann, Magalaner and Kain, and Tindall, note ambivalence in the symbols, or "different perspectives" in the imagery.5 All commentators agree on the essential significance of the snow vision both for Dubliners and "The Dead."
When Joyce left Ireland in 1904, he took with him the manuscripts of a number of the Dubliners stories and the following year completed a work that consisted of fourteen stories. It did not include "The Dead," which was not written until 1907. It was this version that Joyce described as "a chapter of the moral history" of Ireland and as having its setting in Dublin because that city seemed to him the "centre of paralysis."6 There is no question that this work represents Joyce's view of Ireland at the time he left his native land—as a moribund country that destroyed or paralyzed its children because of its provinciality and conformism.
A number of studies have demonstrated Dubliners to have an organized inner structure.7 The stories are placed in four chronological groups, which Joyce described as an order of "childhood, adolescence, maturity and public life"; and all develop a dominant paralysis symbolism.8 The 1905 version was highly symmetrical, consisting of an opening triad of stories of individual children ("The Sisters," "An Encounter," and "Araby"), a quartet of stories dealing with youthful men and women ("Eveline," "After the Race," "Two Gallants," and "The Boarding House"), another quartet picturing mature characters ("A Little Cloud," "Counterparts," "Clay," and "A Painful Case"), and a final triad dealing with public groups in public situations ("Ivy Day in the Committee Room," "A Mother," and "Grace"). The first and final triads obviously balance individuals and groups, and all the stories in the middle quartets are arranged in pairs contrasting sex, age, and social type or status. Also, the characterizations have a patterning that is unusual in short story collections. Though the protagonist of each story is a different character, all—children or adults—are variants of a basic type, a central everyman figure. Since each main character is older in the first eleven tales, a life cycle is presented. This chronological structure is matched to a thematic one of hemiplegia. The result is a progression in which children are depicted as disillusioned, youths as frustrated or trapped, men and women as passive and non-productive, and social groups as completely static. The central image of the book is a creeping paralysis that ends in a dead society.
Analyses of the individual stories have shown that the paralysis motif tends to be developed by a number of related images, all variations on a basic death-life symbolism. They are stasis versus action, darkness versus light, cold versus warmth, and blindness versus perception. Prior to discussion of the handling of these images in "The Dead," their use in the 1905 Dubliners needs brief analysis. As a general pattern in the early version, they present a clear death symbolism.
Inaction or arrest imagery is the most obvious variant of the paralysis motif. Joyce devises plots in which characters are immobilized by weakness or circumstance, symbolizes the resulting psychological situations by imagery of traps and cages, and employs settings with constricted spaces, such as confessionals, cells, cabins, narrow rooms, and little houses—all suggestive of graves or vaults (e. g., "Eveline," "A Little Cloud," or "Clay"). In addition, Ghiselin has pointed out a variation of this stasis-action imagery in the directional symbolism in Dubliners9: movement eastward generally representing youthful attempts to escape life in Dublin ("An Encounter," "Araby," and "Eveline"); circular movement or essential immobility at the center of the city, the frustration of more mature characters ("Two Gallants," "The Boarding House," "A Little Cloud," and "Counterparts"); and movements westward a drift toward death of the elderly ("Clay" and "A Painful Case"). The stories of public life in the 1905 version all depict groups of people sitting inertly in public places. It should be noted that in this pattern of movement, Joyce is using traditional imagery that associates life with dawn and the east and death with twilight and the west.
Darkness and cold are also used either separately or in combination throughout Dubliners for death suggestions in contrast to light-warmth-life imagery. The opening pages set the tone with the repetitions of the words night, darkened, and paralysis, and in the succeeding stories images of shadow, mist, dimness, dust, gloom, and night appear as scenic details and symbols. Changes from light to darkness and warmth to cold (or the reverse) sometimes parallel the action of the plot (e.g., "An Encounter," "Araby," "Two Gallants," and "A Painful Case"). Twilight and night scenes have symbolic significance in most of the stories, and in the latter part of the book darkness and chill imagery is cumulative.
Blindness and sight imagery is also evident as a pattern. First, the tales, examined in succession, show a steady decline in the perceptivity of the characters as to the reality of their situations. The youths are painfully aware of their disappointments; the more mature suffer but lack insight; characters in the final stories seem totally insensitive. As a result the epiphanies of these final stories are usually manifestations for the reader rather than the character. In addition, throughout Dubliners Joyce uses frequent eye imagery, a practice consistent with his view of the epiphany as an enlightenment. At the climactic moment of revelation, lack of insight on the part of the character may be indicated by eyes that are dim, blinded, or unseeing (e.g., "Eveline," "After the Race," or "Clay"). By contrast a sudden view, a flash of light or color, may bring enlightenment (e.g., "A Painful Case").
These imagistic patterns are in general consistent throughout the 1905 version of Dubliners. Though the same images appear in "The Dead," they are treated differently in that story.
The end of the 1905 version was carefully planned to round out the beginning. "The Sisters" opens Dubliners with a story of defective religion and a picture of a priest dying of paralysis, a figure symbolic of clerically dominated Ireland, according to Joyce's brother.10 "Grace" ends this version with an ironic story of faith and a picture of a corrupt priest preaching a materialistic sermon to a group of morally insensible Dubliners. Both congregation and cleric exemplify Joyce's judgment that Ireland is spiritually dead.
Dubliners did not appear in the 1905 version. A series of disagreements over revisions of the stories delayed publication. When the book was finally published in 1914, a new story, "The Dead," provided the conclusion.
"The Dead" is markedly different from the earlier stories in several important respects. It is not only a longer, more fully developed narrative, but it presents a more kindly view of Ireland. Exile had modified Joyce's views of his native land.11 He had found Italian cities like Pola and Trieste provincial in their own way, and Rome had seemed to him as much a city of the dead as Dublin. He complained that Rome lived as if by exhibiting its "grandmother's corpse."12 He now felt that his picture of Ireland had been "unnecessarily harsh," and that he had not shown Ireland's "ingenuous insularity" and unique "hospitality."13 "The Dead" reflects these modified views, but the changes presented Joyce a problem. For in adding "The Dead" to Dubliners, he was not merely appending another narrative to an ordinary collection of short stories: he was adding to a highly structured book already complete, a different kind of story with a different kind of conclusion.
As a narrative, "The Dead" has a plot of oscillation and reversal which mirrors the psychological changes in the chief character. The protagonist is Gabriel Conroy, a Dublin schoolteacher, who, with his wife, Gretta, attends a Christmas party given by his two old aunts, the Miss Morkans. During the evening a series of small events makes him alternate between emotions of confidence and inferiority. His self-esteem is undermined by the remarks of a bitter maid, Lily, by the criticisms of a fellow teacher, Molly Ivors, and by the doubts he secretly feels. On the other hand, his ego is bolstered by his aunts' dependence on him, his presiding at the carving, and his making the after-dinner speech. The attention, the festivities, and the prospect of an unaccustomed night at a hotel arouse in Gabriel romantic emotions and memories of his wife that have long lain dormant. When later at the hotel he approaches her amorously, he finds that she too is remembering a past love, but it is a different love from his. It is for a boy of her youth, Michael Furey, now dead. The sudden realization that for his wife the memory of a long dead lover has greater reality than does the physical presence of her living husband precipitates a crisis of selfevaluation in Gabriel. For the first time he gains an insight into his own identity and that of his society. In imagination he has a confrontation with his long dead rival, and from this meeting evolves the snow vision which ends the story and the book.
Obviously "The Dead" is a story of insight and realization, and it seems to reverse the pattern of increasing insensibility that Dubliners otherwise traces.
Nonetheless, in a number of ways, "The Dead" was clearly designed to provide an appropriate conclusion for Dubliners. Commentators have tended to apply the terms coda and thematic reprise to it.14 Structurally it fits neatly into the tales of public life depicting groups of provincial and conformist people. Its characters tend to recall earlier figures. Its atmosphere, despite the holiday scene, becomes one of funereal gloom as the conversation is devoted increasingly to the past, to people dead and gone, and discussions of death, monks, and coffins. There are constant intimations that the group will soon re-convene for a wake in these same rooms. In its own way, it rounds out the book as "Grace" had the 1905 version. Its setting, a gathering at the home of two ancient sisters, seems a scenic repetition of "The Sisters," and Gabriel's final vision of a cemetery in the night is a fitting close for a book that began as a deathwatch outside the house of a dying man.
Despite these thematic repetitions, Joyce's problem in integrating "The Dead" into Dubliners was not easily solved. For "The Dead" is a story of maturation, tracing the spiritual development of a man from insularity and egotism to humanitarianism and love. No earlier character in Dubliners undergoes a comparable change or has such an enlightenment. It cannot be fit with easy logic into the dominant paralysis pattern of Dubliners. I suggest that Joyce made his accommodation by two means: first, use of ambiguous or ambivalent images that mirror the oscillation in Gabriel's character, and second, by means of a conclusion in which a series of key images, all employed earlier in both the story and the book as a whole, operate to reflect one set of meanings from Dubliners as a total entity and a slightly different set from "The Dead" as an individual story.
Gabriel's final epiphany, comprising his ghostly meeting with Michael Furey and his vision of the snow, is the chief means by which Joyce effects this resolution. Every image in it is a symbol, and since each symbol is multi-faceted in reflecting earlier ambiguities, the epiphany allows for either a life or death interpretation. Paradoxical images of arrest and movement, darkness and light, cold and warmth, blindness and sight, are used in this conclusion to recall both the central paralysis-death theme of Dubliners as a collection and the rebirth-life theme of "The Dead" as a narrative.
The ambiguity of this ending succeeds because Joyce had already described ambivalent attitudes on the part of the hero, largely by means of these same symbols, used in shifting, paradoxical ways. To illustrate: at first view "The Dead" seems to employ the patterns of arrest and motion used earlier in Dubliners. For instance constricted motion is definitely associated with the frustrated Gabriel. The most obvious instance is the family anecdote that he dramatizes, of the treadmill horse that on a Sunday drive in Dublin insisted on going round and round and round King William's statue. Though Gabriel does not realize it, he is acting out symbolically the vicious circle of his own daily round in Dublin. Also, the directional symbolism seems that of the earlier tales: the east is the direction of Gabriel's holiday escapes to freedom on the continent, the center of Dublin is made the scene of his revelation, and the west is associated with his final vision of the graveyard. However, it soon becomes evident that Joyce is developing, side by side with this east-west symbolic pattern, another one that is its opposite in certain ways. In this system the east suggests the old, traditional, and effete; the west, the new, primitive, and vital. These symbols are largely developed through the characters. The story develops a contrast between the cultivated, urban East Coast society and people from the wilder Gaelic west of Ireland. The Dubliners are shown as a dull, elderly group. As exemplified at the party, the upper middle class Dubliner seems commonplace and his culture mediocre. The conversation is stereotyped, the famed Irish hospitality consists chiefly of eating and drinking, and the arts seem provincial. The one writer present produces critical rather than creative work; the pianist's playing is pretentious sound without substance. The "Three Graces of the Dublin musical world" are a spinster and two ancient ladies whom Gabriel privately and hypocritically admits are "only two ignorant old women."15 In contrast, the westerners are more simple, direct and passionate. For example, several of the strongest characters are associated with the west, among them Gabriel's argumentative colleague, Miss Ivors, who urges him to visit the west to learn Gaelic and see the real Ireland; his attractive wife, Gretta, who has come from Connacht and is "country cute;" and above all, Gabriel's ghostly rival, Michael Furey, who is strongly identified with the west country. The character contrast between east and west is made explicit in the opposition between Gabriel's mother and his wife, the two principal women in his life. His dead mother is identified as a chief representative of the cultivated Dublin milieu. The "brains carrier" of the family, she saw that her sons were educated for the proper professions. She exists in the story as a photograph in which she holds a book. She opposed Gabriel's marriage to a girl from the west country. In contrast, his wife, Gretta, seems representative of a more natural west. She is always associated with color and perfume, music and stars, and her reactions always seem direct and ingenuous. It should be noted that in this second pattern of east-west symbolism Joyce is developing traditional symbolism, also. From the Ulysses myth to the American mystique of the West, the east has represented the old and tried, and the west the new and unknown. Westward movement in this association tends to symbolize man's Utopian possibilities and connote search and adventure. Thus, in "The Dead" Joyce deliberately builds an ambivalent symbolism of motion and direction that in some contexts equates the east with dawn and life and the west with sunset and death, but in other contexts associates the east with the old and sterile and the west with the new and vital.
The darkness-cold and light-warmth images are also developed paradoxically in shifting patterns of meaning.16 Several episodes will illustrate this. When Gabriel first comes out of the dark and cold into the light and warmth of the Morkan house, his marked insulation against the cold and snow by means of heavy clothes and galoshes suggests a conventional symbolism which associates heat with life. But ironically the lights within seem to illuminate a society that is stuffy and dead rather than warm and alive, and Gabriel soon longs for the cold fresh air and the great darkness outside, which now seem to represent the vitality of nature and perhaps also the living culture of Europe beyond the seas. Later as the characters prepare to leave the party, there is a shift back in the symbolism. The "cold, fragrant air" is no longer emphasized, but seemingly casual remarks about the cold and night build up a deathjourney symbolism. The departing guests remark about the sharp wind, the bitter cold, the snow which is "general all over Ireland," and the fact that "everybody has colds." Mary Jane shivers as she tells the leave-takers that she "would not like to face . . . [their] journey home." The repetitive farewells of "Good-night," "Good-night, again," "Good-night, all. Safe home," "Good-night. Good-night" (the word is repeated ten times) hint of a "last journey." These suggestions are imagistic preparations for the scene in the hotel bedroom where the death imagery is unmistakable. The box-like room, the removal of a candle, the darkness, the chill, and the bed on which Gretta lies, all build the impression of a vault where the dead rest frozen on their biers. There is no question that the symbols have shifted back and forth in these episodes.
These shifting images of darkness-cold and light-warmth are supported by marked ambiguity in the handling of the snow imagery. The snow mirrors the very paradox Joyce is developing. For snow exposed to heat turns into water, but exposed to cold solidifies into ice. (Water is an archetypal life symbol, and ice a traditional death symbol.) In "The Dead" the snow symbol unites all the other images.
The coldness and warmth imagery developed in connection with Gabriel is extraordinarily complex. Every commentator on "The Dead" has remarked how the snow is associated with Gabriel from his first appearance to his final vision. Throughout the story a complicated interplay of attraction and repulsion is evident in his attitudes. Though he boasts of the galoshes that insulate him from the snow, he also longs for physical contact with it. Though he is moved by the sight of the snow on the roofs, he is irritated by the slush under foot. Though he thinks of statues and monuments covered with snow during the evening, he never sees the relevance of these pictures to himself. (It is the reader that notes the likeness to the opening description of Gabriel.) His final epiphany involves a vision in which snow is both falling and melting. The inherent flexibility of snow as a symbol allows Joyce to shift symbolic suggestions rapidly in these contexts. The warmth imagery will be discussed in connection with the angel symbolism.
The imagery of blindness and sight combines ambivalence and ambiguity. It is used initially to indicate Gabriel's lack of insight and his unconscious avoidance of reality, but it later is employed to describe the gradual enlargement of perspective that leads to his final cosmic vision. Images of eyes, eyesight, glasses, mirrors and windows appear in the story in varied and paradoxical meanings. Of all these images, the mirror is most significant and like the snow it tends to shift its meaning with the context of the passage. For the mirror in "The Dead" represents successively illusion, human reality, and intuitive vision.
The first use of reflection imagery is Narcissistic, and here Joyce is working in a rich literary tradition that extends from Ovid through Shakespeare's Richard II and Milton's Eve to modern psychological fiction. The story opens with a protagonist preoccupied by his own image. How he appears to other people engrosses Gabriel, to the point that his sense of his own identity becomes the view of him reflected from his aunts, the guests at the party, and even the maid, Lily. His concern for a flattering self-image is shown imagistically by eyesight-glasses references. Gabriel's eyes are described as "screened" by his "scintillat[ing]" or "glimmering" glasses. His "delicate and restless eyes" are dazzled by the "glitter" from the polished floor and bright chandelier. In short, his view of the world is distorted by the reflections from his environment, and Gabriel is unable to see reality as it is. Since his eyes are easily irritated, he goes several times to the windows to look out on the darkness, actions suggesting his psychological uncertainty. This Narcissistic imagery culminates with his first direct look into a mirror. Joyce has both Gretta and Gabriel look into a large cheval-glass shortly after they reach the hotel. What Gretta sees is not immediately revealed, for she turns away "serious and weary." Gabriel looks in the mirror and what he sees is an illusion—a "broad, well-filled shirt-front, the face whose expression always puzzled him . . . , and his glimmering gilt-rimmed eye-glasses." His blind egotism masks the truth from him, for actually this image is the pompous front he has been at the party. The mirror has reflected a flattering distortion for him. But the same mirror will later reflect reality. After Gabriel learns the truth that he has not been the only love in his wife's life and that his sense of possession of Gretta has been only an illusion, he again looks in the mirror and this time he does see reality in an extended view that includes himself and his society. This time he sees "a ludicrous figure, acting as a pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous, well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealising his own clownish lusts." This is the figure he has really cut that evening. Moreover, he now identifies himself with the social group that he has secretly despised and yet feared all evening long: he is a "pitiable fatuous fellow" in a society of "vulgarians." 17 Finally, at the end of Dubliners the mirror seems to shift significance again and becomes a reflection of intuitive or visionary truth. After Gabriel has realized the nature of his limitations and acknowledged that as a man he has never really lived, he turns humbly to the window where he had earlier imagined his rival standing. The physical scene of falling snow dwindles and dissolves for him, and the cosmic snow vision replaces it. In this scene the mirror has become a reflecting window, and ultimate reality is shown in an image of a cemetery in the snow. The symbolism seems highly Dantean in its concept of the glass as a reflection of transcendent reality and in its presentation of that reality through a symbolic image. In the final canto of the Paradiso Dante, after perceiving an image, achieved a direct view of Being. Whether or not Gabriel does at the end of "The Dead" is one of the cruxes of Dubliners.
The climax of Dubliners is the imaginary conformation of Gabriel and Michael from which the snow vision evolves. At this point both characters become larger than life, and it is clear that both are mythic figures and archetypes. At the first level they are characters in a story, rivals in a love triangle, the only unusual aspect of which is that one of the rivals has long been dead. At another level, they are archetypes. At a still different level their opposition is represented by their angel names and the legendary associations with each.
At the narrative level, the Gabriel-Michael opposition is illustrated in the scene at the Gresham Hotel. This episode marks a final phase of Gabriel Conroy's development as a character, for in it Gabriel moves from blindness and conceit to self-knowledge and sympathy for others. His enlightenment is effected by Gretta's telling him the story of Michael Furey, the frail boy who, because he loved her more than life, left his sick bed on a night of rain and cold to come to see her. Gabriel's sudden realization that he has never experienced a love like this brings with it the discovery that he has never lived to the full depth of being. Hence to his wife he is less real than Michael Furey, this shade of her youth. Joyce creates a polarity in the reader's mind between the lover and the husband. Both are shown as seeking the woman's love in the night, the dead lover standing in the falling rain, happy in his moment of love; the living husband, frustrated and unhappy in the dark, vault-like hotel room watching the snow fall. Ironically the ghost seems alive, the man dead. Here the Michael-Gabriel contrast opposes life-in-death to death-in-life.
As an archetype, Gabriel is the central every man figure of Dubliners in its final configuration. In numerous ways he brings together in his character and life all the earlier protagonists. In his sensitivity and insecurity he recalls the little boys of "The Sisters," "An Encounter," or "Araby," whose quests for answers end in disappointment. He seems a projection of the youths like Eveline Hill, Jimmy Doyle, and Lenehan, who lack the energy to undertake vital careers and the courage to leave Ireland. He is not betrayed like Doran of "The Boarding House," but he has himself betrayed his own best possibilities. Like Little Chandler and Farrington he is caught in a dull round of domesticity and uncreative work. He is like Maria of "Clay" in that he has never experienced the full meaning of love, and he is clearly on his way to becoming a prim, fussbudgety Mr. Duffy. When he recognizes himself as a "fatuous fellow," he has pronounced his own identification with all the "sentimentalists," "vulgarians," pennyboys, pretentious fools, and ineffectual Dubliners of "Ivy Day," "A Mother," and "Grace." In short, Gabriel Conroy is The Dubliner. And he is Man.
Michael Furey also is more than a character and an angel namesake. This should not be surprising, since in a number of earlier Dubliners stories, great names of myth and legend, heroes and God figures, are invoked as ironic contrasts. (Such examples as the Christ-Judas references in "Two Gallants," the Mary contrast of "Clay," and the Parnell and disciple figures of "Ivy Day" come readily to mind.) A phrase in Gretta's description of him identifies him. Speaking of Michael's end, she says, "I think he died for me." The phrase echoes the words of the Poor Old Woman who is Ireland in disguise in Yeats's Cathleen ni Houlihan. Speaking of her patriot-lover, "yellow-haired Donough that was hanged in Galway," she says, "He died for love of me."18 Michael represents Ireland—an older traditional Ireland of the Gaelic west, of Galway and the Aran Islands, an Ireland that Gabriel is unwilling to visit or to view as important. Michael is a fatherland figure. But he is more. The phrase "he died for me" and the picture of him standing under a tree identifies him as Christ.19 He is a symbol of sacrificial love in both configurations. To love a cause or a person more than life is the action of the hero and the God, and Michael is so identified. Gabriel the Dubliner has been incapable of such sacrifice. At this point, a question seems pertinent: who is the betrayer and who the betrayed? Dubliners as a whole work suggests that Ireland betrays its children. "The Dead" in this symbolic identification seems to imply that the Dubliner betrays Ireland. This is only one of the ambiguities that "The Dead" offers.
The central ambiguity of "The Dead" is the conclusion, and it is developed in large part by the Archangel Gabriel and Michael contrasts. Several polarities between Michael and Gabriel as angels namesakes appear.20 The first involves a difference in rank between these angels. In the angelic hierarchies, Michael as an archangel has precedence over Gabriel as an angel, a relationship which is probably exemplified in the ascendancy of Michael over Gabriel in Gretta's consciousness. The second polarity involves the elements in nature which these two angels represent. In both Jewish and Christian occult tradition the four chief angels, Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel, are correspondent with the four elements, seasons, directions, and winds. Michael represents symbolically the element water, is called "the prince of snow," and is associated with silver. Gabriel represents fire, is called "the prince of fire," and associated with gold.21 These suggestions all appear in "The Dead." A third polarity involves a contrast in New Testament tradition: Michael is primarily the angel of the Last Judgment and Gabriel of the Annunciation. All these motifs join in clusters of shifting symbols in the final section of "The Dead," especially the scene at the Gresham Hotel, which introduces the snow epiphany.
This episode presents a paradoxical contrast between the "living" ghost, Michael, and the "dead" man of flesh, Gabriel. This paradox affects certain images, deriving from the angelic traditions, that are applied to Michael and Gabriel. Michael, named for the angel of water and snow, is always associated with cold, sometimes in combination with rain, sometimes with snow. His memory is first evoked by Gretta when she hears the song, "The Lass of Aughrim" with its picture of a loved one deserted and standing in the cold. Then in her story of Michael, she describes how, when he came to say goodbye to her, he stood shivering in the streaming rain under a tree outside her window. Finally, through a series of imaginative suggestions, Joyce creates in Gabriel's (and the reader's imagination) the illusion that throughout the whole scene in the hotel room, the ghost of Michael is standing outside the window in the snow under the gas lamp looking in. These suggestions come to an eerie climax when the "few light taps" of snow upon the window pane recreated the sound of the gravel Michael had thrown long ago to attract Gretta's attention. Now they call Gabriel to a different rendezvous, the vision of the graveyard where Michael lies buried under the drifting snow.
While the linking of Michael to cold is consistent throughout these scenes, there is an interesting shift from rain to snow imagery. In Gretta's memories Michael is always evoked in rain, but in Gabriel's evocation he is usually associated with snow. The rain and water symbolism suggests that to Gretta, Michael brought an experience of life and love. The snow symbolism suggests that to Gabriel he now brings an experience of death.
The heat and fire imagery associated with Gabriel is partly explained by Gabriel's representation as the angel of fire. Metaphors of fire describe his feelings for Gretta, but paradoxically because they are applied both to his lust and his love. His present emotions "glow angrily" and are termed "the dull fires of . . . lust." The pure, intense love of his youth is depicted as the soul's "tender fire" and likened to the "fire of stars." In thus making a distinction between a love that is life-giving and good and one that is destructive and evil, Joyce is developing a life-death contrast. In using fire in such opposite meanings Joyce probably took Dante as model. 22 In the Purgatorio, where the punishments image the sins, the lustful are purged in fire, but in the Paradiso fire as light is the image for God's love. In fact, Joyce's very phraseology, the "fire of stars," suggests Dante's pictures of the planetary heavens as rings of light and of the angelic choirs as circles of fire. In use of this imagery Gabriel seems rightly named for the angel of fire.
Ambiguities extend also to the roles Michael and Gabriel play as namesakes of great angels. St. Michael is the warrior angel of the Last Judgment, depicted in art holding scales and associated with the settling of accounts. One of his chief offices is to bring men's souls to judgment. And this is precisely the role Michael Furey plays in "The Dead." Though he exists only as a memory in Gretta's mind, he brings Gabriel to a judgment of himself. No ambiguity lies in the fact of this judgment; the ambiguity lies in the nature of the judgment. In this context a second office of the archangel Michael is pertinent: his duty to rescue the souls of the faithful at the hour of death. Since the verdict in Gabriel's case is not in the form of a statement, but a vision, it is not clear which of these functions Michael performs. Does he bring Gabriel, as his final verdict, a knowledge that he is one of the dead? Or does he bring him an illumination that rescues him at the brink of spiritual death? Joyce leaves the role of Michael ambiguous.
In contrast to the stern role of the archangel Michael, Gabriel is a messenger angel associated with God's beneficence. In the Old Testament he is the angel sent to Daniel to interpret two great visions of salvation, one of them a Messianic prophecy. His words to Daniel, "Understand, O son of man, for in the time of the end the vision shall be fullfilled" (Daniel 8.17) may have relevance to "The Dead" In the New Testament he is the angel of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary and to Elizabeth. The vision of Zacharias has particular significance: to a man who was old and sterile and whose wife was barren, the angel Gabriel brought promise of new life. Does this name symbolism suggest birth and renewal for Gabriel? Or is it ironic in connection with this frustrated man? Joyce is not explicit.
All these complex motifs reach culmination in Gabriel's vision. This epiphany is the final stage of a development that has carried Gabriel from a selfish preoccupation with self to sympathy with Gretta, pity for his relatives, and love for all men. His illumination takes place when he realizes he is part of common humanity and shares its mutable state of being. At this moment of enlightenment he loses even the sense of his own identity, and his soul approaches "that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead." As he watches the snow fall, he reflects that the "time had come for him to set out on his journey westward." Because of the earlier ambiguities, Joyce has made it possible for this strange statement to be either a life or a death suggestion. It is the keynote symbol of the vision, and its significance is all-important, since the meaning of the rest of the vision depends on the interpretation of this image. If it is read as a death symbol, all successive images take a like coloration. If it is read as a life symbol, the succeeding images all suggest rebirth. It signals the opening of one of the most remarkable ambiguities in literature, a conclusion that offers almost opposite meanings, each of which can be logically argued.
For the reader who has come to this conclusion by way of the fourteen preceding stories of disillusioned children, frustrated youths, sterile adults and paralyzed social groups in Dubliners, the cosmic vision of "The Dead" seems the last stage in a moribund process. The final fate of the Dubliners everyman is a death in life, and Gabriel Conroy's illumination is that he is dead. In this interpretation the vision is a final statement of the death themes of the book. The snow that covers all Ireland images the deadly inertia of the nation. The lonely churchyard where Michael Furey lies buried pictures the end of individual hope and love. The crooked crosses on which the snow drifts represent the defective and spiritually dead Irish Church. The spears and barren thorns suggest the futility of Christ's sacrifice for a people so insensible. To the hero it is an irrevocable last judgment. Such an interpretation is a powerful and symbolically logical conclusion for Dubliners.
This is not the conclusion that the reader who knows only "The Dead" draws. Interpreting the journey westward as a start toward a new life of greater reality, he sees a succession of rebirth images. The snow, though it is general over Ireland, is quickly swallowed in the Shannon waves—its static iciness melting in the great waters of life. The melting snow is seen as subtly paralleling the change in the hero whose cold conceit has disappeared with his warming humanitarianism. The snow melting is thus a baptismal symbol, and as such offers renewed life not only to Gabriel, but also all the dead who lie here. The lonely churchyard where Michael Furey is buried serves only as a reminder that the grave has already yielded up its dead. For Michael lives vibrantly in the memory of a vibrant act. The recollections of Christ's passion in the spears and thorns are reminders that sacrifice of self is the condition of revival. The judgment that Michael brings is a salvation, and Gabriel's swoon is a symbolic death from which he will rise revivified. Gabriel is rightly named: he is a figure of annunciation and new life.
Joyce thus resolved the problem in logic which arose from his changed viewpoints by composing a conclusion for "The Dead" and Dubliners that employed a pattern of ambivalent symbols and a great final ambiguity.
1 Portions of this paper were given in a somewhat different form at the College and University Conference of the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English, October 24, 1964, and published in the report of the conference, Wisconsin Studies in English, Number 2, under the title "Ambiguity in the Structural Symbols of Gabriel's Vision in Joyce's 'The Dead.'"
2 See Kenneth Burke, "Three Definitions," Kenyan Review, XIII (Spring 1951), 186-192; David Daiches, The Novel and the Modern World (Chicago, 1939), pp. 91-100; Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (New York, 1959), pp. 252-263; Brewster Ghiselin, "The Unity of Joyce's 'Dubliners'," Accent (Spring 1956), 76-78, and (Summer 1956), 207-212; Julian B. Kaye, "The Wings of Daedalus: Two Stories in 'Dubliners'," Modern Fiction Studies, IV (Spring 1958), 37-41; Hugh Kenner, Dublin's Joyce (Bloomington, Ind., 1956), pp. 62-68; Richard Levin and Charles Shattuck, "First Flight to Ithaca: A New Reading of Joyce's 'Dubliners'," in James Joyce: Two Decades of Criticism, ed. Seon Givens (New York, 1948), pp. 87-92; C. C. Loomis, Jr., "Structure and Sympathy in Joyce's 'The Dead'," PMLA, LXXV (March 1960), 149-151; Marvin Magalaner and Richard M. Kain, Joyce: The Man, The Work, The Reputation (New York, 1956), pp. 92-98; Virginia Moseley, "'Two Sights for Ever a Picture' in Joyce's 'The Dead'," College English, XXVI (March 1956), 426-433; Frank O'Connor, "Joyce and Dissociated Metaphor," in The Mirror in the Roadway: A Study of the Modern Novel (New York, 1956), pp. 299-301; Brendan P. O. Hehir, "Structural Symbol in Joyce's 'The Dead'," Twentieth Century Literature, III (April 1957), 3-13; Allen Tate, "Three Commentaries," Sewanee Review, LVIII (Winter 1950), 10-15; and William York Tindall, The Literary Symbol (New York, 1955), pp. 224228 and A Reader's Guide to James Joyce (New York, 1959), pp. 42-49.
3 Kenner states that "The Dead" is the final "definition of living death" toward which the "entire book is oriented" and Gabriel's "proper medium" is death (pp. 62 and 67); Ghiselin states that "Gabriel's enlargement and liberation in his final vision is not a restoration to life" (p. 210). See also the views of Kaye that "the epiphany of 'The Dead' is a revelation of death" (p. 41), and of O'Connor that the snow is "death's symbol" (p. 299).
4 Burke regards the snow as a "mythic image" of "transcendence" above the "world of conditions," of "ideal sociality" (pp. 191-192); Daiches calls the snow vision a "symbol of Gabriel's new sense of identity with the world, of the breakdown of the circle of his egotism" (p. 99); Tate states the snow "reverses its meaning," becoming a "symbol of warmth" which represents the "hero's escape from his own ego into the larger world of humanity" (p. 15). See also the analyses of Loomis and O Hehir.
5 Ellmann, pp. 256-262. See also Magalaner and Kain, pp. 9598; and Tindall, The Literary Symbol, pp. 224-228 and Guide, pp. 45-48.
6 From a letter to Grant Richards in Herbert Gorman, James Joyce (New York, 1939), p. 150.
7 See James R. Baker, "Ibsen, Joyce, and the Living-Dead; A Study of 'Dubliners'," in A James Joyce Miscellany, Third Series, ed. Marvin Magalaner (Carbondale, 111., 1962), pp. 19-32; Ghiselin, pp. 75-88 and 196-213; William Powell Jones, James Joyce and the Common Reader (Norman, Okla., 1955), pp. 9-23; Kenner, pp. 53-68; Robert S. Ryf, A New Approach to Joyce: The Portrait of the Artist as a Guidebook (Berkeley, Cal., 1962), pp. 59-76; Tindall, Guide, pp. 3-8; and Florence L. Walzl, "Pattern of Paralysis in Joyce's Dubliners," College English, XX (January 1961), 221-228.
8 From a letter to Grant Richards in Gorman, p. 150.
9 Ghiselin, pp. 77-79.
10 See Stanislaus Joyce, "James Joyce: A Memoir," trans. Felix Giovanelli, Hudson Review, II (1949-1950), 502.
11 See Ellmann, pp. 252-263.
12 See Gorman, p. 167.
13 From a letter to Stanislaus Joyce in Ellmann, p. 239.
14 See Gerhard Friedrich, "The Perspective of Joyce's Dubliners," College English, XXVI (March 1965), 421-426; and Ryf, p. 73.
15 James Joyce, Dubliners, Compass Edition (New York, 1958), p. 192. All subsequent citations are from this edition.
16 Ellmann, pp. 260-261.
17 See the letter to Grant Richards in James Joyce, Letters, ed. Stuart Gilbert (New York, 1957), p. 64, in which Joyce alludes to Dubliners as a "nicely polished looking-glass" in which the Irish people could get "one good look at themselves."
18 William Butler Yeats, Collected Plays (New York, 1953), p. 54. Adaline Glasheen noted this echo: see Ellmann, p. 258.
19 Ellmann, p. 259.
20 "Gabriel," and "Michael," The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911, VI, 330, and X, 275-277; "Gabriel," and "Michael," The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1910, V, 540-543, and VIII, 535-538; and Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, trans. Henrietta Szold (Philadelphia, 1909), 7 vols. See also Gerhard Friedrich, "Bret Harte as a Source for James Joyce's 'The Dead'," PQ, XXXIII (October 1954), 442-444; and George Knox, "Michael Furey: Symbol-Name in Joyce's 'The Dead'," The Western Humanities Review, XIII (Spring 1959), 221-222. Ginzberg states that "the rivalry of these two angels (Michael and Gabriel) is met with in Jewish legends throughout the centuries" (V, 4); and notes that the identification of them with the elements differs in various Jewish authorities. "Michael is . . . said to consist of fire, the heavenly element; Gabriel of snow, the primordial substance of which the earth was made. According to others, Michael is of snow, and Gabriel of fire" (V, 70). Joyce used the traditions of angelology as they best suited his purpose in "The Dead." His identification of his angels with directions does not fit the usual tradition, which associated Michael with the east, Raphael with the west, Gabriel with the north and Uriel with the south.
21The Jewish Encyclopedia, VIII, 538.
22 See Moseley on the flame imagery, pp. 431-433. This study points out numerous Dante motives in "The Dead" and calls attention to the passage in which Dante states that "Holy Church represents Gabriel/ and Michael with human faces/ and the other (Raphael) by whom Tobit was healed" since because of human limitations man can learn "only from sense impressions," Paradiso, IV, 37-48 (trans. H. R. Huse).
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8844
SOURCE: "A Reading of Joyce's 'The Dead,'" in Sewanee Review, Vol. LXXVII, No. 1, Winter, 1969, pp. 193-216.
[In the following essay, Lytle analyzes "The Dead, " arguing that Christian symbolism is crucial to understanding the story.]
"The Dead" has obviously been put together by a master craftsman. The form and the subject make a perfect joinery. Nothing is left dangling; no part of it is inert. This is the mark of a master's work Some of the stories in Dubliners are more moving than others, but they all produce that shock of surprise which comes from an old truth, once again reborn into the full radiance of its meaning. The occasion for the action of this story is that celebration which is Christ's birthday; yet the reason for the festivity is forgotten, unnoticed by all who attend. These are the dead, but the dead in a Christian sense. Aside from the stopping of the heart the many ways to be dead have as a common ground a spiritual hardening, to be shown in the action here as a kind of death in life; and yet as the action advances, the hardening enlarges its meaning. The guests' worldly interests, their carnal natures, so absorb them that the Word Incarnate, any sense they may have had of it, is absent. The Christian miracle has been interred in the lifeless forms of Church and State. The communicants worship by rote as they would attend thoughtlessly to any routine. Or they look upon the institutional Church as existing for their private needs. Aunt Kate feels the great injustice done her sister Julia when "whipper-snappers of boys" replace her in the choir, after Julia has been "slaving there in that choir night and day, night and day. Six o'clock on Christmas morning! And all for what?" It does no good for Mary Jane to suggest that it is for the honor of God. Aunt Kate knows all about that.
If the world is all here at the Morkans' party, it is not unlike that world which Christ was born to save—temporal, a universal servility under the hegemony of a great empire. The treadmill of obeisance to this kind of power is symbolically presented by the literal treadmill the grandfather Morkan makes as his horse circles the statue of Wellington, topped by the snow, a symbol of the Irish plight and its hope. The statue is as foreign, as heavy upon the landscape, as must have been the columns of Rome in Israel. There is an analogy between these two small countries, as there is between Rome and England. England's alien rule marks Ireland's great fall, long entombed in history, for once it was the cultural center of Europe and brought the Word to the continent. But upon the night of this party there is a difference, and it is not simply historic. Christ has already come, even if the guests and the hosts have forgotten. The promise of redemption all men now share alike. Their forgetfulness cannot change the sacrament of this promise, for the Word will forever be risen. So it is that snow is the perfect symbol for the Christian dead. It is the waters of life in a state of suspension. Water has changed its appearance. It seems not to be itself, no longer flowing, now stilled, its divine crystals unique, original, and numerous as the leaves and sand, but still water, still the source of life in this world. It awaits the Sun, that old symbol for Christ, to melt it and make it flow as water again, resurrected in the flesh of its proper mystical body, ready for judgment.
At first the very words which write the story seem to be deprived of their fullest meaning. They also are in a state of suspension, in appearance restricted to the appetites, to the sensible used as the end in itself, as at this annual party the glory of the occasion lies buried under a profane communion. This is Joyce's irony. It will be the creative power of his language which will resurrect by means of his story the full meaning of the Christian vision. It begins with Gabriel, as once it did. The Muses of the Dublin musical world, the two old aunts and frigid niece, await the moment, the momentous arrival. Gabriel, the favored nephew, is late. It is he who is longed for, expected and needed.
However, the hostesses look towards the arrival of another guest with anxiety: Freddy Malins, whom they expect to turn up drunk. Malins suggests malum, an apple, the substantial symbol of our common plight, and malus, bad. The Misses Morkans' apprehension is immediately a possible scandal which will mar their party. More profoundly they fear him as the representative of them all, shown best by the extremity to which the carnal and sensible can be carried as ends in themselves, short of spiritual grace. Freddy is the boy who has not been allowed to grow up, and his mother is at the party to prove it. Metaphorically thwarted by her old dry dugs, yet not free of his want, he cannot take to the proper food of man; so he takes to stronger drink. At times he stands for a baby devil. With the backs of his fists he rubs his eyes like a sleepy child; he is inchoate when telling a story, like a baby using words before he has learned their sense. He beats time on the table, leading the song Jolly Good Fellows with his fork. At the end, his fork is upraised like a baby devil's tool. The comparison that comes to mind is this: "Woman, what have I to do with thee?": you cannot prevent me from doing my proper work. But Freddy, we learn towards the end at a crucial moment, does begin to recover his manhood. It is not in itself a very grand thing he does. He opens a shop to sell Christmas cards, to spread the news of friendly neighborliness, forever promised by Christ as of the first importance. Gabriel had lent him a sovereign to help in this. We may presume this is from the heavenly treasure-house of charity, not alms, for in returning the loan Freddy kept his proper sovereignty, a man beginning to be responsible for his acts.
But Gabriel arrives before Freddy. He is lightly dusted with snow and the fragrant air from out of doors escapes from the crevices of his overcoat into the hallway. This air emanates from the snow which overlies Dublin. Snow is the visible sign of winter, the dead season. But death is not sweet-smelling. Fragrancy suggests bloom and so promises renewal, as does the archangelic name Gabriel. This archangel is the guardian of the celestial Treasury, the messenger of good news, the Angel of the Annunciation, the Angel of Redemption. The name means "God is my strength". He generally bears a lily as symbol of the Blessed Virgin's purity.
Gabriel, the man, in parody of the divine mission, enters the house of the dead—that is, pure matter, appetite, flesh. He is his own announcement of himself; yet his name, God is my strength, is still with him, even though he has lost the sense of its meaning. It is interred in his ego, that part of being which replaces God with man. This reduces humankind to substance. The divine Word, therefore, instead of entering the flesh, is buried in it. Such is the plight of all in this story. But because the Word was made incarnate, resurrection has been promised. Lily, the symbol for purity, is not left pure symbol. It is the name of Lily, the caretaker's daughter. At once we get the divine drama reduced to human definition, but in that definition are the qualities of the archetype. Certainly Gabriel brings no lily with him. His entrance parodies not only that of the heavenly messenger; as a lustful man Gabriel Conroy does not practice or understand purity. The lily suggests the place of love with all the complexity that involves, even to the depravity it may induce or the soilure it may suffer. The Word spoken to the Blessed Virgin, creating in woman the promise of redemption and thereby ennobling her beyond measure, has become to Lily, the caretaker's daughter, a sly means to threaten and betray her own virginity, betray it through the pretense of love. The creative Word has been traduced. All the spittle of lasciviousness has made it slick. The Word is now palaver. "Men is all palaver and what they can get out of you", Lily says bitterly to Gabriel, and he blushes.
It is this blush, the sense of guilt and failure, which begins his redemption. He only feels this now; he is not yet awakened to its meaning—that he has allowed his love for his wife to fall into the easy habit of lust; that as a teacher and journalist he has allowed language by false rhetoric to inflate his good sense of himself, thus failing his office to render and transmit meaning. This failure matches in a secular way what has happened to the divine meaning of his baptismal name, for the O'Mulconreys were hereditary poets and chroniclers of the kings of Connacht. This meaning he will finally have to confront for, no matter how besmirched, how misapplied, a word means what it says. This is its secret power and its danger. It is finally impervious to any other translation than its meaning. Danger to it lies in the place it takes in the sentence. There the word may belie itself, be perverted by its modifiers, become its opposite. It is always subject to an antic threat. That flickering tongue, invisible and harmless until it houses itself in humankind, may make of the beautiful tones of speech a discord. Not an obvious discord to the ear, since that tongue has already separated sight from sound, but the more gravely induced discord to the intelligence. The intelligence is traduced in its very citadel. Language no longer has to have meaning; it only has to sound as if it had. This betrays the Word which begat words, the one means which brings to our poor lot a charitable communion and allows us to move and speak together as human beings, in a temporal state dimly reflecting that of the Heavenly Kingdom.
When language approaches the perfection of this inheritance, all together and separately each and everything stands forth in the fullness of its qualities. This allows for the poetic seizure which takes those who serve it at its highest possibilities. Gabriel's false rhetoric describes failure in both his offices; so he is unsure of himself before Lily. In his confusion, to her confusion, he tips her, as if money could repair the damage to her spirit. He goes upstairs feeling demeaned without knowing why. He waits outside the drawing-room door as the waltz is danced and hears those skirts which touch the private parts of woman brush also the door. Yet this subtle appeal cannot dispel the gloom the serving girl has cast upon him. For reassurance he takes out the notes of his speech; but this brings him no comfort. The "indelicate clacking of the men's heels" reminds him that his grade of culture is better than theirs. He would fail with them as he had failed with the girl. Indeed he would. He had failed himself and so forgotten the common brotherhood of man. Failure is hardly the word: his soul is imperiled by the weight of his vanity. The soul's effort to warn him brings the gloom he feels. He can only feel, he cannot know, the cause, for appetite and false pride is to the soul a foreign tongue whose emphasis of tone may disturb but not inform.
Yet there is hope for Gabriel. The successive advances of the action encourage his sense of loss and guilt. Without this the moment of revelation, that miracle of spiritual rebirth, would fail him. The increasing sense of loss and guilt are not enough in themselves to bring this about. They are negative. It takes a pure heart (Gretta' s) to respond both to the word almost forgotten and to the music, hoarse though it be, and resurrect a love which has never been dead but only withheld as in a treasure chest.
The increasing awareness of loss and guilt seems to be Gabriel's plight as he enters the dance, a dance that more resembles the dance of death than the dance of life. Here again the marks of life are present, but in the fullest sense they are inanimate and the dancers themselves seem in a state of trance. The dance is not a celebration; it is a sensuous movement which stops when the music stops. Even its movement is marred by an alien intrusion: Miss Ivors's propaganda for a dead language, Irish. She dominates the dance for Gabriel, her partner, like some harsh priestess. Propaganda dehumanizes, because it would reduce the full flow of life to an abstraction always less than life. She invites him to go to the Aran islands for a month, not for the pleasure of being there, such as gave delight to Gretta at the thought of going, but because these remote and cut-off islands still spoke Gaelic—their given speech, but not hers nor Gabriel's. He says as much. Gabriel quite frankly confesses he goes to the continent for a change and to keep in touch with languages, not the language of Christendom but the separate national tongues of states no longer Christian except in name. Gabriel's awakening, since set in motion, proceeds. He is still selfabsorbed. He is not even aware that his wife was dancing, but her care for him notices the quarrel with Miss Ivors. He is drawn to the cold window pane; his fingers touch it, drawn to the coolness outside. He is longing to walk through the snow, breathing the fragrant air. The clue is the word fragrant. It is an instinctive need for salvation. He prefers it to the supper table, that feast of appetites only. "I'm sick of my own country, sick of it", he tells Miss Ivors; yet he cannot tell her why. The Gaelic tongue is a dead language. Miss Ivors's commitment to its resurrection is misapplied. It cannot now, except in those remote places where it is still spoken, serve as the means for communion among men. It is English, foreign though it be, which is spoken in Ireland. It is the instrument of communion; as such it needs renewal, lest the faith now sunk within the heart remain forever buried. Miss Ivors has confused, with the best intentions, the instrument with the thing itself. Gabriel rebels against this. Thinking of her, he rewrites his speech in his head, accusing her of being hypereducated—that is, of relying too much upon intelligence. To this he opposes the hospitality of his aunts as an ancient virtue of the Irish. However, in doing so he exposes the same fault in himself of which he accuses Miss Ivors: "What did he care that his aunts were only two ignorant old women?"
This is betrayal of his kin, betrayal of his office as orator. His words will not have any meaning; they will only seem to have, because they are insincere, largely inflating his vanity.
This brings us to the feast and to what Christ's advent did to the Muses in their multiple meaning. The feast itself would appeal to the most dyspeptic appetite. The appeal to appetite cannot be paraphrased; it must be quoted.
A fat brown goose lay at one end of the table and at the other end, on a bed of creased paper threwn with sprigs of parsley, lay a great ham, stripped of its outer skin and peppered over with crust crumbs, a neat paper frill round its shin and beside this was a round of spiced beef. Between these rival ends ran parallel lines of side-dishes: two little minsters of jelly, red and yellow; a shallow dish full of blocks of blancmange and red jam, a large green leaf-shaped dish with a stalkshaped handle, on which lay bunches of purple raisins and peeled almonds, a companion dish on which lay a solid rectangle of Smyrna figs, a dish of custard topped with grated nutmeg, a small bowl full of chocolates and sweets wrapped in gold and silver papers and a glass vase in which stood some tall celery stalks. In the centre of the table there stood, as sentries to a fruitstand which upheld a pyramid of oranges and American apples, two squat oldfashioned decanters of cut glass, one containing port and the other dark sherry. On the closed square piano a pudding in a huge yellow dish lay in waiting and behind it were three squads of bottles of stout and ale and minerals, drawn up according to the colours of their uniforms, the first two black, with brown and red labels, the third and smallest squad white, with transverse green sashes.
This is the world's feast. Its fruits come from the ancient world and the new, as well as what can be got at home. It is worthy of our Saviour's birthday, but it is not set forth in His honor nor in His name. It is the feast of the dead, because it does not celebrate anything but appetite; its hospitality, anything but the vanity of the hostesses; its humanity, anything but its physical necessities—all ghosts of the sacraments these qualities represent. As the food passes, the conversation turns upon singing. This is a house that lives by music; many of the guests are enrolled in its discipline. The ladies Morkan must have loved it and in a way still do; but the professional cares attending it, the need to make a living by it, has lost to them its mystery. All except in Aunt Julia's case. The house of Morkan is powerfully suggestive of the morgue, when pronounced aloud. All of the singers brought forth by reminiscing are dead. They appear at the banquet like ghosts of the past, each one evoked by an individual out of his memory, a private ghost which denies by its presence present song. The Muse, instead of bringing all together at the feast, separates each from the other until each stands alone, isolated by his or her particularity and lack of communion. This is the comment on the birthday, ignored and neglected, of the Saviour of mankind. There is the protest by Mr. Bartell D'Arcy. He is a tenor who lives by singing and, as we learn, cherishes it. In this house his voice is hoarse, and at first he refuses to sing because of a cold. He protests, however, that there must be as good voices now as then; and he mentions London, Paris, Milan, and Caruso by name.
The pudding brings an end to this discussion but not to the subject. It shifts ground to Mount Melleray, a monastery where the monks, withdrawn from the world, entertain it without cost. They do not speak (their communion is with their inward journey and so they are literally dead to the world) and they sleep in their coffins. Mary Jane tells Mr. Browne, when nobody else can give him a proper answer to a pragmatic question, that the coffin reminds them of their last end. The sweets are now passed and the glasses filled with port and sherry as a prelude to Gabriel's speech and the toasting at the end. Mr. Bartell D'Arcy at first refuses the wine. This is an instinctive, symbolic refusal: the living have no cause to toast the dead. Gabriel arises and begins. His speech, besides belying the language, is entirely about the dead, the lost spacious days, the lost common humanity and humor and the tradition of courteous Irish hospitality, dead to and by the present sceptical generation, hypereducated and thought-tormented. He speaks of lost youth, changes, and absent faces. Towards the end he makes a rhetorical statement that living duties and affections claim their time.
Feeling the need nevertheless for something to celebrate beside mortality, he resurrects the myth of Paris and the golden apple. In the "true spirit of camaraderie" he refers to his kinswomen as the Three Graces of the Dublin musical world. The myth is certainly a part of our inheritance, but not of our Christian history. The Three Graces are certain mysterious forces of the classical world. They are also the Three Grey Ones (the Morkan ladies' physical description is grey), the three Muses, the three Fates. Their powers were extensive, far beyond music and dancing. They presided over oratory, letters, prophecy, healing, the fearful making and withdrawing of life; they invented certain letters of the alphabet. But their language is not ours. We may fear death, but no one fears the shears of Clotho.
Acting for Gabriel as the Three Graces, the Morkan ladies represent the goddesses Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite—Wisdom, Uxoriousness, and Love. Gabriel appoints himself to the rôle of Paris. This usurps the power of Zeus, but it is all a metaphor. Zeus's thunderbolt threatens no one, least of all Gabriel. But he shows he has forgotten his own true divinity, affirmed by the passion of Christ. And so Gabriel not only parodies the pagan myth—he parodies himself, seeing himself only in his natural attributes. But like Paris he has taken the love of another, as the gift this time of death, not love. Aunt Kate's wisdom is all practicality. There is a suggestion of Athena's warlike capacity as she orders the feast, the decanters serving for "sentries" and the "squads" of stout and ale and minerals drawn up in their "uniforms". Like a soldier she accepts rules without understanding their purpose, as in her reply to Mr. Browne concerning the monks who sleep in their coffins. Mary Jane must surely be the miscarried Aphrodite, with her wasted gifts of youth, not having a man but doing his work as chief breadwinner for the family. She plays perfectly her Academy piece, not missing a note, missing only the purpose of music, for alas! she plays it only for herself. It has no melody for her uncle nor for the young men whom she should attract. They slip away for refreshments and return to applaud the loudest as she finishes and folds away her score. Her playing is what her uncle calls thought-tormented music. Its melody and tone is lost in the execution, which makes of it a meaningless discipline. To change the order of the goddesses who this night offer no golden apple to Paris-Gabriel, I take Aunt Julia last. With her sloe eyes (cow-like) she must be Hera, a Hera without a Zeus. And yet it is her singing which arouses the genuine response, sure flight that it is, not missing even the grace notes. The applause brings a faint flush to her cheeks. This blush carries the same promise of salvation as do Gabriel's blush of shame and Aunt Kate's nut-brown hair. Momentarily she arouses in her guests the sense of a hallowed force, even though "her slow eyes and parted lips gave her the appearance of a woman who did not know where she was or where she was going". Life has not fully engaged her; never wed, her song, "Arrayed for the Bridal", transposes into music the great gifts of womanhood, the queenly knowledge, that have gone unused. This burial of life the guests feel strongly, because in her they recognize their common plight. The irony belongs to another level of reading. She, an old woman, will not wait in vain; the groom will arrive, and soon. He will seem to be Pluto, not Zeus; and yet he will be neither. In a Christian sense death can never be a bridegroom. He is the eternal eunuch. The groom Julia may expect will be of the highest estate.
Finally the myth as Gabriel uses it loses all its meaning. He does not award the apple. There is no apple, and therefore he cannot take the risk Paris took. The golden apple is merely a metaphor of a false invention and a convention of a senseless speech. It is that other apple, offering the choice of salvation, he should have thought of on this birthday of the second Adam; but the promise adhering to this is not yet awakened in him, and the forms of the Muses are ghosts of themselves, since Christ the Word has altered the Fates and silenced the Muses of oratory and letters. Christ who came singing and dancing has lost us the chants and dances of the choral odes. His birth has made anachronistic all prophecy; his miracles useless the sympathetic healing of magic. Unaware of his true rôle, Gabriel blunders into a peroration as fatuous as his speech, "to their health, wealth, long life, happiness and prosperity". Upon this profane toast the guests rise and lift their glasses. The words are verbiage. The possibilities of wealth and long life have already passed the aunts by. With the approach of old age health does not seem promising. We have watched Mary Jane repel in the young men the agencies of happiness and prosperity. If Gabriel's words are gaucheries, the gratuitous cruelty of the song lifted in the ladies' honor makes a travesty of the feast. "For they are jolly good fellows" is a bachelor's song. To call the Morkans by what they lack to complete them as women is a brutal reminder of their plight. The refrain, "Unless he tells a lie", makes this clear. All have forgotten upon this birthday that there is no final joy but in Christ.
The party ends shortly after midnight. "The piercing morning air came into the hall where they were standing. . . . " It is this air which Aunt Kate fears will bring Mrs. Malins her death of cold. Tradition has it that Christ was born exactly at midnight. The spear which pierced the side of God as man let out water and blood, the substance and symbol of matter as temporal life, to be resurrected into life eternal, our manhood into his divinity. Air as life now strikes Mrs. Malins, the bad or corrupt apple. The death feared for her is the world's evil, metaphorically pierced to spill into the world that which is the world's own by the spirit which is salvation. Time and space become one in the eternity of Christ the Word, the Just Sun, which is again about to rise and dispel the darkness and make shine the promise of salvation to all creatures. This means hope for Mrs. Malins, Freddy her son, and Mr. Browne, an enigmatic figure in the action, with a grizzled moustache, wizen-faced and of swarthy skin, who leaves the party dressed in a green overcoat with mock astrakhan cuffs. All the things that make up the world as the end in itself, appetites, disbelief in the supernatural, comfort, sensuality, the rational acceptance of matter as the only value, Mr. Browne represents. "Browne is everywhere", Aunt Kate says, lowering her voice. And she further says that he has been laid on here like the gas all during Christmas—gas, the artificial and man-made light and warmth, aeriform but, unlike air, deadly by itself; in other words, Browne is symbol of that which has allowed them all, Morkans and guests alike, to forget the true light and substance. The green coat may stand for his predicament: green as corruption and verdure. All the laughter about getting a cab seems beyond the occasion, even a little hysterical, until you reflect that the guests are now leaving the house of death and darkness to enter the morning, still dark, of the new day. Amidst the confusion of directions given to the cabman, Mr. Browne tells him to drive up bang against Trinity College gates. This is another example of Joyce's tactics. A place of learning may have uses for words, made perhaps useless for the loss of the Word. However, the word Trinity is there awaiting regeneration, as the astrakhan wool cuffs, both false and foreign, remind us that perhaps, after all, Mr. Browne is the Shepherd's lamb, if among those who go astray.
In the very depths of the winter solstice, in the darkness of the night of centuries, the Light of lights and King of kings was born; so it is that in the spiritual darkness of the Morkan household life, in its form of true music, is awakened.
Gabriel had not gone to the door with the others. As protagonist he has been held back below, in the dark part of the hall, gazing up the staircase, that metaphorical temporal upward flight all sinners must confront. This is the moment for the beginning of the great change in Gabriel. His mind has been somewhat prepared for this, but he is still in his fallen condition. He sees a woman standing in shadow on the first landing. He can see the terra-cotta and salmon-pink panels of her skirt, warm and lively colors which the shadows have reduced to black and white, good and bad. It is his wife, and he sees only that part of her, the lower part, which arouses his lust. The sovereign part of her being is obscured by shadow, but "there was grace and mystery in her attitude as if she were a symbol of something". She is the symbol of life and love, into whom the Grace of the Holy Ghost is about to descend. This is the mystery of the awakening which leads to salvation.
It is her stillness which first attracts him. Tradition holds "that at the moment of Christ's birth all Nature was still as if time itself had paused in its course, and that this shock of stillness was so sudden and strange it made universal the revelation of the Incarnation of God". The entire Host of Heaven came down to earth and shone around the cave with a brilliance that turned night into day. Hardly had the intense throb of silence passed when all the nine choirs of Heaven cried out, singing—
Gloria in excelsis—Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace to men of good will!
It is almost a parody to reduce this earth-shaking moment to the stillness of a woman listening to a simple piece of music, sung with a hoarse voice and haltingly, as if the singer were uncertain both of words and music. But she is the one in all the party of that night who is full of life, and all that Gabriel can do does not destroy it. In her very entrance to the party we are told how he tries to insulate her from life. He makes her wear guttapercha things which protect from water, the substantial symbol of life. She laughs and says he would like to make her wear a diving suit—that is, completely to insulate her. This makes a grim comment in that he would like to keep her entirely for his own pleasure and usage. But he has failed in this for the simple reason that she is life itself. A country girl, her human nature has been nourished by the mysteries of nature, only secondarily by the laws and habits of man. Her joy will be the joy of this knowledge, and her grief will be its grief. She is called "country cute" by Gabriel's mother, that bourgeois mother who sees no further than worldly success for her sons; yet it is Gretta, out of her natural sense of charity, who nurses this woman through her last illness.
Caught in that ambiguous balance of light and dark, the controlling opposites of our fallen condition, which is the stress we know as life, Gretta is listening to the song which will release the miracle buried in her heart. It lies there distant from her usual habits of living. However, it is that music which is the joy of life and its promise of perpetual being. The Archangel Michael's trumpet will sound the resurrection of all those in that state of suspension called death. In imitation of this, in an action which foresees the reverberation which will precede the Four Last Things, it is not a trumpet but a song of the old Irish tonality, of the ways which Gabriel praised rhetorically at the dinner, which will awaken and raise up in Gretta the perfect hope promising us our salvation but certainly bringing our moment of final judgment. In the inverse way in which the situation is propounded in this action, Michael Furey, the prototype in name of that archangelic splendor so dimmed here at the Morkans, the boy who died for love of Gretta, is in the simplest way, from an old country song, to be resurrected through Gretta's memory. Memory, through recollection, into song, is the pagan definition of the Muse. The agency is Bartell D'Arcy, hoarse as a crow, haltingly, who through song strikes the note in Gretta. It is the note of love which never lets itself die. It is the pagan god of love, Cupid, buried deep by Christ's mission; and yet Christ's very mission will transform the god of love into permanent meaning. It cannot be by accident that Bartell D'Arcy derives from bois d'arc, that tree the French thought best for arrows. Its familiar name in this country is bodark, the mock orange, whose blossom can only mock that marriage which is no longer sacramental but carnal. So it is that for Gabriel his wife, standing where she stands and listening as she listens, reminds him of Distant Music—distant from him, but music as the agency of the divine will transform them all. From this moment the trumpet of revelation draws rapidly near.
She has to ask Mr. Bartell D'Arcy the name of the song (the music she recognizes). It is, he says, "The Lass of Aughrim", a song about a woman who grieves for her dead babe, both lying in the falling rain and the dew. Rain as life falls coldly upon the baby now, but its falling as symbol promises life eternal, as the song itself is to release this promise again to Gabriel and the universe. The Blessed Virgin lost her son momentarily by death to receive him deathless. Because of this the unwed mother in the song, in imitation, will assuage her grief; and, as song, will resurrect in the actors here what has been thought dead but is, only so far as it can go in the world, deathless. In spite of the imperfection of our mortal conditions, we may hope for the miraculous descent of Grace, because we cannot escape the hope the Crucifixion gives us.
Gretta stands apart, unaware of the lugubrious talk of the others just before parting. It is much about the dreadful cold of Mr. D'Arcy, who is "hoarse as a crow", who must be "careful of his throat in the night air" because "Yes, everybody has colds", from Aunt Kate, "everybody". And there is poor little Mary Jane who, before the latent meaning in the song, already setting to work to release the final revelation, poor little Mary Jane, a woman in name only, a virgin who has known no ghostly descent, nor indeed any kind, can only say the conventional mannerly thing: "It's a very nice air"; "I'm sorry you were not in voice tonight". This is what a thought-tormented music has brought her to. Lily the caretaker's daughter, in another time, could be found at the foot of the Cross; but any hope Mary Jane has is Martha's hope. Her sterility stands forth in apposition to the fullness of life that Gretta has. Gabriel turns to his wife and sees the "colour on her cheeks and that her eyes were shining". This is the blood of life and the radiance of love now being released from the depths, where it has lain in waiting for this moment. The sudden tide of joy leaping from Gabriel's heart will bring his salvation, but not yet. His condition is still ambiguous, as the goodnights of parting show. The goodnights contain the opposites of light and dark, good and bad. This makes the transition from the darkness of the spiritual apathy which is the world to that moment of universal awakening.
There is no trumpet yet. The first sentence of the next paragraph continues the fusion of opposites. "The morning was still dark". But this is the morning of the last day. The snow underfoot is losing its shape. It is not yet water, but no longer snow: it is slushy. It is on the way to becoming water. The lamps burn redly in the murky air; there is a dull yellow light brooding over houses and river, over nature and human nature. The palace of the Four Courts menaces the heavy sky: the four last things, Death, Resurrection, Heaven, or Hell.
As they walk along in the slush, Gretta on D'Arcy's arm, Gabriel stays behind where, by watching her, he can feel the blood she has aroused go bounding through his veins and his thoughts go rioting through his brain, "proud, joyful, tender, valorous". What has seemed killed by the dull years together shows death not as pagan obliteration but death in the Christian sense of suspension in the unconscious. There is a summary of the acute awareness of nature and man which love's joy can give, and its seeming folly is an obliteration of the world. Gabriel now becomes poetic in his thoughts. The moments of their secret life together shine in his memory, like the tender fire of stars. His awareness grows: household cares, children, his writing have not quenched his soul nor hers. He remembers a sentence from an early love letter: ". . . Is no word tender enough to be your name?" Brought forth from the past these words make him long to be alone with her. They find a cab and descend at the hotel, parting with Bartell D'Arcy. He is no longer needed, having done his part. Saying goodbye, she leans upon Gabriel's arm as lightly as when they danced together. He had felt proud of her wifely grace and carriage, but now the kindling of so many memories, "the first touch of her body, musical and strange and perfumed, sent through him a keen pang of lust".
He has not yet reached his ordeal, but he is on the way. The controlling opposites (of lust and love, in the present instance) which all humankind knows as life now enter the forever renewed struggle which must end in either loss or gain. This is the drama of the soul, to make the sensible body of the world its housing, not the opposite of this, where the house stands alone, all shut in. The early joys have rekindled in Gabriel the fires of lust; the earliest joysorrow of Gretta's, the love of Michael Furey, is renewed in her soul. Lust wants power over, wants to use and then discard. Love always arouses pity; and its joy never loses its shadow, except when the sun is at the meridian. The greatest example, of course, is Christ's death, which is to be mourned; but since that death destroys death, the mourning turns into a celebration of eternal gladness. It is this obvious paradox that is close to the heart of the action and final meaning of this story.
The old porter asleep in his hooded chair arises to take them to their room. As Gretta climbs upward, her head is bent, her frail shoulders curve as with a burden, her skirt is tightly girt about her. Her burden it twofold: Gabriel and the grief over her lost love, now that it has been resurrected through song. Her posture is that of the first, the primordial position of copulation. Gabriel behind her "could have flung his arms about her hips and held her still, for his arms were trembling with desire . . . ". He restrains himself by digging his nails into the palm of his hand. The porter halts to adjust the guttering candle. I take it this light suggests two things: the obvious phallic symbol which has at this point usurped Gabriel's mind, the phallus as the tool of lust and power; also, it is literally manmade light. Before the immensity of the dark we see how frail a thing it is. The meanings complement each other and arrive at a larger meaning of the world's defeat, for man and wife all unknowing are climbing out of the sensible into the supernatural world. Once in the bedroom Gabriel has the candle removed; the electricity is out of order. The two of them are alone, with nothing artificial to aid their vision.
Nothing in the room, but from outside through one window the street light lays a ghastly shaft as far as the door. The crucial word is ghastly. Lurid and wan, it is the path into this room of the ghostly hosts who will presently enter to do their work. Gabriel turns away to calm himself and then he turns and sees his wife before the large swinging mirror. He calls her name; she walks "along the shaft of light towards him". She is now within the influence of the ghostly world, apart from her husband. He will never rejoin her until he too enters this world, to his salvation and to the only knowledge of love. His situation is still ambiguous. He longs to cry to her from his soul and at the same time crush her body against his. Now that she is under the control of that other world, which she has called forth by her resurrection of her youthful lover, Gabriel will each time be thwarted in his lustful longing. Each time the cry from his soul will become stronger.
She kisses him for his generosity to Freddy Malins. It is the kiss of charity. Still unknowing and not able to recognize the true feelings of his wife, he wonders why he had been so diffident, now that she has fallen to him so easily. This self-absorption causes him to miss the mark. Thinking she is longing for him as he is for her, he asks the question which should bring her to him. It brings the Lass of Aughrim and presently Michael Furey. Instead of falling into his arms, she flings herself upon the bed and hides her face. He follows, puzzled, and catches sight of himself in the mirror. This is the beginning of self-illumination, no longer self-absorption. He does not yet understand, but he begins to see himself objectively. With a kinder note than he intended he asks her why she cries. She begins to tell him about the boy, and "a dull anger began to gather again at the back of his mind . . . the dull fires of lust began to glow angrily in his veins". He tries then to accuse her of lustful thoughts of adultery, but the truth and simplicity of her replies stop him. At first Gabriel feels humiliated by the failure of his irony; then he begins to see: when he was full of memories of their life together, she was comparing him with another. He sees himself as the ludicrous figure he is, "a pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous, well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealising his own clownish lusts". He turns his back to the light lest she see his shame. This is proper humility. Each question shows him more clearly himself and leads him deeper into the metaphysical world now hovering just outside the window. She answers his query about Michael Furey's death—"I think he died for me". From shame this brings him to a feeling of terror.
The terror is vague, arising from his feeling of his rival's triumph. That one absent in death could threaten the living might well bring terror. "Some impalpable and vindictive being was coming against him, gathering forces against him in its vague world". He hears her finish the story, how Michael Furey comes to her from his sickbed, out into the rain. Standing by a tree near the end of a wall, he casts a pebble to her window. She comes down to him and tells him to go home: he will get his death in the rain. He replies he does not want to live, and his eyes tell her why. Choking with sobs, Gretta flings herself upon the bed, sobbing into the quilt her muffled grief. Now the great reversal comes over Gabriel: from shame to terror, to self-judgment and humility. He takes her hand in friendship, holds it irresolutely and, "shy of intruding on her grief", lets it fall and walks quietly towards the window, through which has entered invisibly but surely the Messenger whose name he bears. When he returns to his wife, she is asleep—the suspension of life in imitation of death (as the snow outside is nature's imitation of death), the Christian paradox. Her hair is tangled and her mouth is, like Aunt Julia's, half open and her breath is deep. Earlier this would have fired his blood; but now, as he gazes curiously at her, curiously because he only now begins to see her as herself, it "hardly pains him to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life". He watches her sleeping, as if they had never lived together as man and wife. There could hardly be a greater self-effacement. Wondering about her girlish beauty and how the seasons have changed it, barely wondering, but in "a strange friendly pity", he knows that her face now is not that which caused Michael Furey to risk death. Pity is the crucial word, for it is that which transforms lust into love.
The carnal world is dead to Gabriel. The disarray of Gretta's clothes once would have quickened his desire; now it merely makes him wonder at the riot of his emotions an hour before. He clearly sees it as coming from the multiple stimulation of appetite which his aunt's supper aroused. The mark of his changing condition is that appetite is no more than a ghost of itself. His pity is about to extend itself boundlessly, but it begins as it must in an understanding of a person in the singular, first his wife and then his Aunt Julia, whose haggard look as she sang "Arrayed for the Bridal" foretells her entry into the ghostly world very soon.
That world is already nigh. The air of the room grows chill and sends Gabriel beneath the sheets, beside his wife for comfort but more than comfort, for she is the one who has brought forth out of her memory the ghost which is love. No mortal may bring it forth in its body. That is saved until the end. One by one, Gabriel thinks, 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". He can think with sympathy, with no feeling of personal loss, of Gretta's lover's eyes when he told her he did not care to live. Tears come into his own and with them the final abasement of pride and selfish need, for he recognizes that he himself never had felt so towards any woman, "but he knew that such a feeling must be love".
This is the final confession of the world's defeat, the final acceptance of that brotherhood in Christ, which prepares for life eternal. Out of the semi-darkness, blurred by his tears, the form of a young man standing beneath a dripping tree, the tree of life, also the tree of knowledge in that fateful garden—this impalpable but clear form enters into Gabriel's imagination. The imagination is that in each of us which can receive the divine Word because the imagination alone is that part of the mind which mysteriously makes images, transmits to the eye and hence to speech the body of life. Having evoked out of his humility, his understanding and charity, his rival Michael Furey, he has overcome his feeling of his own identity as something separate and special. Having evoked one ghost, he can evoke the entire shadowy world. Other forms grow about him. "His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence". His own identity fades into this world, and the solid world of matter dissolves like him and dwindles.
"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow". This is the most brilliant invention Joyce has conceived. It is not only moving in itself; in the concretion of the symbol it fuses the separate parts of the action into one coherent meaning. As Gabriel Conroy is entering the ghostly world, Michael Furey, the shade, is returning to the substantial world to renew the promise of life eternal. In life he threw a pebble against a windowpane to bring his love to him and hastened his death. From that impalpable world where he now is he throws flakes of snow against the windowpane, calling again to Gretta but also to Gabriel to renew the promise of hope—that death as cold snow does not mean extinction but the eternal waters withheld.
The archangelic meaning of Michael is "like unto God". Furey suggests the Greek forces of retribution and vengeance. Like unto God, the boy Michael died for love. He suffered and died for one human being as God the Son suffered and died for all. He had acted out as nearly as he could in his mortal condition the immortal mystery and paradox: to die is to live. Michael the Archangel obliterated the Furies. Unlike the Furies he does not purpose and rend. Upon the final day he will judge all the living and the dead, but as Protector of the Church Militant he pursues not those who fail in love but that old dragon Satan. Michael the boy is secure, as he is like unto God. His mortal name of Furey is no more. There is only now the brotherhood in Christ, one individual who has become the paradigm for all. As Michael he does not judge Gabriel Conroy. His act of love has quickened the sense of charity in Gabriel and causes him to judge himself. It is the epitome in mortality of the saving grace of the Word. Both Michael the boy and Gabriel the man, even though neither understood that their names meant more than something to answer to, are words, and words have their absolute eternal meaning. Gabriel Conroy had been made dumb by his carnal nature, but every time his name was called it repeated this truth. By analogy Gabriel is Joseph the husband, and Michael Gretta's true love in Christ. Even though she is a woman and a carnal woman at that, the divinity of love has been buried within her as in her virginal self. This is as close as human beings can come to the passion of the Cross. Continuously mankind will forget as the guests at the Morkans' party had forgotten. But music as the invisible but heard tones of life that is love will always penetrate the ear, and these tones in all their multiplicity are the inflections of God's voice speaking the unknown but not unfelt tongues.
So once again the true vision has been granted by life to seeming death. As Gabriel sleepily watches the flakes fall, he senses, certainly feels, the promise in their movement. What he senses is their universality and invincible recurrence. This releases the poetic language about to be resurrected in his half-waking mind, restoring to the name and man Conroy his proper inheritance of the ancient office of poet and chronicler. Not journalese nor false oratory, only poetry can contain the truth of final things. "Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon Waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried". As a sign of what has happened to the symbols of salvation, "it lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead".
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6802
SOURCE: "Joyce's The Dead,'" in Modern Fiction: A Formalist Approach, Southern Illinois University Press, 1971, pp. 29-61.
[In the following excerpt, Handy examines the thematic nature of "The Dead, " particularly its theme of spiritual death.]
"The Dead" is certainly one of the masterpieces in the Joyce canon. Its themes, recognizably present in the later works, are embodied in a much more direct manner of presentation: the theme of spiritual death, of spiritual rebirth, and the theme of the freedom of the human spirit as a necessary condition for living and loving. It would be folly for the critic of whatever persuasion not to grant that a sound reading of "The Dead" is an obvious prerequisite to the reading of Joyce's later works. I would like to examine some scenes and episodes from the first half of the story which is intended to suggest the way Joyce has built his meanings to a climactic embodiment in the second half.
When we examine the opening episode, in the light of the work itself taken as one large presentation, one major contrast with subsequent episodes immediately emerges: the opening episode is an objective presentation of the world of the action. That is, here is the way the world actually is before Gabriel enters. Once Gabriel is present, the objective view diminishes, sometimes clouded by his responses, sometimes altogether distorted by its presentation through his viewpoint. The tone of the opening scene of the three-scene episode is quite different from the tone after Gabriel enters the action:
Lily, the caretaker's daughter, was literally run off her feet. Hardly had she brought one gentleman into the little pantry behind the office on the gound floor and helped him off with his overcoat than the wheezy halldoor bell clanged again and she had to scamper along the bare hallway to let in another guest.
For the simple tastes of Lily, scurrying about her duties of greeting the guests, and for Miss Kate and Miss Julia, who "were there, gossiping and laughing and fussing," the party to come had no quality of spiritual sterility about it. Although the party was long since a ritual, "always a great affair, the Misses Morkan's annual dance," it did not occur to these sensibilities that at the same time it had become a spiritually sterile ritual. Although not evident in the opening episode, later episodes will present the gathering as the very expression of spiritual sterility. The conversation at the table just prior to Gabriel's speech is a good instance:
The subject of talk was the opera company which was then at the Theatre Royal. Mr. Bartell D'Arcy, the tenor, a dark-complexioned young man with a smart moustache, praised very highly the leading contralto of the company but Miss Furlong thought she had a rather vulgar style of production. Freddy Malins said there was a negro chieftain singing in the second part of the Gaiety pantomime who had one of the finest voices he had ever heard.
An understanding of the scene turns on the realization that Bartell D'Arcy is not one of the spiritually dead. In contrast to Gabriel, he is presented as one who feels no compulsion to put himself forward, as Gabriel does in, for example, his annual speech, or as Mr. Browne does in his insistence on telling stories, or as Miss Furlong and Freddy Malins do in their contrary responses in this scene. They are, of course, "the dead" of the story. The point here is that with "the dead," all qualities of the real world are dissipated by subjective responses. In this scene the possibility of communication vanishes, as each participant except Baiteli D'Arcy responds. (Mary Jane may also be an exception. But Mary Jane is also a victim, but of another kind. She is reminiscent of Maria in "Clay.") The conversation, about opera singers and judgments about them, becomes less a subject for conversation as the scene develops than a vehicle for the expression of judgments directed to call attention to the speaker. Mr. Browne's lengthy account of the history of the opera companies who used to come to Dublin concludes with a judgment which is also something of a challenge to the group. The responses of the participants in the conversation embody one central theme of the work: the inability to celebrate the world of objective reality is synonymous with the inability to be alive. Mr. Browne concludes: "Why did they never play the grand old operas now, he asked. Dinorah, Lucrezia Borgia? Because they could not get the voices to sing them: that was why." Then the objective response: "'O, well,' said Mr. Bartell D'Arcy, 'I presume there are as good singers today as there were then."' Now the subjective defense: "'Where are they?' asked Mr. Browne defiantly." And the answer is recognizable as objectively real: "'In London, Paris, Milan,' said Mr. Bartell D'Arcy warmly. 'I suppose Caruso, for example, is quite as good, if not better than any of the men you have mentioned.'" But again what is real about the subject disappears in the defensive response: '"Maybe so,' said Mr. Browne. 'But I may tell you I doubt it strongly.'" And then one who in her mindlessness is not really a part of the conversation: "'O, I'd give anything to hear Caruso sing,' said Mary Jane." Now the real is once more obscured in the response of sentimentality:
"For me," said Aunt Kate, who had been picking a bone, "there was only one tenor. To please me, I mean. But I suppose none of you have ever heard of him."
"Who was he, Miss Morkan?" asked Mr. Bartell D'Arcy politely.
"His name," said Aunt Kate, "was Parkinson. I heard him when he was in his prime and I think he had then the purest tenor voice that was ever put into a man's throat."
There is no rejection in the response of Bartell D'Arcy, simply an impulse to be objective: '"Strange, I never even heard of him.'" But Mr. Browne seizes the opportunity to put down D'Arcy: '"Yes, yes, Miss Morkan is right,' said Mr. Browne. 'I remember hearing of old Parkinson but he is too far back for me.'" In the final utterance the last vestige of what could have been human communication is submerged in sentimentality: "'A beautiful, pure, sweet, mellow English tenor,' said Aunt Kate with enthusiasm." These, then, are "the dead," as fully realized and as expressionistically valid as that other famous objectification of drawing-room sterility: "In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michaelangelo."
The theme of spiritual death dominates the entire first section of the work, which, considered from the standpoint of its ontological structure, is divided into two large presentations: the first is the party, which embodies the subject matter of "the dead"; the second is the marriage relationship between Gabriel and Gretta, which comprises the rebirth of Gabriel.
Although it is those episodes of the first section which focus specifically on Gabriel that are dominant, one other episode, focusing on Mr. Browne and Freddy Malins, also presents variations of the theme of death-in-life. When Mr. Browne arrives at the affair, he moves at once to be the center of attention. He leads the three young ladies, who have been instructed to present him to the assembled guests, into the back room where he performs dramatically as he pours himself a drink. When his performance becomes of questionable taste and is rejected by the ladies, he "turned promptly to the two young men who were more appreciative." That is, like Freddy Malins and like Gabriel, Mr. Browne's interest is not in people, but in getting people to attend to him. Here in Joyce's presentation of Freddy Malins's entrance:
He was laughing heartily in a high key at a story which he had been telling Gabriel on the stairs and at the same time rubbing the knuckles of his left fist backwards and forwards into his left eye.
"Good evening, Freddy," said Aunt Julia.
Presently he catches sight of Mr. Browne and seizes the meeting as an opportunity for further dramatic action:
Mr. Browne, whose face was once more wrinkling with mirth, poured out for himself a glass of whisky while Freddy Malins exploded, before he had well reached the climax of his story, in a kind of highpitched bronchitic laughter and, setting down his untasted and overflowing glass, began to rub the knuckles of his left fist backwards and forward into his left eye, repeating words of his last phrase as well as his fit of laughter would allow him.
The point is, of course, that Mr. Browne's face that is "once more wrinkling with mirth" is like Freddy Malins's uncontrollable mirth and Gabriel's after-dinner speech: each carefully prepared and artfully timed.
The central focus of the long opening section which constitutes the first half of the work is on Gabriel, who throughout is presented as one quite incapable of attending to any reality, apart from his own subjective relationship to it. That is, Gabriel is presented as one who seldom sees or listens to any quality of the world external to himself, except as that quality is in some way enmeshed with his own self-interest in it. The impulse in Gabriel is presented as overwhelming the entire range and scope of his relationships with his fellowman.
His first encounter with another is that with Lily, the maid, which occurs when he enters the house. His first communication with her, following the greeting, is the recognizable informal exchange characteristic of the acceptable mode of the occasion for two people with little in common. But the ritual which maintains distance with civility, with a minimum degree of engagement, is broken by Gabriel with his overly familiar questions. We see that he doesn't really mean his questions to Lily, that he has, however unaware of his action, adopted an air of condescension toward her and thus asserted his own superiority. He is annoyed and mildly shocked when her response is something more than an anticipated cliché. That is, it is clear that he has no real interest in Lily in spite of his questions and no wish to have his attention to her engaged in any but the most superficial manner.
"Tell me, Lily," he said in a friendly tone, "do you still go to school?"
"O no, sir," she answered. "I'm done schooling this year and more."
"O, then," said Gabriel gaily, "I suppose we'll be going to your wedding one of these fine days with your young man, eh?"
The girl glanced back at him over her shoulder and said with great bitterness:
"The men that is now is only all palaver and what they can get out of you."
Gabriel coloured, as if he felt he had made a mistake and, without looking at her, kicked off his galoshes and flicked actively with his muffler at his patent-leather shoes.
And then presently: "When he had flicked lustre into his shoes, he stood up and pulled his waistcoat down more tightly on his plump body. Then he took a coin rapidly from his pocket."
The coin, of course, is not a gift; it is a gesture which at once redefines the relationship which he intends. That is, for Gabriel, Lily is not Lily; she is the servant girl. We see that in his initial presentation of Gabriel, Joyce has worked painstakingly to establish at once that Gabriel's concern is always centered in Gabriel.
The encounter with Miss Ivors is another failure in human intercourse. Miss Ivors, who is also a teacher, is obviously impressed by Gabriel's book reviews, and attempts to engage his attention by a kind of simulated hostility. There should be no question that her seeming aggressiveness is intended irony. Joyce presents her at the outset as open, not deceptive, "a frank-mannered talkative young lady, with a freckled face and prominent brown eyes." Her charge when they take their places as dancing partners is quite obviously made in the spirit of the occasion, and her tone is unquestionably more of lighthearted banter than hostility:
When they had taken their places she said abruptly:
"I have a crow to pluck with you."
"With me?" said Gabriel.
She nodded her head gravely.
"What is it?" asked Gabriel, smiling at her solemn manner.
"Who is G. C?" answered Miss Ivors, turning her eyes upon him.
Gabriel coloured and was about to knit his brows, as if he did not understand, when she said bluntly:
"O, innocent Amy! I have found out that you write for The Daily Express. Now, aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
"Why should I be ashamed of myself?" asked Gabriel, blinking his eyes and trying to smile.
"Well, I'm ashamed of you," said Miss Ivors frankly. "To say you'd write for a paper like that. I didn't think you were a West Briton."
That Miss Ivors's intention was not to rebuke Gabriel is obvious at the point at which she realizes that he has taken her literally:
He continued blinking his eyes and trying to smile and murmured lamely that he saw nothing political in writing reviews of books.
When their turn to cross had come he was still perplexed and inattentive. Miss Ivors promptly took his hand in a warm grasp and said in a soft friendly tone:
"Of course, I was only joking. Come, we cross now."
Gabriel's misunderstanding is much more than just that; it is, in reality, a rejection; and more than a rejection of Miss Ivors, who presently will leave the affair before the dinner is served, it is a rejection of what is in the world apart from Gabriel's distortion of it.
We see finally that Gabriel's speech, the climax of the Misses Morkan's annual party, has no validity as an expression of anything but Gabriel's calculations about what will impress his listeners and Gabriel's defensive hostility, which was inadvertently engaged by Miss Ivors's playful attempts at drawing-room irony. In one final attempt at reconciliation, Miss Ivors somewhat pathetically reveals her regret at having annoyed him:
Gabriel tried to cover his agitation by taking part in the dance with great energy. He avoided her eyes for he had seen a sour expression on her face. But when they met in the long chain he was surprised to feel his hand firmly pressed. She looked at him from under her brows for a moment quizzically until he smiled. Then, just as the chain was about to start again, she stood on tiptoe and whispered into his ear:
And we see that Miss Ivors is not attacking Gabriel. She is more nearly flirting with him. It is clear that her intention throughout was to have a conversation with him. In her overzealous approach, she has inadvertently offended him, because Gabriel is constitutionally unable to attend to anyone except in relation to his own concerns. Further, her quizzical look also suggests her dismay at not finding what she had a right to expect from another human: a living, not a deadening response. In the following scene, Gretta enters, but Gabriel's attitude toward her is somewhat distant, and his response to her enthusiastic proposal that they act on the suggestion of a trip to the west of Ireland is abrupt:
His wife clasped her hands excitedly and gave a little jump.
"O, do go, Gabriel," she cried. "I'd love to see Galway again."
"You can go if you like," said Gabriel coldly.
What we see emphasized in the scene is one instance in which Gabriel's relationship with his wife is distorted because he is incapable of attending to her as she is. Like a child he is still caught up in his hostile feelings for Miss Ivors. The scene, however minor, makes its contribution to that climactic scene at the hotel room when Gabriel at the outset is once again dead to any objectively real relationship with his wife and for similar reasons.
Gabriel's misconception of Miss Ivors's remarks has another significant ramification in its effect on the subject matter of Gabriel's speech, one which further contributes to the character of the speech itself. He contrives a theme which has its basis in his desire to vent his hostility. The validity of what he would say was of little concern; what he would say involved using Aunt Kate and Aunt Julia for his carefully calculated purposes:
He would say, alluding to Aunt Kate and Aunt Julia: "Ladies and Gentlemen, the generation which is now on the wane among us may have had its faults but for my part I think it had certain qualities of hospitality, of humour, of humanity, which the new and very serious and hypereducated generation that is growing up around us seems to me to lack." Very good: that was one for Miss Ivors. What did he care that his aunts were only two ignorant old women?
And we see that Gabriel's characteristic defensiveness and hostility function finally in the same way that his annual practice of using the Misses Morkan's party as a vehicle to project himself as the center of attention functions: each celebrates the self at the expense of the qualitative existence of the real world. In Joyce's presentation of the Misses Morkan's drawing-room world, it is just such a rejection of the real that is the chief characteristic of "the dead."
One moment of awakening does occur both for Gabriel and for the participants at the party: the excellent performance by Aunt Julia. The little incident establishes the latent potential for living that does still exist in the gathering and especially in Gabriel. Joyce is precise in the embodied theme of the presentation:
Gabriel recognized the prelude. It was that of an old song of Aunt Julia's—Arrayed for the Bridal. Her voice, strong and clear in tone, attacked with great spirit the runs which embellish the air and though she sang very rapidly she did not miss even the smallest of the grace notes. To follow the voice, without looking at the singer's face, was to feel and share the excitement of swift and secure flight. Gabriel applauded loudly with all the others at the close of the song and loud applause was borne in from the invisible supper table. It sounded so genuine that a little colour struggled into Aunt Julia's face.
This celebration of an objectively real quality of the world external to the self is, however, short-lived. Freddy Malins seizes the moment for his own interests, and the dead once more obliterate the living:
Freddy Malins, who had listened with his head perched sideways to hear her better, was still applauding when everyone else had ceased and talking animatedly to his mother who nodded her head gravely and slowly in acquiescence. At last, when he could clap no more, he stood up suddenly and hurried across the room to Aunt Julia whose hand he seized and held in both his hands, shaking it when words failed him or the catch in his voice proved too much for him.
But presently Freddy Malins is thrust aside by that other master of attention-getting:
Mr. Browne extended his open hand towards her and said to those who were near him in the manner of a showman introducing a prodigy to an audience:
"Miss Julia Morkan, my latest discovery."
As readers we readily discern the nature of the difference between the performances of Aunt Julia and presently Bartell D'Arcy on the one hand and the performances of Freddy Malins, Mr. Browne, and Gabriel in his speech on the other. It is, of course, a necessary discernment for the reading of the work.
Near the close of the long first part, two significant episodes underscore Gabriel's inability to be present to the real world around him, which in Joyce quite clearly means to be alive to it: the first is Gabriel's total failure to comprehend why Miss Ivors is leaving the party.
On the landing outside the drawing room Gabriel found his wife and Mary Jane trying to persuade Miss Ivors to stay for supper. But Miss Ivors, who had put on her hat and was buttoning her cloak, would not stay. She did not feel in the least hungry and she had already overstayed her time.
Mary Jane reveals a vague awareness of Miss Ivors's reason for leaving the party: "'I am afraid you didn't enjoy yourself at all,' said Mary Jane hopelessly." But Gabriel's response reveals that he is completely insensitive to Miss Ivors's feelings and completely oblivious to his own part in her withdrawal: "'If you will allow me, Miss Ivors, I'll see you home if you are really obliged to go.'" And, again, after her dismay, which is followed by her "abrupt departure," Gabriel's reflections reveal his inability to participate in the objective reality of any human situation. We see him virtually imprisoned within a world created by his own distorted vision: "Gabriel asked himself was he the cause of her abrupt departure. But she did not seem to be in ill humour: she had gone away laughing. He stared blankly down the staircase." Viewed externally, Gabriel seems to be alive to his world: a scholar who "had taken his degree in the Royal University," and now a writer of reviews for the Daily Express and a teacher in the college. But with our insight into his internal world we see that he is quite dead to what is most real in his intercourse with other humans. His specific failure is presented as his characteristic inability to be present to the present. The second episode of the long first section is Gabriel's false speech to the assemblage, which comes to a climax in his praise of the Misses Morkan as "the Three Graces of the Dublin musical world." What makes the speech false from beginning to end is centered in the realization that it is not an honest assertion of an individual self, but the projection of a masked self: "As long as this one roof shelters the good ladies aforesaid—and I wish from my heart it may do so for many and many a long year to come" . . . etc. We remember that what hangs over his pronouncements is an earlier one spoken to himself: "What did he care that his aunts were only two ignorant old women."
It is in the light of our understanding of the presentations of the first part of the work that our reading of the second, the climax of the rebirth epiphany, can best be read. It begins with Gabriel's rapt attention on Gretta who is standing at the top of the stair: "She was leaning on the bannisters, listening to something. Gabriel was surprised at her stillness and strained his ear to listen also." Here is his first celebration of a present reality after the Aunt Julia playing scene: "If he were a painter, he would paint her in that attitude." Presently what is Gretta becomes lost again, this time in his seeing her as the object of his sexual interest and gratification: "He could have flung his arms about her hips and held her still, for his arms were trembling with desire to seize her and only the stress of his nails against the palms of his hands held the wild impulse of his body in check."
It is this anticipation of the forthcoming sexual encounter that blinds him once again to what is real about his wife's mood. The conversation which he directs to her at this point becomes as false as his earlier after-dinner speech. He introduces the story of Freddy Malins's returning money which Gabriel had loaned him and compliments Freddy, which is quite the opposite of his real being at the moment: "Gabriel strove to restrain himself from breaking out into brutal language about the sottish Malins and his pound." The marriage relationship, which is the chief subject matter of the story's second part, is now distorted by his confused attempt to communicate with her: ostensibly concerning Freddy Malins (and that falsely) but really concerning his sexual desires. The point is that Gabriel is presented as needing to calculate his responses, with the result that he masks his real feelings, and there is no real communication. There is a fine irony in Gretta's response: "Then, suddenly raising herself on tiptoe and resting her hands lightly on his shoulders, she kissed him. 'You are a very generous person, Gabriel,' she said." That is, she praises him for his caring about Freddy Malins because she has taken what he says as real. And the distortion of their communion in their spiritual marriage is as complete as the distortion and confusion of their physical relationship.
Gabriel, trembling with delight at her sudden kiss and at the quaintness of her phrase, put his hands on her hair and began smoothing it back, scarcely touching it with his fingers. The washing had made it fine and brilliant. His heart was brimming over with happiness. Just when he was wishing it she had come to him of her own accord. Perhaps her thoughts had been running with his. Perhaps she had felt the impetuous desire that was in him, and then the yielding mood had come upon her. Now that she had fallen to him so easily, he wondered why he had been so diffident.
And we see that for Gabriel, Gretta is not Gretta, she is his conquest. In this respect the order of his relationship to Gretta is closer to that of his relationship with Miss Ivors and earlier with Lily than it is to a marriage relationship.
The climax in the presentation of the distortion occurs when he asks, "Gretta, dear, what are you thinking about?"—expecting, of course, just one answer. Her answer that she is thinking about the song, "The Lass of Aughrim," is the first shock in the process of his return to the realm of the living. Joyce's device of the mirror image of Gabriel is one of the most effective presentations in the story. The mirror functions as the first step in the whole process of Gabriel's rebirth; it is the self confronting the self in a revelation which had heretofore never been consummated: "Gabriel stood stock-still for a moment in astonishment and them followed her. As he passed in the way of the cheval-glass he caught sight of himself in full length, his broad, wellfilled shirt front, the face whose expression always puzzled him when he saw it in a mirror."
Her answer when he presses to know her concern merely intensifies his anger, and his masked feelings begin to show: '"Someone you were in love with?' he asked ironically." The irony reflects his complete inability to see her and the way she feels. Joyce's subject matter, we realize, has been the complex relationship between living and loving. Gabriel here is still one of the dead in his inability to grant the independent being of another. But consistent with her character as one who is nowhere indirect, Gretta misses the irony of his question. Her answer is a candid revelation of herself: "'It was a young boy I used to know,' she answered, 'named Michael Furey.'" Gabriel's response on the other hand intensifies the embodiment of Joyce's theme. His is at once the calculated response: "Gabriel was silent. He did not wish her to think that he was interested in this delicate boy." For Gabriel, in his present being as one of the spiritually dead, there is no possibility of accepting what is her real concern. "'What was he?' asked Gabriel still ironically. 'He was in the gasworks,' she said."
In the light of the final scene in which Gabriel is shocked into his first real undistorted view of himself as not merely one of the assembled dead but one who played a leading role in carrying out their ritual, each scene and episode that constituted the party is singularly unambiguous in meaning. We see that it is not merely the banality of their concerns and preoccupations which define what it means to be a participant in the rituals of the dead. And even their characteristic inability to comprehend the real existence of the world apart from the self does not finally differentiate those whom Joyce presents as the dead. We see that they are unfree to respond in any but their own narrow pattern of response. Each is an imprisoned victim, alternately asserting and defending a self which he seems to have no contact with or awareness of. The result is a kind of spiritual hell from which only Gabriel, precisely because of his sudden consciousness of himself as a total failure, becomes free. And Gabriel's failure, which finally he himself realizes, has been a failure in his humanity. It is at this point that Gabriel is shocked into the objectivity that characterizes the world of the living.
Gabriel felt humiliated by the failure of his irony and by the evocation of this figure from the dead, a boy in the gasworks. While he had been full of memories of their secret life together, full of tenderness and joy and desire, she had been comparing him in her mind with another. A shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him. He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting as a pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous, well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealising his clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror. Instinctively he turned his back more to the light lest she might see the shame that burned upon his forehead.
There is no rejection of his humanity in the dénouement following his awakening. The final episode presents a rapid series of Gabriel's new responses; they are a direct contrast to the responses of "the dead." When he attends to Gretta, it is Gretta that is his concern: "She stopped, choking with sobs, and, overcome by emotion, flung herself face downward on the bed, sobbing in the quilt. Gabriel held her hand for a moment longer, irresolutely, and then, shy of intruding on her grief, let it fall gently and walked quietly to the window." In this first response which follows Gabriel's new vision of the world, the formal presentations now all embody a new thematic meaning: they present what it means to belong to the world of the living. When Gabriel sees that Gretta had, in the midst of his comforting, fallen asleep, his response is in direct contrast to his earlier self-concern:
Gabriel, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments unresentfully on her tangled hair and half-open mouth, listening to her deep-drawn breath. So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He watched her while she slept, as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife.
It is here that we realize that Gabriel's relationship to his wife has undergone a radical change. It is here that we realize that for Joyce one meaning of being able to love is being able to attend to the object with the kind of attention that wishes to know it as fully as possible: "His curious eyes rested long upon her face and on her hair: and, as he thought of what she must have been then, in that time of her first girlish beauty, a strange, friendly pity for her entered his soul." Throughout the scene Gabriel's love for his wife is presented as more realistic than romantic, given to matter-of-factness rather than to sentimentality: "He did not like to say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful, but he knew that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death."
It is clear that the singular result of Gabriel's new ability to live resides in his being able to love. But it is not merely Gabriel's love for his wife that marks his new state of being; his new-found capacity extends to those of his immediate world. As his reflection turns to the party, to what he now sees as "his own foolish speech," suddenly into his consciousness comes a new image of his aunts:
Poor Aunt Julia! She too would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse. He had caught that haggard look upon her face for a moment when she was singing Arrayed for the Bridal. Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting in that same drawing room, dressed in black, his silk hat on his knees. The blinds would be drawn down and Aunt Kate would be sitting beside him, crying and blowing her nose and telling him how Julia had died. He would cast about in his mind for some words that might console her, and he would find only lame and useless ones. Yes, yes: that would happen very soon.
Joyce, that "consummate master of form," brings together in this scene thematic presentations which have been expressed earlier but with different connotative meaning: Aunt Julia's singing had been a moment of living in the world of the dead. For Gabriel it was his one moment of attending: "To follow the voice, without looking at the singer's face, was to feel and share the excitement of swift and secure flight. Gabriel applauded loudly with all the others." But now it is clear that in his one instance of being present to another, Gabriel had indeed been "looking at the singer's face": "He had caught that haggard look upon her face for a moment when she was singing Arrayed for the Bridal" The point is that in the earlier instance, the single presentation of the living in the midst of the dead, Joyce had presented Gabriel as merely responding to Aunt Julia's singing with applause. Not only had no significance been attached to his vision of "that haggard look," the vision itself had not even risen to consciousness. The contrast marks by stylistic omission the experienced difference between the thematic embodiment of "the dead" and that of "the living." Again the associations accompanying that earlier explosive utterance, "What did he care that his aunts were only two ignorant old women?" reverberate ironically in this passage. That is, it is in his new state of being capable of caring that makes possible Gabriel's vision of Aunt Julia arrayed, not for "the bridal" but for the burial. A further irony is evident in Gabriel's present inarticulateness in contrast to his earlier facility to rise to any occasion.
But the central irony resides in the way Joyce works with the theme of death. In an earlier presentation of the ritual of the dead, Mr. Browne and Mary Jane inadvertently come to an expression in their facile drawing-room conversation of the work's central theme. When Mr. Browne, who is "of the other persuasion," questions the practice of the monks in sleeping in their coffins rather than in "a comfortable spring bed," Mary Jane dutifully, however unconsciously, provides an explanation: "'The coffin,' said Mary Jane, 'is to remind them of their last end.'"
Further, one of the central themes which Gabriel has chosen for his speech, and again in the context of presentation of the dead, is the theme of death. Here, of course, the assertion of the fact of death as a reality in the history of the community is ironic in the light of Gabriel's ultimate realization of death. In his speech his intention is focused solely on directing the emotions of his hearers. He does not have to "cast about in his mind" for words. His images are clichés and his rhetoric empty. The passage, however, conditions the climax of the work:
"[let us] still cherish in our hearts the memory of those dead and gone great ones whose fame the world will not willingly let die."
"Hear, hear!" said Mr. Browne loudly.
"But yet," continued Gabriel, his voice falling into a softer inflection, "there are always in gatherings such as this sadder thoughts that will recur to our minds: thoughts of the past, of youth, of changes, of absent faces that we miss here tonight. Our path through life is strewn with many such sad memories; and were we to brood upon them always we could not find the heart to go on bravely with our work among the living."
As it is presented in Gabriel's speech, the realization of death is a cliché of the drawing room. The contrast with Gabriel's final realization of death and the meaning of death completes the essential contrast that gives the work its thematic structure, its meaning through its form. In the final scene Gabriel's mind goes back to the party, but now with an objective vision, one freed of the imprisonment which had blocked and distorted his being able to live. It is at this point that "The Dead" becomes another kind of symbol, at first a realistic symbol of what is universally true about human existence: "The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one they were all becoming shades." But presently Gabriel's experience of death becomes associated with his reflections on the meaning of living: "Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age." The utterance is presented not so much as a reasoned conclusion but as a sudden response—a response that establishes Gabriel's real, because experienced, relationship to death. It is an affirmation of living as its own justification for human existence.
Then in the same pattern of the sudden juxtaposition of continuing awarenesses, Gabriel's thoughts turn to his wife and her relationship to her dead lover:
He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover's eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.
Generous tears filled Gabriel's eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love.
The point is, of course, not Gabriel's judgment on the validity of his wife's lover's protestations but on Gabriel's concern with Gretta's state of mind in living with her secret. Whatever the lover's feeling may be, it is quite obvious that it is Gabriel's feelings that "must be love."
Joyce's dénouement continues this theme; namely the caring for and recognition of the dead becomes the final step in the actualization of human love. In his rebirth Gabriel is presented as not merely responding to the universe of man; Gabriel's response here expands to a celebration of a larger universe:
His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.
The snow, which had been merely a realistic detail in the opening episode, becomes during the unpleasantness attending Miss Ivors's imagined attack a symbol for a place of refuge for Gabriel's withdrawal from that unpleasantness. Then in the final scene the snow image again reflects the developing theme of the work: here the snow is a symbol expressing the broader scope of Gabriel's newfound capacity for conscious awareness of man's world. In Gabriel's story, the capacity for awareness has been a prerequisite for seeing and caring for that world which is apart from his own inner concern. Now for Gabriel the snow falls through this new world—one quite different from the world of the dead which he had formerly inhabited:
snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9931
SOURCE: "'The Dead' and the Generosity of the Word," in PMLA, Vol. 101, No. 2, March, 1986, pp. 233-45.
[In the following essay, Pecora approaches the question of whether Gabriel acquires a level of self-understanding at the close of "The Dead," maintaining that Gabriel "in no way overcomes or transcends the conditions of his existence."]
Headed toward death, language turns back upon itself; it encounters something like a mirror; and to stop this death which would stop it, it possesses but a single power: that of giving birth to its own image in a play of mirrors that has no limits.
Michel Foucault, "Language to Infinity"
James Joyce's story is opened by a "caretaker's daughter"; filled with the physically aging, the psychologically repressed, and the emotionally arrested; and closed in a flurry of bewildered sensation and "confused adoration" that recalls in one way or another nearly every preceding story in Dubliners. Thus Joyce's readers have been more than just well prepared for a leap out of this world, for a transcendent glimpse, no matter how ambiguous, of a possible escape from the intolerable, suffocating tomb of Joyce's Dublin. Indeed, it may be precisely the production of this desire for escape at all costs that is the most difficult response to come to grips with, for it inevitably clouds our understanding of the characters' actions and once again stimulates a confused adoration, this time on our parts.
Readers disagree about whether Gabriel's new understanding of himself at the end of the story is a positive movement beyond his oppressive conditions or simply a resigned acceptance of the inevitability of his own death and decay, but the question may be irrelevant. Either interpretation enables us to turn Gabriel's vision into something that appears to be much more than in fact it is: whether we perceive it as the promise of resurrection and new life or as the possibility of a more profound, more authentic relation with the world, we remain locked within a paradigm of self-knowledge as truth that transcends material existence through loss, sacrifice, annihilation.1 Thus, Richard Ellmann writes of a "melancholy unity between the living and the dead" that intrudes on Gabriel's consciousness in the story's final paragraph, but a unity through which Gabriel can still grant "a kind of bondage, of acceptance, even of admiration to a part of the country and a way of life that are most Irish" (James Joyce). Until recently, such a paradigm has shaped the history of the criticism of "The Dead." Allen Tate could identify the snow as symbolic of "Gabriel's escape from his own ego into the larger world of humanity, including 'all the living and the dead';" Kenneth Burke could write that for Gabriel the snow falls "upon the world of conditions as seen through the spirit of conditions transcended, of ideal sociality beyond material divisiveness;" and Florence Walzl, in what is perhaps the most overtly scriptural formulation, could point out that "the recollections of Christ's passion in the spears and thorns are reminders that sacrifice of self is the condition of revival."2 None of these commentators denies ambiguity in Gabriel's "escape," but that ambiguity is always restricted by the fundamental assumption that Gabriel does at least move beyond the brute, sensual forms of his own existence, that in Burke's terms there is a "transcendence above the conditioned." And this movement beyond the conditional implies a transcendence not only of the material world in its most immediate aspect but also of all the culturally sanctioned psychological maneuvers that have arisen to make this world somehow acceptable.
In this way, by allowing ourselves naively to accept what Gabriel most needs at the end of the story, what we would most expect him to accept himself, we may have cut ourselves off from much of the power of Joyce's narrative. We simply affirm in ourselves all that the ideological structure of the story shows us Gabriel has no choice but to affirm—though his affirmation, precisely because it is "necessary" and expected, should make us skeptical. At this point, then, it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish between Gabriel's desire for escape and our own, between our perception of his transcendence of conditions and our willingness to deny them.
Yet in the end this confusion should not strike us as peculiar: Joyce's art is full of mirrors—cracked, duplicitous ones—and there should be no surprise in discovering that Gabriel has merely served as ideological repository, that he has simply reflected back to us, in his assumed generosity of spirit, what we most demand from him at the conclusion of Dubliners—a detour, a shortcut, a way out. Quite suddenly, "The Dead" becomes a far more unsettling story, one that threatens our confidence in all the mechanisms by which we too rise above the conditioned. For it is our own need for transcendence that we find mirrored in Gabriel's conceptual recirculation. What is at issue in "The Dead," then, is the nature of these reflections—these representations—by which both we and Gabriel presume to attain an understanding of self that is somehow free from a world contaminated by egotism and "material divisiveness."
Above all, the question emerges whether the conditioned, or a society's material divisiveness, is not always already implicated by—folded into—any representation one might produce, any reflection one might perceive. 3 Gabriel's final reflections may then be not victory over the conditions of his existence but, rather, Dubliners's most disturbing example of the way these conditions provide at the same time the inescapable materiality of one's imprisonment and the means with which one produces, in Ellmann's evolutionary fashion, "a kind of bondage, of acceptance, even of admiration." Perhaps this startling transformation of bondage into acceptance and admiration in "The Dead" should elicit not our own accepting admiration but our most profound anxiety and suspicion.
Indeed, commentaries on the conclusion of this last story in Dubliners often imply something strikingly similar to what Gabriel thinks after the staunchly nationalist Miss Ivors attacks him for contributing to the Daily Express, in her eyes a pro-British newspaper. "He did not know how to meet her charge. He wanted to say that literature was above politics." Gabriel is too timid to risk "a grandiose phrase" with someone clearly his intellectual equal, but what he "wanted to say" is nevertheless what so many of Joyce's readers would like to say when the story ends: that Gabriel's self-understanding transcends the particular circumstances of his place in the world, that Gabriel can at last accept, even admire, what had earlier been so palpable a bondage that he could only reply to Miss Ivors, "I'm sick of my own country, sick of it!" In this light, Gabriel finally overcomes the contradictions between his desire for escape and his guilt over what he feels is a betrayal of his homeland by "escaping," paradoxically, back to West Ireland—back to the source of all his anxiety. Gabriel's westward gaze at the conclusion of "The Dead" is merely one final instance of the social ricorso that eventually traps all who remain in Joyce's Dublin—as if the city itself is the site of some grand repetition compulsion by which the conflicts that trouble its inhabitants are constantly evoked and rehearsed, but never worked through. Moreover, he escapes by an avenue used constantly throughout Dubliners, and often enough in "The Dead" itself: he turns his life into a text, he mythologizes his existence in a literary emancipation that can in fact only repeat the contradictions and anxieties he longs to overcome. In this way, the text that his life becomes can at last rise for him above politics, above conditions in the world, as he finds a solution in the delusive magnanimity of one who accepts all, who admires everyone. At the same time, however, it is exactly the text that Gabriel weaves—a text carefully illustrated by Gabriel's own expressions of "generosity"—that distinguishes itself as a palimpsest through which we read, in skeptical, "thoughttormented" fashion, the tainted, conditioned, supplementary text of his, and often our, metaphysical need.
Of course, Joyce's work, especially Dubliners and A Portrait, has long seemed to revolve constantly around sudden bursts of knowledge and insight that lead to greater self-understanding and to intellectual or spiritual growth. Even Ulysses and Finnegans Wake use the terminology of spiritual transformation, grounded in Scripture and Christian belief, to describe significant alterations of consciousness and perception. And Stephen's theory of art in A Portrait, like Joyce's early stated opinions in many respects, depends on an aesthetic secularization of the concept of transubstantiation—the transformation of mere bread into the body of Christ, of everyday experience into the permanent essence captured by art. Thus, criticism has evoked a plethora of terms—epicleti, epiphany, revelation, resurrection, transubstantiation, transfiguration, metamorphosis, metempsychosis—that seem to describe not only a process of personal insight and "making new" but also a process that lies at the heart of Joyce's conception of art—the "showing forth" of reality in its essential qualities, the re-presenting of that reality as the thing-initself, as revealed truth.
Just as clearly, however, and increasingly after Dubliners, Joyce's work displays the subtle paths by which such processes turn on themselves, by which insight becomes a new form of delusion, by which something essential becomes one more layer of surface. From the North and South Circular roads that surround Dublin, to Stephen's mind in A Portrait, "supersaturated with the religion" in which Stephen says he disbelieves, to the procession of counterfeit narrators who move "through everchanging tracks of never-changing space" in Ulysses, to the "commodius vicus of recirculation" that forms Finnegans Wake, we travel constantly away from a view of representation as a revelation of essences and toward an understanding of representation as the presenting again of artifacts always already formed and informed by cultural sedimentation. In A Portrait, Stephen feels that the language of Ireland's conquerors will always be for him "an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words." And he further realizes that his consciousness depends heavily on images provided by his cultural heritage: "Could his mind then not trust itself? Old phrases, sweet only with a disinterred sweetness . . . " Stephen of course intends to "fly by those nets" of "nationality, language, religion," but by the "Proteus" chapter of Ulysses, he is sinking into the decayed linguistic mire of Sandymount strand: "These heavy sands are language tide and wind have silted here."
The dilemma that Stephen Dedalus faces in "Proteus," however, can only be fully elaborated with reference to a larger problem in modernist narrative: the subversion of the coherent, authoritative voice of nineteenth-century realist fiction. For Erich Auerbach, the threatened integrity and identity of particular voices in the text—the voice of the narrator as well as that of any character—meant a more "objective" and egalitarian approach to reality, with power and authority dispersed throughout the text and the tyranny of "unusual" voices overcome. While the attractiveness of Auerbach's insight cannot be denied, modernist narrative, and Joyce's work in particular, may be pointing in a quite different direction: perhaps it is voice as the sign of all presence and identity—in narrative and in consciousness—that is being tested, strained, or destroyed by the modern text. Instead of simply allowing the multiplication of voices to achieve a pluralistic consensus, modern narrative may be subtly questioning the efficacy, or what Jacques Derrida has called the "hold," of voice as the sign of the unmediated, essential presence of consciousness, its purest identity, uncontaminated by conditional reality. 4 It is, then, the individual identity of a character or narrator, taken as comprising and generating a unique intentionality and point of view, that must be reexamined. After Nietzsche and Freud, such a requirement should not be unexpected, but it has remained a difficult and awkward problem. 5 What needs to be stressed here is that language in Joyce, even in Dubliners, is often dispossessed discourse—thought, feeling, or inner speech that may be attributed to a particular character or speaker but that never completely belongs to that speaker. The implication is that neither Gabriel Conroy nor any other character, not even the narrator, is the sole owner and producer of the language and the intentional structures he or she uses—that in some sense the means by which representations emerge are always usurped from their prior formulations, their cultural conditions. The question that Stephen puts to himself in A Portrait—"Could his mind then not trust itself?"—is also the question raised stylistically by Joyce's use of free indirect discourse here to represent Stephen's most intimate reflections: are my words my words, my thoughts my thoughts?
It is Finnegans Wake, however, that provides the most precise and ironic image of representation as semiotic reutilization, of narrative as the elaborate play of linguistic objets trouvés: "the Haunted Inkbottle," "Who can say how many pseudostylic shamiana, how few or how many of the most venerated public impostures, how very many piously forged palimpsests slipped in the first place by this morbid process from his plagiarist pen?" Joyce persistently moves toward making conscious use of this inevitable semantic recycling and narrative play, toward using rather than being used by the palimpsests he would in any case produce. And one of the central palimpsests in his work is personal identity itself—a set of "venerated public impostures" that always seem to frustrate final knowledge about oneself. Thus, Joyce's acceptance of a constant subversion of any essential reality shown forth in aesthetic form is only the narrative complement of his acceptance of the failure of self-consciousness to uncover any essence within personal identity. That is, even "intuitive" self-knowledge will always be mediated by representations, and self-consciousness will always in some sense be a palimpsest haunted by ghosts that reveal the history of a desire rather than the kernel of a truth.
Now, the forgery of reality achieved by art, the capability of "impersonation" in the narrator's "voice," was recognized and exploited often before Joyce, especially in the classical age after the Renaissance (see, e.g., Kenner's Counterfeiters and Foucault's Order of Things). But what sharply separates a modernist attitude toward representation from a classical one, what separates Mann's "con artist" from Swift's "personations," is the attitude toward all that is not representation—that is, toward self-consciousness itself, toward the apodictic truth of what Kant calls the "original synthetical unity of apperception" or what Schopenhauer later designates simply as "will": "the one thing known to us immediately, and not given to us merely in the representation, as all else is." In the works of Joyce and other modernists, like Conrad and Woolf, it is just this notion of a "pure" and originary subjectivity that can be present to itself immediately—without recourse to representation—that is suspect. Instead of assuming the validity of the Platonic hierarchy, where representation is always pejoratively opposed to the original forms of reality, or of consciousness, many modern writers implicitly wrote as if the reverse were true, as if no matter how internal or immediate conception might appear, it would never be truly free of some form of representation. This is the sense in which Joyce's work moves toward subverting a classical epistemological order: it suggests not that representation can uncover the essence of experience but that any perceived essence is always already infiltrated by representation.
Joyce himself did seem conscious of the devious ways by which the representation of his intentions could be easily transformed, usurped by intentional structures beyond his control. And this awareness does not emerge only with the later semantic play of Finnegans Wake; it is already implicit in his struggle to be just to Dublin in his first collection of stories. Joyce's worry that he had failed to reproduce Dublin's "ingenuous insularity and its hospitality," articulated in a letter he wrote to Stanislaus Joyce before the composition of "The Dead," has often been used to suggest that he intended the final story to correct this oversight (see, e.g., Brown). But Joyce's words immediately following this remark suggest the view of representation, and of intentionality, that his later work makes more explicit: "And yet I know how useless these reflections are. For were I to write the book as G. R. suggests 'in another sense' (where the hell does he get the meaningless phrases he uses) I am sure I should find again what you call the Holy Ghost sitting in the inkbottle and the perverse devil of my literary conscience sitting on the hump of my pen" (Ellmann, Letters 2). Here, even before Dubliners is complete, Joyce is already extremely suspicious of the mechanisms that would quite naturally come into play were he to try portraying his native city and its culture with less ironic distance. Though he obviously feels that he may have been "unnecessarily harsh," this harshness, this "unnecessary" critical irony, is exactly what keeps him intellectually honest.
By consciously working against what he feels is demanded of him, or what he is comfortable with—in taste, national honor, religious or humanistic piety, bourgeois values—Joyce can at least hope to avoid a complete surrender to mere ideological recirculation, to the (Holy) ghost in the ink bottle. And comments he made about earlier work at this time also demonstrate this hope: "The reason I dislike Chamber Music as a title is that it is too complacent. I should prefer a title which to a certain extent repudiated the book, without altogether disparaging it" (Ellmann, Letters 2). Along with the implicit repudiation that propels Joyce's view of Dublin's cultural malaise, especially if that repudiation is at times painful for him, comes a parallel repudiation, through irony, of his own work as it inevitably reflects and reproduces the values of that culture. Joyce's later awareness that his ink bottle had always been "haunted," no matter what his precautions, is implicit in the ironic distance he assumes even toward his own work—a distance rooted in the same epistemological problematic that Nietzsche's irony explores. It is a selfconscious irony, an irony toward the self as conscious intentionality, that reappears in various forms throughout modernist practice.6
That the honesty of one's intentions, or one's ability to be true to one's intentions, might be undermined by the dependency of those intentions on certain cultural formulas—like the value of generosity and self-sacrifice—is a psychological dilemma that Joyce clearly recognized and examined while writing Dubliners. Further, his letters of this period foreshadow a more explicit renunciation of philosophies like Kant's or Schopenhauer's—"idealistic" in both senses of the word—along with the morality of self-denial that their metaphysics support: "I am sure however that the whole structure of heroism is, and always was, a damned lie and that there cannot be any substitute for the individual passion as the motive power of everything—art and philosophy included. For this reason Hairy Jaysus seems to be the bloodiest imposter of all I have met." "Hairy Jaysus," besides its obvious denotations, was Joyce's name for Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, who, according to Ellmann, "probably defended the notion that the individual should sacrifice himself for the sake of the group" (Letters 2). Like Nietzsche, Joyce links a philosophical skepticism, and a belief in the primacy of individual passion, to a questioning of traditional Christian values. 7 Further, in contrast to the disinterested observation free from the taint of desire that idealism posits as the basis of the aesthetic experience—a position echoed by Stephen in A Portrait—Joyce, again like Nietzsche, examines the situation from the point of view of producer, not observer, and finds any such aesthetic disinterestedness as false and illusory as the moral selflessness that is its unconscious foundation.
"The Dead" must be seen, then, as a story that on the one hand may reveal Joyce's discomfort with the cynicism that had pervaded his view of Dublin but that on the other hand significantly analyzes the institutionalized codes that structure personal intentions. What appears to be a great alteration in an individual's perception and understanding of self—a movement from blind egotism to moral selflessness and sympathetic humility—becomes instead the ideologically supported transformation of one set of illusions into another to enable the individual to cope with a new and threatening social environment. Gabriel Conroy's presumed awakening at the end of "The Dead" is undermined as soon as we try to determine what he awakens to: if his vision of himself through most of the story is determined by his assumed superiority—in education, sophistication, or "degree of culture"—to the common Dubliners at his aunts' party, what codes structure the way he perceives himself after Gretta's revelations? Once Gabriel's pretensions, especially concerning his sexual desirability and potency, are shattered—and they have already been severely damaged by Lily and Miss Ivors—how does he compensate? By what means are his thwarted sexual desires and illusions sublimated in the new and supposedly truer image of himself that he constructs as the story ends?
Gabriel's easy affiliation and apparent communion with "all the living and the dead" may in fact reveal something quite apart from the "heroic" surrender that many have described: "It is a self-abandonment not unlike Furey's, and through Gabriel's mind runs the imagery of Calvary. .. . In his own sacrifice of himself he is conscious of a melancholy unity between the living and the dead" (Ellmann, James Joyce). It is precisely because the imagery of Calvary runs through Gabriel's mind that we should be suspicious of any act of self-understanding or definition that occurs at this point. Like "Hairy Jaysus," Gabriel might be one of the bloodiest imposters of all, caught within the whole structure of a heroism that "is, and always was, a damned lie"—the heroism derived from the life of Christ. To persist in elaborating the religious and culturally sanctioned paradigm by which Gabriel organizes his new perception of himself in the neutral—and hence uncritical—language used by Ellmann is to ignore the kinds of issues that had already presented themselves to Joyce years earlier, even in the informal discourse of his personal correspondence. By the end of Dubliners, accepting an allusion to the life of Christ at face value is not so much a failure of interpretation as a devotion, conscious or unconscious, to culturally validated beliefs and critical commonplaces that obscures the potential particular works may hold for questioning a deeply rooted heritage.
Not surprisingly, then, given Joyce's expressed anxiety over his earlier treatment of Dublin life, "The Dead" does seem to be about the institution—the great tradition—of "genuine warm-hearted courteous Irish hospitality," but not in any straightforward or laudatory way. Rather, the culturally embedded attitude toward hospitality and generosity that Gabriel invokes in his speech is nothing more than the codified expression of the myth of self-sacrifice lying at the heart of Joyce's Dublin. And it is this cultural self-sacrifice that, as ideological cliché, is most interrogated by the story. Moreover, by passively accepting this mystified tradition as the foundation of their identities, the Dubliners gathered here earn their place among the dead of the Misses Morkan's mausoleum. Their participation thus promotes a hierarchy of values that places all that must remain unavailable—"our forefathers," "those dead and gone great ones," as well as the legendary, the revelatory, the transcendent—above the sensual, material conditions of their lives. In the end this system of values will turn the "anguish" of its adherents' position, their inevitably painful service to forces beyond their direct control, into the virtue of self-sacrifice, which they can accept and even admire.
In his speech, Gabriel twice articulates—only once consciously—this basic kind of psychological usurpation, a theme that runs throughout Joyce's work: "It is not the first time that we have been the recipients—or perhaps, I had better say, the victims—of the hospitality of certain good ladies"; and then, "Some would say, perhaps, that with us [the tradition of hospitality] is rather a failing than anything to be boasted of. But granted even that, it is, to my mind, a princely failing, and one that I trust will long be cultivated among us." Ironically, this failure of princes—of those who have more than they need or of those who, guiltless like Christ, are thought to produce infinite kindness and forgiveness—is celebrated here as the very essence of a people whom we have seen over and over again to be fraught with the anxiety and ressentiment of their ineffectiveness, with the guilt of their vain desires. Gabriel's remarks show on the one hand that neither he nor anyone else is aware of the extent to which everyone at the party is an actual victim and on the other hand that, even as a victim of sorts, Gabriel considers this victimization a noble situation, a princely failing. And the form that this hospitality, this institutionalized self-sacrifice, takes in Gabriel is of course the one virtue he retains in the end, the one intentional code that he understandably clings to when all else has failed—his "generosity." Thus, the notion of generosity as self-sacrifice, running throughout the story, needs to be examined now in the context of a tradition already formulated for use, a cultural mask so ineffable and seemingly transparent that Gabriel can hide behind it as if there were no mask at all. Joyce may have felt guilty about not being generous enough toward his native city, but at the same time he appears to have been extremely suspicious of the attitudes that produced his guilt. The result is an interrogation of the entire structure of generosity as it takes shape in the bourgeois Dubliner of this time.
Gabriel's generosity appears at various points in this story, and it is always undermined by the context in which it occurs, by the obviousness with which it hides both the uncertain terror of Gabriel's lack of any real identity and the more purely instinctive need for psychological presence and domination. In the first example, Gabriel asks Lily about possible wedding plans, and she replies "with great bitterness": "The men that is now is only all palaver and what they can get out of you." Of course, Lily's reply is itself a cliché in the atmosphere of this gathering: naturally, men in the past would have been honest and sincere in the same way that the qualities of "an older day" are given precedence throughout the party. But Lily's remark unintentionally (perhaps) stings Gabriel, for his apparent concern and "generous" interest in Lily's life have in reality been nothing more than "palaver" and what he can "get out of her through his avuncular, patronizing flirtation.
Gabriel's response to being caught so nakedly by a caretaker's daughter, to being so neatly unmasked, is to reaffirm the cultured, bourgeois vision he would like to project to the world. He blushes, "as if he felt he had made a mistake," and shines his patent-leather shoes with his muffler; Joyce's awkward wording here is important—did Gabriel actually feel he had made a mistake? Was his blush then unconscious? What immediately follows is a description of Gabriel, the first of several, that is technically narrative but that more accurately reflects what Gabriel sees, or wants others to see, in the mirror of those glistening shoes:
He was a stout tallish young man. The high colour of his cheeks pushed upwards even to his forehead where it scattered itself in a few formless patches of red; and on his hairless face there scintillated restlessly the polished lenses and the bright gilt rims of the glasses which screened his delicate and restless eyes. His glossy black hair was parted in the middle and brushed in a long curve behind his ears where it curled slightly beneath the groove left by his hat.
The tone of this passage suggests an almost aristocratic, "princely" demeanor, albeit a nervous and unsure one: he has the scrubbed and polished look of the upper classes, with "gilt rims" on his glasses and "delicate and restless eyes." The reflection Gabriel, as well as the reader, sees here is far more than a simple, unmediated mirror image—it performs a particular psychological function, for it reinscribes Gabriel's equanimity, reclothing him in the princely attitude he celebrates later. And the reaffirmation of this attitude prepares the way for the princely failing of generosity with which he buys back his psychological and social superiority. Shouting "Christmas-time! Christmastime," as if these magical words guaranteed his sincerity, Gabriel thwarts Lily's attempt to reject his condescending gift and quickly escapes to seal his success.
Of course, Gabriel realizes that something has gone wrong, but again, he does so through the already formulated mechanisms that govern his rationalizations and that emerge for us in the free indirect discourse that represents his internal monologue:
The indelicate clacking of the men's heels and the shuffling of their soles reminded him that their grade of culture differed from his. He would only make himself ridiculous by quoting poetry to them which they could not understand. They would think that he was airing his superior education. He would fail with them just as he had failed with the girl in the pantry. He had taken up a wrong tone. His whole speech was a mistake from first to last, an utter failure.
To say that Gabriel's problem with Lily was a failure of tone or that, as he initially felt, "he had made a mistake" is to miss the real point of their exchange: Gabriel's princely attitude remains intact; his "grade of culture" is never questioned or examined. Gabriel himself is preserved untouched if this failure is attributed to a "wrong tone," if the "mistake" is only a failure to use the appropriate social code and to wear the appropriate social mask. His assessment of his appearance, like his later attempt to overcome his embarrassment by "arranging his cuffs and the bows of his tie," is in effect the reconstruction of the grade of culture he fitfully acknowledges as the foundation of his identity. And it is what Gabriel views as his generous selfsacrifice that proves and morally justifies this identity. Indeed, one might say that his inability to communicate successfully with Lily is what makes his generosity necessary to begin with, just as his later failure with Miss Ivors prompts his generous praise of Ireland's, and his aunts', hospitality.
Gabriel's generosity comes into play again when he and Gretta speak to his aunts after entering their house. Gabriel reveals his ability to exercise paternalistic authority as he chastises Gretta for disregarding her own health: "But as for Gretta there . . . she'd walk home in the snow if she were let." Gretta's response demonstrates just how fastidious, how neurotic he is in this fatherly care: there are "green shades" at night and "dumb-bells" for his son and forced "stirabout" for his daughter. Even as these details are recounted, Gretta and the aunts are laughing at the admiring husband, "for Gabriel's solicitude was a standing joke with them." Once again, Gabriel's sincere concern is unmasked, his cherished ability to care becomes only a standing joke.
When Gretta delights the aunts by ridiculing the most recent evidence of this solicitude—galoshes, the latest fad on the Continent—Gabriel reverts to the standard selfaffirmation of his princely bearing by adjusting his clothes: "Gabriel laughed nervously and patted his tie reassuringly while Aunt Kate nearly doubled herself, so heartily did she enjoy the joke." But of course Gabriel's solicitude is a joke precisely because it is inextricably involved with his concern for appearances; like the tie that reassures him, these galoshes are primarily important to him as evidence of his social standing, of his grade of culture. And when this aspect of his solicitude is brought to everyone's attention, Gabriel knits his brow "as if he were slightly angered" (does he even know whether he is angry?) and attributes Gretta's mirth to the sound of the word, not to what the word signifies. His generosity, in short, is hardly a sentiment that can withstand much investigation, or ridicule; it is worn, like the galoshes, because of the social position it represents, because of what it accomplishes in his interest. Only Aunt Kate's "brisk tact" prevents a larger argument.
Further, the entire generous direction of Gabriel's speech praising the hospitality of an older Dublin, and in particular his aunts', is predicated on a duplicity. Having been stung, once again, by the surprisingly upbraiding remarks of a woman, Gabriel plans his revenge on Miss Ivors through his speech:
It unnerved him to think that she would be at the supper-table, looking up at him while he spoke with her critical quizzing eyes. Perhaps she would not be sorry to see him fail in his speech. An idea came into his mind and gave him courage. He would say, alluding to Aunt Kate and Aunt Julia: Ladies and Gentlemen, the generation which is now on the wane among us may have had its faults but for my part I think it had certain qualities of hospitality, of humour, of humanity, which the new and very serious and hypereducated generation that is growing up around us seems to me to lack. Very good: that was one for Miss Ivors. What did he care that his aunts were only two ignorant old women?
Of course, it is Freddy Malins and Mr. Browne who actually praise Aunt Julia after her rendition of "Arrayed for the Bridal." Gabriel saves his remarks for his speech, for Miss Ivors. Though he includes these comments even after Miss Ivors leaves, his praise for his aunts' hospitality clearly serves another, quite specific function: it removes him from the conditions of Lily's irony, of Miss Ivors's politics, of the lower grade of culture in which he feels trapped. Once again, his generosity has become the avenue of his escape.
All this comes together in Gabriel and Gretta's confrontation at the end of the story. To begin with, even Gabriel's newly awakened sexual desire for Gretta and their arrival at the hotel appear to him under the guise of an escape, an escape from all the mundane conditions of their daily lives. He wants to make her forget all "the years of their dull existence together and remember only their moments of ecstasy." At the door of the hotel, "he felt that they had escaped from their lives and duties, escaped from home and friends and run away together with wild and radiant hearts to a new adventure." Gabriel's ability to mythologize, to create a text of adventure out of his life with Gretta, is clearly in keeping with the escapist mythomania of Dubliners as a whole. Just as the opening pages twice articulate Lily as almost a fairy-tale character—"Lily, the caretaker's daughter"—Gabriel generates fictions for himself throughout this story with nearly unflagging energy: this tendency extends to his treatment of Lily; to his attitude toward his mother; to his wonder whether Miss Ivors had "any life of her own behind her propagandism"; to his apotheosis of his aunts and Mary Jane as the Three Graces; to his re-creation of the myth of Irish hospitality in his speech and his glorification "of those dead and gone great ones"; to the anecdote of his grandfather and the horse, the facts of which Aunt Kate corrects several times as Gabriel embellishes for effect; to the portrait he would paint, if he were a painter, of his wife listening to Baiteli D'Arcy sing, a portrait he would call Distant Music, to the distant music of his entire life with Gretta; to the heroic love he is sure Michael Furey felt for Gretta; and finally to his understanding of himself.
Clearly, Gabriel is not alone in this tendency—to a greater or lesser extent, all the others at the party, and nearly all the main characters in Dubliners, create texts within which they play out particular roles. The important point to note is that at the end of Dubliners, in the final pages of "The Dead," this practice does not simply evaporate in a flash of self-discovery; it is reinvented, rearticulated through the insidious structure of generosity and self-sacrifice that is the insistent motif of this sort and that is perhaps the equivocal motive of the story's beginnings for Joyce. If Gabriel's projected escape to adventure with Gretta at the hotel turns into a bitter disappointment, it is his generosity that will come to the rescue.
Arriving at the hotel, Gabriel gives the cab driver "a shilling over his fare," generously overtipping in his excitement and expectation. But once inside, Gretta is cool to his advances. In the text he had composed for himself earlier, Gabriel calls her name as she is undressing and "then something in his voice would strike her. She would turn and look at him. . . . " Now, conditions intervene: he pronounces her name exactly when and how he had planned, but "her face looked so serious and weary that the words would not pass Gabriel's lips. No, it was not the moment yet." To create that moment, to extract some bit of sexual desire and response from Gretta, Gabriel embarks on small talk that is about neither more nor less than his generosity.
He informs her that he has been repaid the pound he had lent "that poor fellow Malins," and he does so in a voice that is as condescending as it is self-serving. For, according to Gabriel, Malins is "not a bad fellow at heart"; it is only "that Browne" who corrupts him. But Gretta annoys Gabriel by taking up the conversation seriously and asking when Gabriel lent Malins a pound. "Gabriel strove to restrain himself from breaking out into brutal language about the sottish Malins and his pound." In reality, of course, Gabriel cares nothing for Malins, who merely serves his poly to seduce Gretta with this deceptive tale of generosity—that is, even as Gabriel mentions he has been repaid, he uses his kind words about his debtor for other purposes. After answering Gretta, he is in "such a fever of rage and desire" that he does not even see her come toward him. Suddenly, she kisses him: "You are a very generous person, Gabriel, she said." Ironically, at the peak of his failure to be generous, he succeeds in appearing so: Gretta bestows the one word on her husband that can save him, literally, from his destructive mood.
Gabriel's response to this kiss and this word is inordinate, to say the least. It is as if his very identity had been preserved, and in a sense it has: "Gabriel, trembling with delight at her sudden kiss and at the quaintness of her phrase, put his hands on her hair and began smoothing it back. . . . " That Joyce should point out the quaintness of Gretta's remark, even for Gabriel, is important here; for the word generous reappears at a crucial point in the final paragraphs, and the interpretation of its significance and tone requires a knowledge of its genealogy in the story. Gabriel's delight is of course short-lived, for Gretta's gift is immediately followed by the story of her relationship with Michael Furey, an unexpected fiction that dashes Gabriel's hopes for the evening. And it is in the course of her revelations that Gabriel again has time to assess his appearance, this time with a "broad, well-filled shirtfront, the face whose expression always puzzled him when he saw it in a mirror and his glimmering gilt-rimmed eyeglasses." Gabriel's expression is puzzling because the masks that he has worn have become almost inseparable from any recognizable identity behind them, from any intentionality he can control. And the most inseparable, most indefinably elaborated mask of all is his generosity; when he questions Gretta about the song that preoccupies her, "a kinder note than he had intended went into his voice," as if the instinctive, reflex action of generosity as a defense mechanism was now in command. It is nothing other than this kinder note that will emerge to save him as he stares out at the snow.
Humiliated, then, by Gretta's story and the feeling that his "secret life" with her has been a sham, Gabriel suddenly reevaluates his image of himself: "A shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him. He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting as a pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealizing his own clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror." Finally, as many readers have surely said, Gabriel's illusions are shattered—he sees himself far more honestly now than he has ever done, he receives in fact a revelation of sorts. And, of course, were the story to end at this point, as "Araby" might be said to, there would be ample justification for such a conclusion. But the story does not end here. Further, there are two major dialectical turns we have by now become used to in "The Dead." First, whenever Gabriel is humiliated, no matter how profoundly, he always manages to recover, and the mechanism of this recovery is invariably a gesture of generosity, a show of self-sacrifice. Second, there is every reason to believe that Michael Furey, the figure around whom Gabriel's revelation materializes, is himself a product of the mythomania that so characterizes Dublin life.
To treat the second of these problems first: following the pattern of many at the party who live more in a heroic past than in a real, and often humiliating, present, Gretta fabricates the "legend" of Michael Furey, just as surely as Gabriel has fabricated his "secret life" with Gretta. What conjures Michael Furey out of the past for Gretta is a ballad that he supposedly sang and that ironically contains the story that Gretta tells Gabriel—with one interesting reversal. In Gretta's story, Michael Furey acts out "The Lass of Aughrim," becoming the legendary figure previously identified as an abandoned girl. Just as "The Lass of Aughrim" may have originated in conditions as mundane as "Lily, the caretaker's daughter," so Michael Furey—once only a sickly, almost pathetic gasworker—has now been reborn, through the internalized, mythmaking machinery evident throughout Dublin, as a noble, tragic hero who sacrifices himself for the one he loves. And Gabriel will try to follow his example.
Indeed, Gretta cannot separate the real individual from the mythological role he has come to play.8 When asked how he died, Gretta tragically replies, "I think he died for me." Gretta transforms Michael Furey into the one grand passion of her life by idealizing both his death and her love: he dies—not, as Gabriel suggests, from consumption—but for her; and the suggestion of Christ's death in her phrase is only accented by his standing in a garden "where there was a tree," as if crucified for her sake. Because she had tried to send Michael Furey away, she clearly feels some responsibility for his death; but it is just as apparent that she wants to feel guilty, that only by making herself responsible can she implicate herself in the noble, tragic tale she spins for Gabriel.
But the most important aspect of Gretta's story and her sorrow is Gabriel's response to them: he believes her, not in any simple and straightforward manner, but in a way guaranteed to emphasize Michael's legendary status, to expand the tragic myth she has already suggested. If Gretta has implicated herself in the "tragedy" of Michael Furey, Gabriel now proceeds to weave this tragedy around himself. And the device he uses is the saving power of his generosity:
She was fast asleep.
Gabriel, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments unresentfully on her tangled hair and half-open mouth, listening to her deep-drawn breath. So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He watched her while she slept as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife. His curious eyes rested long upon her face and on her hair: and, as he thought of what she must have been then, in that time of her girlish beauty, a strange friendly pity for her entered his soul. He did not like to say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful but he knew that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death. (my italics)
By quieting his desire in this contemplative, "confessional" way, Gabriel again achieves a strange kind of superiority, a position from which it is once more possible to judge, even magnanimously to feel pity. And if there was any doubt before of Michael Furey's ontological status, there should be none now. The phrasing of Gabriel's consciousness here—that "Michael Furey had braved death"—invests the story, almost comically, with legendary proportions: it is the diction of Gabriel's mythic heritage, a voice that packages and delivers Michael Furey to Gabriel's understanding ideologically wrapped and stamped, a hero for everyday use.
At this point Gabriel succumbs to sentimentality—a quality, or failing, that he seemed willing to castigate in himself only two pages earlier. Like that "poor fellow Malins" (a faked attempt at sentiment in its place), we now find (sincerely, it would seem) "Poor Aunt Julia!" Ironically, even when fabricating the story of her funeral, he can only do so by visualizing his appearance: "Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting in that same drawingroom, dressed in black, his silk hat on his knees." Gabriel's sentimentality and generosity are again complements of the way he would like others to see him, of how he would like to see himself. And principal among these considerations—especially after the account of Michael Furey—is the way he would like to be seen in death: "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." That is, not only does Gabriel accept Gretta's version of Michael Furey, but he begins to admire the boy's pitiful, decidedly unromantic death, probably from tuberculosis contracted in the gasworks. In this fit of romantic illusion, Gabriel is willing to see an early death as a preferable, noble substitute for the humiliation of his existence. It is as if the entire passage had been constructed specifically to illustrate Joyce's conviction, mentioned previously, "that the whole structure of heroism is, and always was, a damned lie." The juvenile heroism Gabriel extols here is purely the text of adventure he had hoped, and failed, to write with Gretta.
Thus, when we come to the sentence "Generous tears filled Gabriel's eyes," how can we not read that first word with skepticism? Can these tears possibly be tears of "baptism" or "rebirth," as so many commentators have described them, or are they instead the final, almost unrecognizable expression of the myth of generous self-sacrifice that has been unconsciously duplicitous, yet culturally authorized, throughout this text? In fact, as in many previous instances of free indirect discourse, the word generous here comes right out of the cultural mythology in which Gabriel is trapped. For it only repeats a sentiment that Gabriel had falsely extracted from Gretta earlier; it accurately reflects neither a narrator's objective evaluation nor a fully articulated, conscious lie on Gabriel's part. Rather, it is precisely the way Gabriel, as well as many of those around him, would see these tears—as an expression of Gabriel's sincere and selfless sympathy for Gretta, for Malins and Aunt Julia, for Michael Furey, for "all the living and the dead." And it is this naive, sentimental view of one's own conscious intentions—where self-sacrifice automatically leads to self-knowledge—that this narrative subverts.
In these final two paragraphs Gabriel attempts what he had longed to do in the previous one, and what he seems to have coveted throughout the story: to "pass boldly into that other world," to leap out of this world of conditions, of politics, of "rage and desire," to escape once and for all: "His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling." And as "the solid world itself," which has provided much humiliation for Gabriel, dissolves, the snow falls "all over Ireland" in a blanket that obliterates all the sources of that humiliation, all the contradictions and conflicts, all difference whatsoever. In a grandiose vision of identity, presided over by the heroic Michael Furey and what Ellmann calls the "imagery of Calvary," even the distinction that presumably makes such forces as rage and desire inevitable is erased: the distinction between the living and the dead. Gabriel has, miraculously, become pure spirit.
In fact, however, Gabriel in no way overcomes or transcends the conditions of his existence. Rather, he merely recapitulates them unconsciously in this self-pitying fantasy. If the guests he has addressed at the party, and Dubliners as a whole, value those "dead and gone great ones" to soothe their apprehension of cultural inferiority, and beyond that their metaphysical discontent, then Gabriel hardly rises above this petty, bourgeois attitude. To avoid being further humiliated by others, Gabriel must of course humiliate himself. In the name of Michael Furey, his legendary hero and personal saint, Gabriel sacrifices himself to the past, and to the dead, more profoundly than any of his compatriots does. Moreover, he appears completely assured of the sincerity of his gesture. That is, Gabriel has reproduced in himself, like his vision of Michael Furey, the most fundamental structuring device for heroism, generosity, self-knowledge, and spiritual transcendence in his culture: the story of Christ.
And this replication explains why, despite all the evidence, it has remained difficult for us to read the end of "The Dead" with anything approaching the skepticism Joyce felt in reading his own culture. For if we question Gabriel's motives here, far more is at stake than simply the interpretation of a particular character's behavior; the very institutions that produce and maintain the viability of those motives are held up for scrutiny. If Gabriel fools himself, if in the very process that we accept as self-discovery he only reimplicates himself blindly in the cultural conditions he longs to transcend, then we may simply be doing the same thing, in our reading, in our lives. And if it is the Christlike "hero" who is "the bloodiest imposter of all," then we are forced to question one of the most deeply embedded institutions of his entire culture—and ours. Gabriel may see "mystical" union with all humanity as the only possible escape from the real humiliation of his Dublin life. The question remains, Must we escape with him?
1 The principal model for this linkage of true being, self-sacrifice, and spiritual transcendence in the West is, of course, the life of Christ. In its extreme form, this model is an injunction and rationale for martyrdom: "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matt. 16.24-25). But elaborations of the model found throughout the letters of Paul broaden its scope: "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Cor. 12.10). The notion of abandoning a worldly self in order to find a "true self is central to Augustine and Erasmus and, in a modern secular fashion, to Schopenhauer: "If that veil of Maya, the principium individuationis, is lifted from the eyes of a man to such an extent that he no longer makes the egoistical distinction between himself and the person of others . . . then it follows automatically that such a man, recognizing in all beings his own true and innermost self, must also regard the endless sufferings of all that lives as his own. . . . Man attains to the state of voluntary renunciation, resignation, true composure, and complete willlessness" (Schopenhauer 1: 379). My reading of "The Dead" is grounded in Nietzsche's response to Schopenhauer's "ascetic ideal" and the Christian tradition as simultaneously powerful negations and unconscious preservations of suffering existence (see esp. the third essay in On the Genealogy of Morals, "What Is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals," 97-163).
2 More recent commentary, though approaching from different angles, largely ends up repeating these earlier attitudes toward the possibility of Gabriel's transcendence. For example, Donald Torchiana writes: " . . . if Gabriel has not helped usher in the imaginative revival that Yeats had urged on Ireland, and Joyce doubted, Gabriel has nevertheless come to some ancient Patrician accommodation and sympathy that blend the pagan joy and Christian circumspection that usually sit so ill together in Ireland" (130). Joanna Higgins concludes "that 'The Dead' is a story of the possibility of spiritual rejuvenation within a collection designed to create a chapter in the moral history of Ireland. Although it at first seems to close the death-watch circle begun in 'The Sisters,' what appears to be a poetic incorporation of Roman Catholic rhetoric and doctrine concerning death, resurrection, and judgement in the final sentence seems to open the circle to the possibility of moral strength through moral awareness" (207). And John B. Humma, while emphasizing ambiguity, warns: " . . . those critics who say that Gabriel is not restored to 'life' at the conclusion of the story must also contend with difficulties. There is, for instance, his soul's 'strange friendly pity' for Gretta. We are told that his eyes fill with 'generous tears,' suggesting purgation, or perhaps baptism" (208). No matter how ambiguously these readers draw their conclusions, they all see Gabriel's culminating "generosity" as proof of moral transformation achieved through self-knowledge. Thus, their own respect for the Christian "rhetoric and doctrine" occupying Gabriel's consciousness obscures for them the possibility that it may be this "occupation," as much as any other, that Joyce's story exposes. One notable exception to this tendency in recent criticism of "The Dead" is Joseph Buttigieg's antihumanist reappraisal of Joyce's work, with lenses provided by Nietzsche.
3 Edward Said has put the whole matter of the relation between the text and its position in the world as follows: " . . . worldliness, circumstantiality, the text's status as an event having sensuous particularity as well as historical contingency, are incorporated in the text, are an infrangible part of its capacity for conveying and producing meaning" (171).
4 As Derrida writes near the end of Speech and Phenomena: "The history of being as presence, as self-presence in absolute knowledge, as consciousness of self in the infinity of parousia—this history is closed" (102). The whole of Speech and Phenomena is, I think, crucial for understanding the problem of voice in modern literature—that is, literature after the death of "idealism" in Nietzsche. See Pecora.
5 The difficulty of examining voice in modern narrative in a more formal or structural context is amply demonstrated by the Miami University Research Group Experiment's analysis of "Araby," based on Seymour Chatman's Story and Discourse.
6 Georg Lukács provides the seminal elaboration of generic irony in the novel: "Irony, with intuitive double vision, can see where God is to be found in a world abandoned by God; irony sees the lost, Utopian home of the idea that has become an ideal, and yet at the same time it understands that the ideal is subjectively and psychologically conditioned, because that is its only possible form of existence . . . " (92). What a modern text like "The Dead" produces, in my view, is an implicit critique of the vision of that "lost, Utopian home," however tenuous and conditioned it may already appear in Lukács's analysis. Lukács himself addresses this issue in his own criticism of The Theory of the Novel (20).
7 Nietzsche's central texts in this respect are of course Beyond Good and Evil and On the Genealogy of Morals; as the preface to the Genealogy explains, "What was especially at stake was the value of the 'unegoistic,' the instincts of pity, self-abnegation, self-sacrifice, which Schopenhauer had gilded, deified, and projected into a beyond for so long that at last they became for him 'valuein-itself,' on the basis of which he said No to life and to himself (19).
8 Hugh Kenner concentrates on just this problem in "Eveline" as he demonstrates the inadequacy of more straightforward readings of Eveline's paralysis: "She has not sufficient sense of reality to be able to feel that she acted virtuously: a virtuous refusal is a refusal of recognized evil. She will never so much as know that Frank may have been less than Frank, but will live out her life in the consciousness of her onetime immobilizing terror" (Pound Era 38). What I would like to show is that behind superficial fictions like Eveline's about Frank there is a structuring of intentions that makes problematic the very idea of a "sufficient sense of reality" and that directs our attention to the institutions that enable this structuring.
Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis. Trans. Willard R. Trask. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1974.
Augustine. Confessions. Trans. John K. Ryan. New York: Image, 1960.
Brown, H. O. James Joyce's Early Fiction. Cleveland: Case Western Reserve UP, 1972.
Burke, Kenneth. "'Stages' in 'The Dead.'" Joyce, Dubliners 410-16.
Buttigieg, Joseph. "The Struggle against Meta (Phantasma)-physics: Nietzsche, Joyce and the 'Excess of History.'" Boundary 2 10 (1981): 187-204.
Derrida, Jacques. Speech and Phenomena. Trans. David Allison. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1973.
Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. New York: Oxford UP, 1965.—
——, ed. Letters of James Joyce. 3 vols. New York: Viking, 1966.
Erasmus, Desiderius. The Praise of Folly. Trans. H. H. Hudson. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1969.
Foucault, Michel. "Language to Infinity." Language, Countermemory, Practice. Ed. Donald F. Bouchard. Trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1977. 53-67.
——. The Order of Things. Trans, of Les mots et les choses. New York: Vintage, 1973.
Higgins, Joanna. "A Reading of the Last Sentence of 'The Dead.'" English Language Notes 17 (1980): 203-07.
Humma, John B. "Gabriel and the Bedsheets: Still Another Reading of the Ending of 'The Dead.'" Studies in Short Fiction 10 (1973): 207-09.
Joyce, James. Dubliners. Ed. Robert Scholes and A. Walton Litz. New York: Penguin, 1976.
——. Finnegans Wake. New York: Penguin, 1976.
——. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Ed. Chester G. Anderson. New York: Penguin, 1977.
——. Ulysses. New York: Vintage, 1961.
Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. F. Max Müller. Garden City: Anchor-Doubleday, 1966.
Kenner, Hugh. The Counterfeiters. Garden City: Anchor-Doubleday, 1973.
——. The Pound Era. Berkeley: U of California P, 1974. Lukács, Georg. The Theory of the Novel. Trans. Anna Bostock. Cambridge: MIT P, 1971.
Miami University Research Group Experiment. "Analyzing 'Araby' as Story and Discourse: A Summary of the MURGE Project." James Joyce Quarterly 18 (1981): 237-54.
The New Testament. Authorized Edition.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1966.
——. On the Genealogy of Morals. Trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale. New York: Vintage, 1967.
Pecora, Vincent. "Heart of Darkness and the Phenomenology of Voice." ELH 52 (1985): 993-1015.
Said, Edward. "The Text, the World, the Critic." Textual Strategies. Ed. J. V. Harari. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1979. 161-88.
Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World as Will and Representation. Trans. E. F. J. Payne. 2 vols. New York: Dover, 1969.
Tate, Allen. "'The Dead.'" Joyce, Dubliners 404-09.
Torchiana, Donald. "The Ending of 'The Dead': I Follow Saint Patrick." James Joyce Quarterly 18 (1981): 123-32.
Walzl, Florence. "Gabriel and Michael: The Conclusion of 'The Dead.'" Joyce, Dubliners 423-43.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5428
SOURCE: "The Dead' as Novella," in James Joyce Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 2, Winter, 1991, pp. 485-97.
[In the following essay, Loe contends that the true genre of "The Dead" is the novella, and explores the work's theme and narrative technique in terms of this genre. ]
The fact that "The Dead" is a novella has been too long neglected or casually noted. Besides the length necessary to qualify it for the 15,000 to 50,000 word category usually assigned to the novella or short novel, "The Dead" possesses a form that resembles the typical novella, a form significantly different from Joyce's other fiction. While viewing the story from this perspective may not radically change its interpretations or resolve its ambiguities, it may strengthen the view that "The Dead" represents a distinct stage in the development of Joyce's art and attitudes, perhaps as a progression from the lyrical towards the more embracing epical that Stephen describes in his theory of genres in A Portrait. In any case, approaching "The Dead" as a novella should help define its formal patterns and its orientation toward theme and, at the same time, support the notion of its deliberate thematic ambiguity that has been observed by a number of interpreters.
William York Tindall has observed that, in contrast to the other stories in Dubliners, "The Dead" is
denser, more elaborate, and by every common standard greater. . . . Of intermediate length, neither story nor novel, it claims a place beside Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," Mann's Death in Venice, and other fictions of a kind which, by subtlety, seems suited to an age that Gabriel calls "thought-tormented" and, by form, to an age neither here nor there.1
Certainly in terms of its form and concern with theme "The Dead" may be usefully compared with other novellas; it belongs, then, in the company of works as diverse as The Fox, The Metamorphosis, Pale Horse, Pale Rider, The Awakening, Innocent Eréndira, and Seize the Day. Although Heart of Darkness may be a more obvious prototype of the modern novella, as I have argued elsewhere,2 "The Dead" reflects the half dozen salient features and the distinctively modernist blend of the real and metaphorical that distinguish the genre.
The novella in the twentieth century surely owes a great deal to Boccaccio, the Italian novella, and the nineteenthcentury refinements of the form, especially those from Germany, as Graham Good and Charles May have observed in their histories of the genre.3 The modern novella is, however, more a product of the fin de siècle concern of blending the illustrative and the representational. What distinguishes the particular character of the modern novella is its emphasis on theme—associated with the didactic, clear-cut exemplum of the older novella tradition—as combined with the experiments in mimetic realism and symbolism of the modern period. The relatively direct and yet noncausal plot, restricted and enhanced setting, and few characters of the typical novella have always given it a thematic emphasis that makes it resemble the fable or parable and has distinguished it from the realism of the short story and the novel. Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg, for instance, associate the novella with the "intellectual control" that characterizes satire.4 Mary Doyle Springer finds the theme-oriented "apologue" a prominent mode and useful way of describing much modern intermediate-length fiction in her careful, full-length study of the form. 5 Howard Nemerov contends that "almost all the great pieces in this genre [share an] outright concentration upon the traditional problems of philosophy" and a "direct and profound moral concern." 6 But although the thematic concerns that distinguish the form remain, the didactic certainty of the older tradition frequently disappears in the ambivalent, baffling, or paradoxical symbolism that characterizes the mix of style and theme in much of the fiction of the modern period. One need only compare Rasselas to Heart of Darkness to see the marked difference in handling thematic messages between an author from an age defined by the strength of its moral convictions and an author from an age questioning that certitude.
The concern with theme and the apparent ambivalence of meaning is one of the features of "The Dead" that sets it apart from the short stories and makes it such a popular source for speculative interpretation. Joyce's achievements in developing the realism of Dubliners have been well documented and are accepted as facts of literary history. Both the short stories and "The Dead" demonstrate Joyce's uncompromising dedication to his own perceptions of realism. But "The Dead" was written significantly later than the other stories; in fact, the difficulty in getting Dubliners published also gave Joyce much time between completing a draft of the series and the writing of "The Dead" in 1906 and 1907 (James Joyce, 1982). Many critics believe that during this period Joyce's attitude towards Ireland mellowed and that his more tolerant views are integrated into the final story (James Joyce, 1982). Certainly the motif of paralysis of a spiritually dead society that unifies the earlier stories appears to be ameliorated by the possibility of rejuvenation in "The Dead." 7 This new attitude, revealing itself in the open-ended thematic nature of its final scene, is well suited to the thematic emphases and distanced realism afforded by the modern novella. Eminently adapted to entertain "thought-tormented" (Dubliners) issues, but not necessarily resolve them, the typical point of view, treatment of characters, structural peculiarities, and enhanced imagery of the novella offer an ideal mode of expression.
The creation of a deliberate distance through point of view to emphasize theme is one of the most easily recognizable and consistent features of the novella. The point of view is typically restricted to one character while revealing the set of circumstances with a detachment that makes the action seem like an exemplum. An "uninvolved" and yet intense perspective is the usual effect, like that through the omniscient point of view focused around Winterbourne in Daisy Miller. Several other techniques will accomplish this same sort of detachment: Heart of Darkness and Turn of the Screw have multiple narrators and relate events retrospectively; The Fox slips back and forth from an omniscient point of view to a point of view limited to one character or another; and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe breaks occasionally from a mixture of limited third-person and omniscient perspectives into direct addresses to its audience that amount to straightforward exposition. Such narrative devices contribute to the making of a "frame" for the novella that Graham Good argues "makes it more receptive than the novel to communal wisdom, practical guidance, or explicit reflections on the human condition."8
The shifts in point of view in "The Dead" resemble most closely those of The Fox; they work to develop an intimate revelation of character while, conversely, showing that character to be universally representative and metaphorical. The restricted point of view of "The Dead" reveals the workings of Gabriel's mind by revealing his innermost thoughts, while at the same time the shifts to a more omniscient point of view disrupt sympathetic identification with him. The attitude of the omniscient narrator towards Gabriel is incorporated into the texture of the story in a more complicated fashion than it is in the short stories of Dubliners. The cheval-glass in which Gabriel views himself in the hotel room near the conclusion of the story helps illustrate this double view: readers can see him as the omniscient narrator sees him, objectively, as a character representing specific values, and concurrently being privy to his own flow of thoughts as he views himself. Gabriel's problem is that he lacks the distance to judge himself correctly, and the story moves to show him acquiring the distance he needs. In this way the shifting point of view supports its theme. This multi-level point of view, typical of the novella, achieves what John Huston's recent film version of "The Dead" cannot: a perspective distanced and intimate at once. The complications in the point of view of "The Dead," consequently, seem to be an ideal way for entertaining different possibilities of meaning while advancing a narrative; its mixture of authority in the points of view certainly promotes interpretative perspectives without providing conclusive answers for the issues raised by those perspectives.
Creating ironies or levels of meaning is particularly important to the novella where ordinary events often coalesce to take on special meaning; the shifting perspectives of "The Dead" help push the significance of everyday happenings into a symbolic universe where they assume extraordinary possibilities of meaning. At one level readers can see Gabriel as he sees himself: "a ludicrous figure, acting as a pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealising his own clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror" (Dubliners). Yet he is more considerate and capable of more compassion and empathy than he gives himself credit for, as several critics have pointed out. The abstraction of him through the fluctuating intimate and omniscient points of view allows him to be identified with an accumulation of images that acquires meaning as the events progress. The alternating points of view allow him to emerge as a classic example of the prototypical novella hero described by Howard Nemerov:
a man of the middle class, rational, worldly, either rather stupid or of a somewhat dry intelligence and limited vision, plunged into the domain of the forbidden, extravagant, and illicit, the life of the impulses beneath or the life of compulsive and punitive authority above, both of them equally regions in which every detail gains fatal significance.
The point of view in "The Dead" also leads to a standardized arrangement of characters typical of its genre. Generally only one character is developed in depth, but that character becomes significantly involved with other characters. The realism of the main character helps provide a way of keeping the action believable and prevents it from becoming blatantly or simply allegorical. Because they lack development, the other characters often seem to be more abstract and to represent metaphorical values. The economy with which the characters are constructed in the novella has led Dean Flower, for one, to construct a schematic description for what he sees as a triadic arrangement of characters for the novella. 9 One character, closely identified with the point of view, is true to life, according to Flower, while another is more stylized and often represents values hidden or concealed in the more realistic character. The third character is frequently more like a force than an individual and operates as a catalyst, precipitating a confrontation to provoke new insight or providing at least a disruption of complacently held values. The first two juxtaposed characters often seem to be opposites but generally contain hidden similarities which are difficult to articulate. This arrangement may be why the figure of the double, the Doppelgänger, is so prevalent in the novella. Marlow's loyalty to Kurtz, caught against the symbolic darkness of the jungle, represents Marlow's recognition of his participation in the wasteland of modern civilization, while Dr. Jekyll's commitment to Mr. Hyde in their seamy Victorian habitat reveals the depth of his own hypocrisy and repression. Aschenbach's quest after the elusive Tadzio in the diseased decadence of Venice reveals the seeds of destruction present in himself. In Pale Horse, Pale Rider Miranda's doomed struggle for love with Adam, who seems to represent all she despises about war, shows how pervasive, how palpable, such a force can become within someone who tries to avoid it. All three of the main figures acting in novellas can become characters, of course, within the varying degrees of realism and development possible for the novella's intermediate length. Henry destroys and subsumes the place of the fox in order to precipitate the action necessary for breaking up the relationship between March and Banford just as Tommy Wilhelm in Seize the Day invents the father he needs in the elusive charlatan Dr. Tamkin, when his own father refuses him. Amelia creates her distorted version of love in her cousin Lymon after she rejects Marvin Marcy's chauvinism in The Ballad of the Sad Cafe. Love triangles offer an ideal way for the novella to capitalize on the familiarity of an archetypal situation and still retain its realistic dimension. This is the arrangement of characters subtly utilized for maximum ambivalence and impact in "The Dead."
A major contribution to the genre is the way "The Dead" uses its love triangle to synthesize the values of traditional Ireland into an identification with Michael Furey and infuse them into Gabriel's consciousness. Much has been written about this subject, and the relationship has been examined closely in such articles as John and Ruth Boyd's analysis which emphasizes similarities as well as differences between the two men and their "continuity" with the rest of humanity revealed by their relationship with Gretta, "a theme which is partly obscured if one stresses only their opposition." 10 Perhaps no more need be said about what values these three characters might represent, except to emphasize how "The Dead" follows the usual method of the novella in associating those values anathematic to Gabriel for the bulk of the story with Michael Furey and a more sympathetic identification at its conclusion. Through a connection created by Gretta, Michael Furey becomes associated with past Irish values and allows Gabriel a flash of insight into himself. Like Marlow's paradoxical loyalty to Kurtz, Gabriel's identification with the dead Michael Furey, signified by his "Generous tears" (Dubliners), seems to affirm the recognition of his inexplicable ties with the rest of humanity, past and present, signified by the bond of mortality.
This giving up of his former self is consistent with the conclusions of many novellas, from Heart of Darkness through The Ebony Tower, that indicate the way to find one's self lies not in self-assertion, but in denial of self. It also supports Nemerov's contention that the philosophical question most frequently addressed by the novella is that of identity. The figure of Michael Furey thus provides the love triangle of "The Dead" with an elegantly compact, but still complex epiphanic counterpoint to the earlier flow of events. The nature of this counterpoint could be compared to the situation of "Araby," where the disillusionment that disrupts the quest of the narrator is more typical of the short story because it does not assume all the forcefulness or extended complications it does in "The Dead." The complications that Michael Furey represents could be compared as well with the more direct meaning of what the clay represents in "Clay." "The Dead" could also be compared to "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" which Ellmann has pointed out also derives its "central agitation" from the absence of a character (James Joyce, 1982). To a large extent this short story depends upon the reader's familiarity with Parnell and his impact on Ireland; as a novella "The Dead" is much more self-referential and generates meaning for Michael Furey. So, like many novellas, "The Dead" has three distinct primary figures in Gabriel, Michael, and Gretta, who are very unequal in their realistic presentation and metaphorical import. Dealing with the intricate portrayal of characters from this perspective would especially seem to confirm that "The Dead" is worthwhile examining as a novella rather than a short story; its resonance comes as a result of the complexity resulting from the analogical mix of realism and metaphor, not merely because of slightly more extended action. The novella's distinctiveness accrues, in Nemerov's words, because "every detail balances another so as to produce great riches of meaning not so much symbolically in a direct sense as by constellation and patterning."
Plot is secondary in a novella because the real dynamics of the genre lie in the confrontations of problems with identity in its characters' minds. Nevertheless, or even perhaps because of this, the actions among characters that make up the events and communicate progression in the typical modern novella are also distinctive to its genre. The well documented modernist disillusionment with established systems, especially systems of explaining perception and thinking, is often reflected in the narrative sequence of the twentieth-century novella, perhaps because of the suitability of its brief form for experimenting with expressions of an abstract or philosophical nature. Criticism in the last twenty years has been preoccupied with discovering and describing different kinds of narrative structures, and "The Dead" rewards such investigations, judging by the amount written about it. Like most novellas, "The Dead" does not progress importantly in a causal or rational fashion. Since the non-rational cannot be expressed well in words or through clear-cut cause and effect, the tendency in "The Dead" and many other subsequent novellas is to depend upon images that appear to assume a special significance when they fuse together through repetition and memory to take shape as motifs. As a result, the settings of novellas may take on a Gothic-like intensity or the appearance of distortion in order to emphasize the primacy of their imagery. This sort of dislocated and spatial arrangement appears to be what Northrop Frye would identify as a distinguishing feature of the intellectual or thematically oriented "anatomy" or "confession" as opposed to the causal arrangement of more mimetic narrative.11 Judith Liebowitz's book-length study of the importance of repetitive structures in the novella examines how repetition can help generate the thematic complexity that distinguishes the genre.12 In such a way the fabula of many novellas is often supported indirectly by the apparent casualness of its particular sujet; Gabriel's story takes on meaning through both his own and the reader's perception of the significance of impressions that are communicated through images and the motifs that link them.
As a consequence of this sort of design, the surface narrative patterns of modern novellas may appear to be nothing more than loosely chronological arrangements. Such patterns easily take on archetypal shapes, especially that of the journey or quest. The chronological quest may be represented either literally, like Heart of Darkness and Death in Venice, or more compactly and metaphorically, like The Metamorphosis and "The Dead." "The Dead" especially emphasizes the notion of the journey through a culmination of imagery: Gabriel and Gretta's arrival at the Misses Morkan's house, the discussion of their journey and previous journeys, Miss Ivors' teasing about the possibility of a journey to the west of Ireland, Gabriel's talk about his trips to the continent, the journey to the hotel, and Gabriel's final "journey westward" (Dubliners). Unless a reader is highly skilled, it is only in retrospect that such images take on the special significance of a quest and have meaning attached to them, just as it is difficult for Gabriel to perceive how their final meanings will fuse together for him. Clearly the distance usually present in the novella helps allow for critical judgments about such patterning, both for the reader and for the protagonist.
One frequent result of the distance in the novella is that its design resembles archetypal forms of myth and reflects an inability to extract oneself from the incomprehensible patterns governing our lives. This tendency supports Nemerov's claim that because of their "ideal and primary form" novellas share their peculiar emphasis on fate with "the tragedies of antiquity." The novella also resembles ancient tragedy in the way that it reaffirms its protagonist's bonds with the rest of humanity, even though not always in ways that are understandable or can be acknowledged. The use of such patterns and ideas in "The Dead" may well anticipate Joyce's use of mythic patterns in his later novels, especially in Ulysses, where an individual's movements are subsumed in the archetypal. The searches for identity expressed within the compactness of the novella can often be seen clearly as archetypal rituals of initiation and journeys of self-discovery. Such narrative structures are most apparent in a work like "The Bear," but they form a structural matrix for the genre as a whole. As journeys they are deliberately presented in a fashion imperfectly understood by their protagonists because the truths they reveal are based on intuition; the protagonists must learn to undertake such journeys even though they may contrast with the protagonists' beliefs. Consequently the aura of the endeavor takes on a symbolic overtone in which the characters themselves become aware of the metaphorical significance of what is occurring to them. The narrator's perception of the "symbolic" flame of the rigging light which prefigures Leggatt's appearance in The Secret Sharer13 is an example of this, as is Tommy Wilhelm's awareness that he is embarking on one of the "ten decisions" that make up "the history of his life" at the beginning of Seize the Day,14 or the "mythic and timeless" setting of Coët in The Ebony Tower that to David Williams was "intensely symbolic" and "pervasive in the mood if tenuous in the actual symbolism."15 The final shift in Gabriel's frame of mind that allows him to perceive that it was "time .. . to set out on his journey westward" (Dubliners) is a similar example of an individual who recognizes the metaphoric import of the situation in which he is involved. Such an awareness generates a metafictional cast for both protagonists and readers of novellas. In this curiously distancing narrative trait which invites interpretation and stresses dual levels of significance, the novella surpasses all other prose except allegory. For this reason the novella as it is practiced in the twentieth century could be argued to be the modern mode of allegory. The forerunner of the journey in the modern novella is the journey of The Pilgrim's Progress, Rasselas, or Candide.
The shape of the journey in many modern novellas is often circular, perhaps because, as Graham Good writes, "The novella is a closed form whose end is latent in its beginning." 16 The novella's circling narrative and thematic structure reaffirm the importance of the circle, of the patterns of repetition and return so common to modern literature in general, such as Yeats's "Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold";17 and Eliot's "We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time."18 Similarly, Gabriel's story of never-to-be-forgotten Johnny circling King Billy's statue reinforces the image of the circling journey in "The Dead." Just as Marlow returns to Brussels, or Miranda returns from the dead, so in the final scene does Gabriel return to the Ireland he has been trying to avoid. The colors, the objects and pictures in the house, the clothing and appearances of people, the snow, and the other detailed images of the opening scene that have been delineated so frequently prefigure the final situation and its pattern of return. The short length of the novella often makes it appear that such "quests" are inevitable or are fated to be thrust upon unwilling participants, just as they are on Gabriel, and the "return" at the conclusion seems necessary to signify clearly the change in attitude the protagonist has undergone. One result of this circular narrative structure common in the modern novella is the presence of a final reflective epilogue which serves to emphasize the self-contained frame and the revelation of the novella's theme.
The reflective or introspective nature of its epilogue is another thematic similarity the novella shares with the Bildungsroman and the Künstlerroman. For the novella, however, the stream of experiences usually culminates in a rush of insight when the main character finally identifies with the double, often, as Howard Nemerov points out, with the "dissolution" of that double. The escape of Leggati, leaving the narrator-captain of The Secret Sharer with both an exorcism of a troublesome but crucial Doppelgänger and a way to prove his newly found confidence, is a clear example. The disappearance of Tadzio precipitates Aschenbach's confrontation with the force he has indirectly been pursuing. The death of the fox brings into open conflict the battle of dominance and submission between Henry and March. Likewise, the rush of insight, the epiphanic nature of the novella seen so clearly in "The Dead," occurs when Gabriel finally comes to a new understanding through an identification with Michael Furey. The depiction of this understanding through imagery anticipates the stages of A Portrait, where they are assisted by the interactions of a more sustained nature possible in the cumulative form of the novel.
Because novellas tend to entertain themes of internal changes not easily articulated, however, they tend to lack the progressive interconnections of the Bildungsroman. Gabriel's refusal to be moved by Molly Ivors' arguments earlier in the story seems to show how his final change has defied the sort of logical sequences that might be expected in more lengthy narratives. Instead, novellas frequently express the non-rational orientation of their themes in terms of contradictory behavior or paradoxical action. Using paradox is one way for the novella to expose the artifices of formal structure. The insights gained from such actions obviously do not lend themselves to rational explanations, and "The Dead" seems to underscore this particular feeling through Gabriel's own criticism of a "thought-tormented age," with its "hypereducated" and "serious" "new generation" which "will lack those qualities of humanity, of hospitality, of kindly humour" (Dubliners). The irony, as several critics have observed, is that these descriptions can be seen to apply to himself and, even though he can articulate these sentiments, he lacks a real understanding of the values he is expressing until the final scene. In other words, although Gabriel's terms serve to state abstractly the theme of the story, his very confidence and ability to articulate these ideas are undercut by his failure to comprehend them, as demonstrated by the revelation that occurs in the final scene. "The Dead," like many other novellas, ends with a reversal that seems to defy the expected outcome and suggests still different, more open-ended thematic possibilities. The contradictory "silver and dark" (Dubliners) flakes of snow that provide the medium of expression for Gabriel's new understanding show the ability of the mind to reconcile opposites, without clarifying exactly what values those opposites represent. The ominous rejuvenation of Gregor Samsa's family at the end of The Metamorphosis, Marlow's lie, Miranda's resurrection into a dead world, and Henry and March's despairing vision of hope for themselves in the new world all seem to be examples of similar types of paradoxical epilogues.
Gabriel's final understanding resembles the death of the individual ego found in many other novellas. His discovery is consistent with those of other protagonists who come to identify with a larger humanity or at least discover that their individual ambitions and beliefs are more relative and less important than a sympathetic identification with a fallible world. The effacing of self and acceptance of one's fate that follows are represented in the novella as an achievement, as a kind of negative capability that serves to quell the irritable reaching after the hard facts that demarcate an individual's egocentric uniqueness. The apparent plot of "The Dead" is an ironic one because like other novellas it is based on naive, innocent, or inadequate understanding of what an individual shares with others. The final epilogues of novellas using such patterns of discovery collapse the earlier story into a final flash of insight, which might in the eighteenth century have been didactic, but in the twentieth century more often reflects modernist reservations about the ability to direct one's life or find happiness. These reservations are expressed through deliberately ambiguous conclusions set off from the main action, and they show that the insight gained may lead to paralysis, impotence, or withdrawal, but certainly a diminishing of self. Revelation of the true nature of reality appears to be an incapacitating knowledge, and it is a rare twentieth-century novella protagonist who gains the strength necessary to participate actively in the world again. An identification with a more knowledgeable or experienced alter ego who has been overcome by the world clearly discourages participation in that world. Even those endings that appear positive are highly qualified: The Secret Sharer seems to be one example that suggests one individual's ability to gain confidence from a unique psychological bonding. "The Bear" shows another qualified optimism, where Ike McCaslin survives, but only through understanding the ritual process of selfrenunciation. In the context of other novellas, "The Dead" could be regarded as being receptive to such a highly personal insight.
"The Dead" shows an individual overwhelmed by his milieu but given the gift of understanding his place in that milieu. Comparing this conclusion with the very different conclusion of A Portrait gives credence to Harry Levin's belief that Gabriel represents "what Joyce might have become, had he remained in Ireland."19 Or, one could argue, Gabriel represents what might have become of Joyce had he not chosen to practice his art, the action Camus believes is the counter to despair. "The Dead" shares the novella's distrust of absolute truth, and the main point of its epilogue seems to suggest the relative nature of truth and need for a recognition of one's fate and one's bond with the rest of humanity. Night attracted Joyce, according to Richard Ellmann, because the sleep it brings "is the great democratizer: in their dreams people become one, and everything about them becomes one" (James Joyce, 1982). It is important to remember that not only do Joyce's novels blend into night, but that "The Dead" does as well.
None of these narrative patterns or thematic concerns is absolutely unique to the novella, of course, and any genre study must be qualified by understanding that genres are only theoretical notions and do not have an objective existence. Part of the difficulty in working with concepts of genre is that definitions must necessarily change with each new work that is considered and that they are never complete. The tremendous advantage of thinking in terms of genre, however, is that it establishes a vocabulary for comparisons by which achievements can be judged. Even though other narrative forms use the conventions attributed to the novella, this set of conventions is more consistently discovered in the novella than elsewhere. Viewing "The Dead" through these conventions shows Joyce's single foray into the form to be a significant one, and it enhances his reputation for artistic control. It also helps to locate the key thematic concerns of the story and enlarges our understanding of them. Most important, it helps establish a context for clarifying literary relationships among Joyce and other practitioners of the novella who possess the craft and intellectual honesty to invest common events and persons with uncommon significance and thereby embody in their work the moral concerns that are central to modern life and the modern personality.
1 William York Tindall, A Reader's Guide to James Joyce (New York: Noonday-Farrar, Straus, 1959), p. 42.
2 Thomas Loe, "Heart of Darkness and the Form of the Short Novel," Conradiana, 20 (1988), 33-44.
3 Graham Good, "Notes on the Novella," Novel, 10 (1977), 197211; and Charles E. May, "The Novella," in Critical Survey of Long Fiction, English Language Series, vol. 8, ed. Frank N. Magill (Englewood Cliffs: Salem Press, 1983), pp. 3213-352.
4 Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg, The Nature of Narrative (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1966), p. 108.
5 Mary Doyle Springer, Forms of the Modern Novella (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1975), p. 10.
6 Howard Nemerov, "Composition and Fate in the Short Novel," The Graduate Journal, 5 (1963), rpt. in his Poetry and Fiction: Essays (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1963), p. 235. Further references to this work are cited parenthetically in the text as N.
7 See, for example, Florence Walzl, "Dubliners," in A Companion to Joyce Studies, ed. Zack Bïwen and James F. Carens (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984), p. 214, or Donald T. Torchiana, Backgrounds for Joyce's "Dubliners" (Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1986), p. 130.
8 Good, p. 210.
9 Dean S. Flower, Introduction, Eight Short Novels, ed. Dean S. Flower (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, 1967), p. 25.
10 John D. Boyd and Ruth A. Boyd, "The Love Triangle in Joyce's 'The Dead,'" University of Toronto Quarterly, 42 (1973), 212.
11 Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1957), pp. 307-09.
12 Judith Leibowitz, Narrative Purpose in the Novella (The Hague: Mouton, 1974).
13 Joseph Conrad, The Secret Sharer, in Heart of Darkness and the Secret Sharer, ed. Albert J. Guerard (New York: Signet-NAL, 1950), p. 23.
14 Saul Bellow, Seize the Day (New York: Compass-Viking, 1961), p. 23.
15 John Fowles, The Ebony Tower (London: Jonathan Cape, 1974), pp. 61, 48, 57.
16 Good, p. 211.
17 William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming," in The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (London: Macmillan, 1961), pp. 210-11.
18 T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding," in Collected Poems and Plays of T.S. Eliot (London: Faber and Faber, 1969), p. 197.
19 Harry Levin, Editor's Preface to Dubliners, in The Portable James Joyce (New York: Viking, 1957), p. 39.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4668
SOURCE: "Distant Music: Sound and the Dialogics of Satire in 'The Dead,"' in James Joyce Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 2, Winter, 1991, pp. 473-83.
[In the following essay, Avery proposes that close attention to the language used in "The Dead" reveals a crucial separation of the narrative voice from that of the main character, Gabriel ]
"The Dead" stands in curious relation to the other stories of Dubliners, Joyce added it late to the collection, after a letter of May 5, 1906, to Grant Richards, in which Joyce declares his intention to write "a chapter in the moral history" of Ireland (Letters of James Joyce, vol. II, 1966). "The Dead" does not seem to share the same moral perspective as the stories comprising the original version of Dubliners. On the contrary—Ellmann, citing the evidence of the letters, asserts that Joyce "had to come to a more indulgent view of Ireland" (James Joyce, 1982; Letters of James Joyce, vol. II, 1966) to write "The Dead." Many critics, in fact, claim that "The Dead" offers a breath—albeit a chilly one—of hope that someone, at least, can escape from the psychic death enshrouding Dublin.1 Others reject this reading, arguing that Gabriel, like the rest of the Dubliners, remains locked within a prison of self-regard. 2 Either way, most critics argue that the story creates a perspective that invites some kind of judgment of Gabriel, one that the narrator makes and seeks to implicate the reader in: either Gabriel achieves transcendence or he does not. I will argue here that these arguments suffer from insufficient attention to the shifting relationship of the narrator's voice to the other voices in the text, and that we need to look at Gabriel and the narrator differently, because the narrator does not implicate us in a judgment of Gabriel for the simple reason that by the end of "The Dead," he is unable to make any judgment of his own for fear that in so doing he would invite the same fate for himself.
For all their paralysis, the characters in the final story of Dubliners make plenty of noise. Of course, since the Misses Morkan's annual party is a dance, one would expect music and laughter. Yet the narrator in "The Dead" seems, even so, peculiarly earnest in his desire to listen to the sounds of the evening. If we listen as well, we notice that the text includes more than acute perceptions of musical sounds; the narrator also pointedly characterizes the tone of spoken words to indicate nuances of meaning. With further close attention we hear subtle tonal variations in the narrative voice itself. It becomes clear that the narrator, through his language, wants to judge the characters' intentions by listening as much to the sounds of their discourse as to the words they speak, but this strategy calls attention to the tonality of his own discourse. This essay will seek to show that in the early pages of the story the relation of the narrator's language to that of the characters is satiric.3 But in the dialogic workings of the narrative the narrator's language eventually turns its attention away from Gabriel and toward the listener, and the carefully controlled relation of narrator, satiric object, and reader shift.4 With this shift the clamorous narrative of "The Dead" subsides into the famous silence of its final paragraph.
From the start of "The Dead" we are made to understand that music figures prominently in the Morkan household. We learn early that Aunt Kate, Aunt Julia, and Mary Jane make their modest living by giving music lessons, and Aunt Julia, "though she was quite grey, was still the leading soprano in Adam and Eve's" (Dubliners). Of course music guides the dances, but the narrator notices a peculiar power the piano seems to hold over the characters here. Again and again, he shows us actions prompted by the stop or start of the piano. The rhythmic collusion between music and motion extends beyond the parlor floor—all the party, it seems, is a dance.
The narrator tells us that "a final flourish of the pianist told that the waltz had ended" (Dubliners). Soon after, Mr. Browne's faux pas with the ladies precedes Mary Jane, "as the piano had twice begun the prelude to the first figure" (Dubliners), leading the ladies and two gentlemen from the room, having drafted them for quadrilles. Two pages later we learn that "four young men, who had come from the refreshment-room to stand in the doorway at the sound of the piano, had gone away quietly in couples after a few minutes" (Dubliners). They return to the room applauding "when the piano had stopped" (Dubliners). Music dominates these scenes; it even affects the language of the narrator, whose figures compose aural images drawn from the terminology of music. He describes Gretta giving off a "peal of laughter" (Dubliners), associating her outburst with the sound of bells. The three faceless ladies at good Mr. Browne's elbow laugh "in musical echo to his pleasantry (Dubliners). Freddy Malins we hear "laughing heartily in a high key" (Dubliners), and one page later he coughs out "high-pitched bronchitic laughter" (Dubliners).
Music provokes key developments in the plot as well. Contentiousness ripples over a dinner conversation on opera and the tenor voice; after smoothing things over the crowd salutes the Misses Morkan with a song (For they are jolly gay fellows). When Gabriel idealizes Gretta he decides to call his mental portrait Distant Music. And finally, Gretta's confession at the end of the story results from her association of Michael Furey—a good singer, she mentions—with the song she heard Bartell D'Arcy singing, The Lass of Aughrim. So many musical references in the text signal that this narrative is concerned with hearing and sound in much the same way that "Araby" concerns itself with vision and sight.5
And looking back we remember that as the story begins in the Misses Morkan's doorway a "wheezy hall-door elang[s]" Dubliners). The narrator, upon Gabriel's entrance, attends to the "squeaking noise" Dubliners) the buttons on Gabriel's coat make as he flicks them out of their holes. Clearly, this narrator has good ears. But then so does Gabriel. Leaving the cloakroom, he smiles patronizingly at the sound of Lily's pronunciation of his name Dubliners). Next his attention is diverted by the stamping and shaking sounds of the dance floor above him, after which he "listened for a moment to the piano" (Dubliners). Shortly thereafter Gabriel essays some conversation with Lily, and we notice that his motive cannot be a genuine dialogue; he merely wants to convey the friendliness appropriate to the season:
—Tell me, Lily, he said in a friendly tone, do you still go to school?
—O no, sir, she answered. I' m done schooling this year and more.
—O, then, said Gabriel gaily, I suppose we'll be going to your wedding one of these fine days with your young man, eh?
The girl glanced back at him over her shoulder and said with great bitterness:—The men that is now is only all palaver and what they can get out of you. (Dubliners, emphasis mine)
Notice here that the narrator characterizes the tonal quality of Gabriel's speech: a friendly tone, gaily spoken. Gabriel wants to communicate a mood, a feeling, to Lily by saying any old thing in a nice tone. But he loads this feeling onto a set of words that, in this context, will not carry it. Lily responds to the literal meaning of the words because, perhaps, she as a servant is not part of the festivities from which Gabriel's gaiety rises. Flustered, Gabriel thrusts a coin into her hand.
He next hears the "indelicate clacking" of the dancers' shoes above, and this sound reminds him that "their grade of culture differed from his" (Dubliners). Gabriel, panicking, decides his annual toast to the Misses Morkan will fail. If Lily took him so literally, if she failed to respond to the tone of his speech, the tone which conveyed his real meaning, how will these others react? Not well, Gabriel decides: "He would fail with them just as he had failed with the girl in the pantry. He had taken up a wrong tone" (Dubliners). As a literary man, Gabriel attends closely to language's potential for indicating meaning through nuance, through tone, by implication. These meanings, conveyed indirectly, require a shared vision, or a shared context, between speaker and listener. Without this connection the listener catches only the literal meaning of the words the speaker utters.
Like Gabriel, the narrator as well pays close attention to the tonality of language. In fact, the words "tone" or "undertone" occur, in characterizing speech, ten times in "The Dead"—"tone" eight times and "undertone" twice. At the significance of this we might scoff until we notice that "tone" occurs only nine times in all the other stories of the collection combined, and not at all in eight of those stories. 6 In continually displaying the tonality of characters' utterances, the narrator describes these characters with particular attention to the language they use to describe each other, and he notes that the force of their meaning often extends far beyond what their words actually say. We hear, for example, at the door after the party: "Browne is everywhere, said Aunt Kate, lowering her voice. Mary Jane laughed at her tone" (Dubliners). Aunt Kate is of course implying that Browne is an obsequious pain in the neck. In polite society, though, one conveys such judgments subtly. Those privy to the context to which the ironic tone refers will respond as Mary Jane does; those unaware of that context—in this case Browne's history of overbearing attentiveness—will not hear the implied criticism.
Bartell D'Arcy, after venting his anger at those who asked him to sing, returns and "in a repentant tone told them the history of his cold" (Dubliners). The history of his cold means nothing in itself, but it offers D'Arcy a vehicle for repentant sounds. Those who understand the necessity for such a tone will hear it, and so hear a meaning outside of, but really more important than, his literal meaning. The point of these two examples is that this kind of subtle tonal modulation marks off a privileged space. Two meanings reside in the utterance: one for those who share a context—or, as Mikhail Bakhtin describes it, a "conceptual horizon"—with the speaker and one for everyone else.7 This tonal modulation also sounds quietly in the narrative voice of "The Dead."
If we listen closely we discover that the narrator's ironic, subtle paraphrases of the characters' thoughts, in contrast to the sharper, exact words of his own voice, give the narrative a disquieting, satiric dissonance that Bakhtin notes is characteristic of "double-voiced discourse."8 Hugh Kenner asserts something similar to Bakhtin's idea with his "Uncle Charles Principle," which says simply this: "The narrative idiom need not be the narrator's."9 As an example, Kenner takes the first sentence of "The Dead": "Lily, the caretaker's daughter, was literally run off her feet." Kenner notes, sensibly, that Lily, not the narrator, would use "literally" when "figuratively" is the proper word. In using Lily's commonplace idiom in this description, that narrator wants us to hear the mistakes in a servant girl's speech, and, more importantly, to note that the narrator himself catches those mistakes. We in turn separate him from the people he describes and find him a worthy standard against which to set their voices. In this careful distancing of voices the narrative of "The Dead" is a subtle form of satire, with the narrator setting himself before us as exemplar. But, like Aunt Kate, the narrator uses a tonal shift to imply his judgment. He does not specifically comment on his characters because his positioning makes his satire indirect.10 If we hear the difference between his voice and the voices he paraphrases, we join him in a privileged space marked off by language. We notice the judgment implied by his narrative only if we listen closely to its "double voice." But as I have been arguing here, the narrator gives us many clues—nudging us in the ribs, as it were—to listen to these fools when he wants to satirize them.
We watch them instead when the narrator speaks in his own voice, and we hear no idiomatic language, as in this description of Gabriel: "on his hairless face there scintillated restlessly the polished lenses and the bright gilt rims of the glasses which screened his delicate and restless eyes" (Dubliners).11 The wording in this passage works up an economical, lively characterization of Gabriel's discomfort. We must note, however, that the narrator restricts himself to physical description. Compare it to the diction we encounter when we hear what is on Gabriel's mind: "He was still discomposed by the girl's bitter and sudden retort. . . . The indelicate clacking of the men's heels and the shuffling of their soles reminded him that their grade of culture differed from his" (Dubliners). The words "discomposed," "indelicate," and "grade of culture" mark the thoughts of an educated but pompous mind, and, more importantly, a mind far removed from the narrator's. We hear Gabriel's words and those of the narrator in a dialogue with each other. In this dialogue, the narrator's seemingly "neutral" descriptive prose, in contrast with Gabriel's inflated, polysyllabic rhetoric, which displays the marks of education and class, shows Gabriel up as an elitist. As neutral prose, oriented toward physical description, the narrator's discourse casts itself as "common sense" language, as plain speaking, all that is required, over which Gabriel's discourse rises, therefore, as excessive and judgmental. As excess, as outside the norm, Gabriel's discourse, and Gabriel, are the objects of a subtle, even gentle, linguistically oriented satire. I use the term "linguistically oriented" because the narrator's critique of Gabriel does not focus on the difference between some blatantly immoral public actions and an abstract moral standard, but instead on the gap between Gabriel's language, the judgmental, often internal stories he tells about himself and others, and the commonsensical descriptions the narrator offers as reality. The critique centers on self-deception, not public deception.
So to Kenner's "Uncle Charles Principle" we might add, at least as regards Dubliners, the "Aunt Kate Principle": if the narrator is employing an idiom other than his own one should suspect he has a satiric purpose. As long as we watch Gabriel and the others from across the distance produced by the satire, we suspect their motives, and, perhaps, we judge them. The narrator's "austere voice," in Kenner's phrase, persuades us to make that judgment. Thus we must consider with care the profound silence that ends "The Dead," because in the lines leading up to Gabriel's silent gaze out the window, that "austere voice" lapses as well into silence.
When Gabriel and Gretta arrive at the hotel, Gretta, throughout the story free of the narrator's double voicing, seems to act as a kind of sounding board, off which Gabriel learns to hear himself better. He hears the hollowness of his irony when Gretta answers it with unaffected emotion. Abruptly, Gabriel drops his ironic tone. Surprisingly, so does the narrator, and his voice merges with Gabriel's before both quietly subside. 12 This conclusion empties the privileged space of its exemplar, and so the traces of satire disappear from the narrative.
In the hotel room, Gretta frustrates Gabriel's lust with her sad memory of Michael Furey. His reaction, after hesitation, is to deride her with, of course, irony. Gretta, however, like Lily before her, responds to the matter, not the manner, of his words:
The smile passed away from Gabriel's face. A dull anger began to gather again at the back of his mind and the dull fires of his lust began to glow angrily in his veins.
—Someone you were in love with? he asked ironically.
—It was a young boy I used to know, she answered, named Michael Furey. He used to sing that song, The Lass of Aughrim. He was very delicate. (Dubliners)
Gretta answers the literal question; she does not respond to its ironic tone because she has no awareness of the context from which it sounds: Gabriel's resentment that he was not the person on her mind, as he had thought he was, and his belief in superiority over any of the west country people of her past. He continues to try to display his resentment but invests his message in the tone, not the words, of his speech, suggesting "coldly" that Gretta wanted to go to the west to be with Michael, and later "still ironically" asking about Michael's class (Dubliners). Again he fails: Gretta answers his words, not his tone.
Suddenly, we find that "Gabriel felt humiliated by the failure of his irony and by the evocation of this figure from the dead" (Dubliners). Usually Gabriel responds to humiliation, as he did with Miss Ivors and with Lily, by hiding behind some piece of polysyllabic rhetoric, by telling a story. These texts, whether mental, as with Lily, or verbal, as with Miss Ivors, help Gabriel insulate himself from others, allow him to continue deceiving himself. And, within his mind now, he begins to construct another text: "He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting as a pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealising his own clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror" (Dubliners). Even when he sees his own pretentiousness, Gabriel waxes pompous. The narrator, while not quoting Gabriel directly, paraphrases his thoughts to show that Gabriel's discovery is yet entirely self-concerned: the double voice of satire is still at work. Here, while the man's wife sobs, prone on the bed, Gabriel verbally flogs himself for "orating to vulgarians."
Such language indicates that Gabriel remains unchanged at this point, but then the narrator as well places himself in the position of judgment, since he contains Gabriel's paraphrased thoughts in Gabriel's purple language and distances himself from the scene by carefully noting for us that Gretta lies sobbing on the bed. The juxtaposition of purple language and sobbing wife narrates a judgment of Gabriel, and we still watch the scene from the ironic distance mediated by the two-toned voice in the narrative; nothing, it seems, has changed. And yet, Gabriel tries to "keep up his tone of cold interrogation" but something within him is changing, and his voice when he speaks is "humble and indifferent" (Dubliners). This must mark a difference in our hearing of Gabriel; perhaps some change is underway.
I would argue there is, but not a change we can locate with certainty in Gabriel. When we find Gabriel silent, listening quietly to the story as Gretta tells it of Michael Furey's death, remarkably, too, we find the narrator relinquishing his satiric voice. Rather than double-voicing the narrative to paraphrase her or to parody her idioms, he relays Gretta's story in direct quotation. Perhaps he is stunned by this image of self-sacrifice, or, as I argue, perhaps his attention has shifted. He now worries that beside Gretta's simple, emotional expression, the ironic tonality of his voice sounds small and petty, just as Gabriel's voice, as we have heard, has sounded small and petty. Closing off his satiric narration with finality, then, would condemn the narrator to the same kind of elitist self-deception he has ascribed to Gabriel.
In either case, after Gretta's story the voices of Gabriel and the narrator merge, effectively removing the exemplary standard against which we have judged all the Dubliners: "He watched her while she slept as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife. His curious eyes rested long upon her face and on her hair: .. . a strange friendly pity for her entered his soul" (Dubliners). Several expressions suggest that Gabriel sees things anew here: "strange" pity; "as though he and she had never lived together." But I think we have to note that it is now difficult, if not impossible, to judge his language and thoughts as we had before from a privileged position next to the narrator.
I want to suggest that this results from a shift in the narrator's attention. Whereas before the narrator's discourse concentrated on its dialogue with the discourse of Gabriel and the other characters, taking for granted, as it were, its position relative to the listeners, now it has entered a new dialogue, this time attentive to its distance from the listener. Having constructed a discourse which says that the petty elitism of Gabriel results in both selfdeception and isolation from everyone else, including Gretta, the narrator has aligned himself and his listener (or reader) with a specific conceptual horizon—one which condemns elitism.
But that discourse begins to echo, in these final pages, in that privileged, elitist space from which the narrator has satirized Gabriel and the others. And so the discourse condemning elitism also colors the "austere" words the narrator used as the standard against which Gabriel's language appeared excessive. As itself now subject to the charge of elitism, the narrator's language enters into a new dialogue with the listener—a dialogue that requires the narrator to be outside the satiric conceptual horizon he once shared with the listener, because were he to remain there the listener might judge the narrator's discourse according to his own standard.13 The narrator's new orientation, towards his own words, eliminates the satiric distance between himself and the object of his satire, Gabriel, simply because his discourse now tends toward comprehending itself in relation to the listener instead of Gabriel.14 So, finally, having raised the issue of elitism and judgment, the narrator abandons his satiric relationship with Gabriel, lest he too be condemned. The jarring dissonance created by the dialogue of his words with Gabriel's, with Lily's, with Aunt Kate's, with all of Dublin, has resolved into the lofty rhythms of that final paragraph, the last sentence of which achieves remarkable consonance: "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead" (Dubliners). And we are left pondering whether perhaps, in these final pages of "The Dead," Joyce heard in the echoes of his "moral history" a voice too much like his own sounding too much like the voice of judgment—too much, in fact, like Gabriel. Perhaps then he began to see and hear Dublin in a way that would stir him to write the more compassionate history he would come to call Ulysses.15
1 See, for example, Florence L. Walzl: "The melting snow is seen as subtly paralleling the change in the hero, whose cold conceit has disappeared with his warming humanitarianism" (Dubliners)', Ellmann: "Under its [the snow's] canopy, all human beings, whatever their degrees of intensity, fall into union" (James Joyce, 1982); or C.C. Loomis, Jr.: "The Dead' follows a logical pattern; we move from the general to the particular, then to a final universal" (Dubliners).
2 Jack Barry Ludwig argues that by linking snow to death and Gabriel to statues, the final image of snow falling all over Ireland crushes Gabriel's romantic notions of some kind of escape and at the same time locks him into a living death. See Jack Barry Ludwig, "The Snow," in James Joyce's "Dubliners," ed. James R. Baker (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1969), pp. 159-62. For a more recent argument see Vincent P. Pecora, '"The Dead' and the Generosity of the Word," PMLA, 101 (March 1986), 237: "It is precisely because the imagery of Calvary runs through Gabriel's mind that we should be suspicious of any act of selfunderstanding that occurs at this point."
3 I should note here that I am not arguing that "The Dead" is a satire on the order of, say, Gulliver's Travels. The relations between narrator, reader, and satiric object are not as boldly defined as they are in narratives that overtly place themselves within the generic constraints of satire. But within the narrative an indirect satire obtains from the juxtaposition of Gabriel's language and behavior with a standard set by the narrator.
4 In another context, and referring to another genre, Harry Berger, Jr., has remarked that something he calls "metapastoral . . . constructs within itself an image of its generic traditions in order to criticize them and, in the process, performs a critique on the limits of its own enterprise even as it ironically displays its delight in the activity it criticizes." See "The Origins of Bucolic Representation," Classical Antiquity, 13 (April 1984), 2. I am at work on an essay that examines Joyce as a writer of metasatire, and I think that "The Dead" contains the kind of internal critique of satire's generic constraints that Berger has found operating in certain forms of pastoral with its generic constraints.
5 "The Dead" refers to far more songs than any of the other stories in Dubliners: twelve. That is three more references than all the other stories of the collection combined. See Matthew J. C. Hodgart and Mabel P. Worthington, Song in the Works of James Joyce, (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1959), p. 60.
6 See Wilhelm Füger, Concordance to James Joyce's "Dubliners" (New York; Olms, 1980). The word "tone" occurs four times in "A Little Cloud," twice in "Grace," and once each in "Araby," "A Painful Case," and "Two Gallants."
7 Mikhail Bakhtin, "Discourse in the Novel," in The Dialogic Imagination, tr. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1981), p. 282.
8 Mikhail Bakhtin, "Discourse Typology in Prose," tr. Richard Balthazar and I. R. Titunik, in Twentieth Century Literary Theory, ed. Vassilis Lambropoulos and David Neal Miller (Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 1987), p. 292. Bakhtin points out that double-voiced discourse is characteristic of parody and satire. Bakhtin's term for this type of discourse is skaz. Bakhtin goes on to write, "Parodic word usage is analogous to an ironic or any other ambivalent use of another addresser's words, since in these cases, too, the other person's words are used to convey antagonistic intentions," p. 294. As I have been arguing here, throughout the narrative of Dubliners Joyce's narrator employs the idioms of characters imbedded within his own voice, with satiric effect.
9 Hugh Kenner, Joyce's Voices (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1978), p. 18.
10 I use here the distinction between direct and indirect satire Hugh C. Holman makes in A Handbook to Literature, 4th ed. (New York: Bobbs Merrill, 1980), p. 399: "Satire is of two major types: formal (or direct) satire, in which the satiric voice speaks, usually in the first person, either directly to the reader or to a character in satire, called the adversarius; and indirect satire, in which the satire is expressed through a narrative and the characters or groups who are the butt are ridiculed not by what is said about them but by what they themselves say and do."
11 Pecora, p. 238, argues that this description "is technically narrative, but . . . more accurately reflects what Gabriel sees." Pecora is surely wrong here. The wording in this passage offers no idiomatic paraphrase, as it would were it a reflection of something going on in Gabriel's mind.
12 John Paul Riquelme has also remarked on this merging of voices. See his Teller and Tale in Joyce's Fiction (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1983), p. 127.
13 Bakhtin, 1981, p. 282, says of this relationship: "The speaker strives to get a reading on his own word, and on his own conceptual system that determines this word, within the alien conceptual system of the understanding receiver."
14 Bakhtin, 1981, p. 282, again offers an explanation that describes the disappearance of the distance between the narrator and Gabriel. The narrator's new "orientation toward the listener and the related internal dialogism of the word may simply overshadow the object."
15 This paper, in somewhat different form, was read at Agallamh na naGonach: The Graduate Conference in Irish Studies, March 6, 1987, at the University of Connecticut. I would like to thank Lee Jacobus, Steven Shelburne, and Seamus Heaney for their helpful suggestions, and Harry Berger, Jr., for his encouragement and ideas.
Last Updated on February 3, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 844
Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. Revised edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982, 887 p.
The essential biography of James Joyce, considered the among the most important biographies of the twentieth century.
Bogorad, Samuel N. "Gabriel Conroy as 'Whited Sepulchre' : Prefiguring Imagery in 'The Dead,'" Ball State University Forum XIV, No. 1 (Winter 1973): 52-8.
Discusses "images of immobility, rigidity, and physicalmoral paralysis that have been so carefully and deliberately built up in the narrative development of The Dead.'"
Boyd, John D. and Ruth A. Boyd. "The Love Triangle in Joyce's 'The Dead,"' University of Toronto Quarterly XLII, No. 3 (Spring 1973): 202-17.
Examines the love triangle of Gabriel, Gretta, and Michael as central to "The Dead" and concentrates on the universalizing qualities of Gabriel's epiphanic revelation at the end of the story.
Brandabur, Edward. '"Ivy Day in the Committee Room' and 'The Dead': Paralysis as Pretense." In A Scrupulous Meanness: A Study of Joyce's Early Work, pp. 109-26. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971.
Closely observes thematic paralysis in "The Dead."
Brunsdale, Mitzi M. "The Dead." In James Joyce: A Study of the Short Fiction, pp. 37-47. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993.
Considers the structure of "The Dead" and the importance of songs in the story.
Cox, Roger L. "Johnny the Horse in Joyce's The Dead,'" James Joyce Quarterly 4, No. 1 (Fall 1966): 36-41.
Highlights the thematic importance of a seemingly insignificant anecdote in "The Dead."
Damon, Phillip. "A Symphasis of Antipaties in The Dead.'" Modern Language Notes LXXIV, No. 2 (February 1959): 111-14.
Brief discussion of symbolism in "The Dead."
Dilworth, Thomas. "Sex and Politics in The Dead,'" James Joyce Quarterly 23, No. 2 (Winter 1986): 157-71.
Comments on the intertwined symbolism of politics and sexuality centered on the character of Gabriel Conroy.
Foster, John Wilson. "Passage Through 'The Dead,'" Criticism XV, No. 2 (Spring 1973): 91-108.
Argues that Gabriel's epiphany separates him from the other "paralyzed" characters in "The Dead."
French, Marilyn. "Missing Pieces in Joyce's Dubliners" Twentieth Century Literature: A Scholarly and Critical Journal 24, No. 4 (Winter 1978): 443-72.
Explores "The Dead" in relation to the other stories of Dubliners, noting that it "functions as an Apologia, providing the sympathy that is lacking in the harshest of the stories."
Gordon, Caroline and Allen Tate. "James Joyce: 'The Dead.'" In The House of Fiction: An Anthology of the Short Story with Commentary, pp. 152-86. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1960.
Brief analysis of "The Dead" as an example of literary naturalism.
Humma, John B. "Gabriel and the Bedsheets: Still Another Reading of the Ending of The Dead.'" Studies in Short Fiction 10, No. 2 (Spring 1973): 207-09.
Notes ambiguity in "The Dead," using evidence in the symbolism of Gabriel's bedsheets.
Kelleher, John V. "Irish History and Mythology in James Joyce's The Dead.'" The Review of Politics 27, No. 3 (July 1965): 414-33.
Approaches "The Dead" through the imagery of Irish history and myth.
Kennelly, Brendan. "The Irishness of The Dead' by James Joyce." Moderna Språk LXI, No. 3 (1967): 239-42.
Attempts to define "Irishness" and its characteristics in "The Dead."
Knox, George. "Michael Furey: Symbol-Name in Joyce's The Dead,'" Western Humanities Review 13, No. 1 (Winter 1959): 221-22.
Discusses the key symbolism of Michael Furey's name in "The Dead."
Kopper, Edward A., Jr. "Joyce's The Dead.'" The Explicator XXVI, No. 6 (February 1968): 46.
Comments on two balcony scenes in 'The Dead" as they foreshadow the estrangement of Gabriel and his wife.
Moseley, Virginia. "Two Sights for Ever a Picture' in Joyce's The Dead.'" College English 26, No. 6 (March 1965): 426-33.
Relates "The Dead" to Dante's Divine Comedy.
O Hehir, Brendan P. "Structural Symbol in Joyce's The Dead.'" Twentieth Century Literature: A Scholarly and Critical Journal 3, No. 1 (April 1957): 3-13.
Argues that "The Dead" is "a morality play cast in the form of an Aristotelian tragedy."
Robinson, Eleanor M. "Gabriel Conroy's Cooked Goose." Ball State University Forum XI, No. 2 (Spring 1970): 25.
Examines the goose in "The Dead" as symbolically linking Gabriel Conroy and Michael Furey.
Schwarz, Daniel R., ed. James Joyce: "The Dead. " Boston: St. Martin's Press, 1994, 247 p.
Includes a critical history of "The Dead" as well as essays on the work from several contemporary critical perspectives: psychoanalytic, reader-response, New Historicist, feminist, and Deconstructionist.
Sperber, Michael. "Shame and James Joyce's 'The Dead.'" Literature and Psychology XXXVII, Nos. 1&2 (1991): 62-71.
Sperber investigates potential instances of psychological shame in "The Dead."
Torchiana, Donald T. "The Dead': I Follow St. Patrick." In Backgrounds for Joyce 's 'Dubliners, ' pp. 223-57. Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1986.
Provides the historical and political foundations behind Joyce's writing in "The Dead."
Werner, Craig Hansen. "The Dead': Process and Sympathy." In 'Dubliners': A Pluralistic World, pp. 56-72. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988.
Examines the character of Gabriel and covers major critical approaches to "The Dead."
Additional coverage of Joyce's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography 1914-1945; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 104, 126; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 10, 19, 36, 162; DISCovering Authors; DISCbovering Authors: British; DISCovering Authors: Canadian; DISCovering Authors: Most-Studied Authors Module; DISCovering Authors: Novelists Module; DISCovering Authors: Poets Module; Major 20th-century Writers; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 3; Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 3, 8, 16, 35, 52; and World Literature Criticism.
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