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Irish culture in the short story "The Dead"


In "The Dead," Irish culture is depicted through various elements such as traditional music, dance, and the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany. The story highlights the importance of family gatherings, hospitality, and customs, while also addressing themes of nationalism and the lingering influence of the past on contemporary Irish identity.

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How is Irish culture presented in the short story "The Dead"?

Joyce presents elements of traditional Irish culture in "The Dead." For example, there are some stock Irish characters. Miss Julia and Miss Kate hold concerts for their music students. They are spinsters who, like many traditional unmarried women, give lessons to support themselves. There is the character Freddy Malins who is an alcoholic and who worries the spinsters. Joyce writes, "Freddy Malins exploded, before he had well reached the climax of his story, in a kink of high-pitched bronchitic laughter." Malins is the kind of humorous drunk who often populates Irish stories.

As Joyce presents Irish culture, it is also characterized by a divide between those who support Irish nationalism and those who do not. Miss Ivors, a character who Gabriel meets, is an Irish nationalist who literally wears her politics on her sleeve, as "her collar bore on it an Irish device and motto." She criticizes Gabriel for writing for The Daily Express, a newspaper, because she disagrees with the paper's politics. However, Gabriel's main concern is with his love for the new books he receives to review for the paper. Later, Miss Ivors asks if Gabriel is traveling to the Aran Islands, part of Ireland, but Gabriel is instead traveling to France or Belgium. Miss Ivors is an Irish nationalist who wants to support her country and its culture with her every move, while Gabriel, a writer, is a cosmopolitan figure who is more concerned with his own thoughts and explorations than only about his country.  

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How is Irish culture presented in the short story "The Dead"?

Irish culture permeates the Christmas gathering at the Morkan house in "The Dead." Many typical Irish types (or stereotypes) attend the party. One is Molly Ivors, an Irish nationalist. 

The main character, Gabriel Conroy has feelings of superiority to Ireland and what he thinks of as his country's lack of sophistication. Molly Ivors, however, condemns Gabriel for favoring Europe over his own country. For instance, he vacations in Belgium and France rather than, as Molly thinks he should, the Irish Aran Islands. He avoids Irish politics, writing for British slanted The Daily Express. Gabriel responds that he is “sick” of Ireland, causing Molly to leave the party in a huff.

Conroy fancies himself as part of an international European elite. He wants to reject an identity as a provincial Irishman. He is so busy looking at the horizon beyond his own life that he misses what is in front of him, such as the fact his wife was in love with another man before she married him. 

Conroy is an autobiographical portrait of the young James Joyce, who also arrogantly rejected Ireland (see link below). 

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How is Irish culture portrayed in the short story, "The Dead"?

James Joyce's "The Dead" is a story of Irish people who are caught between memories of the Irish past and a paralysis that is connected to the English domination of Ireland.

Here are ways in which the Irish culture is sustained in "The Dead":

  • The Dubliners hold the traditional party and annual dance on the Feast of the Epiphany (the 12th day of Christmas)
  • Traditional music is played and songs sung.
  • When Gabriel is asked to speak, he is "undecided" about lines from Robert Browning, an English poet whose writing was abstruse to many. Gabriel considers quoting from Thomas More's Irish Melodies instead.
  • Mr. Browne alludes to "the famous Mrs. Cassidy". This is a possible reference to stock characters of the Pat and Mike variety and the telling of Irish jokes.
  • Mary Jane plays "her Academy piece", a difficult piece of music prescribed by the Royal Irish Academy of Music. This piece is not particularly melodic or entertaining. Instead, it is used to test the technical proficiency of the musician.
  • There are many allusions to Irish folk songs, such as The Lass of Aughrim from which a line is quoted, "O, the rain falls...lies cold."
  • The character Molly Ivors is representative of Irish nationalism. She conflicts with Gabriel, whom she accuses of having adopted too much that is English. Molly, who wears a modest dress and has a brooch with an Irish motto on it, advocates the return to the Gaelic language and an Irish chauvinism. When Gabriel talks of visiting the continent, Molly urges him to visit the Aran Islands that are off the coast of Ireland.

And haven't you your own land to visit,...that you know nothing of, your own people, and your own country?

  • Many allusions are made to famous Irish sites such as Trinity College, the Theatre Royal, the palace of Four Courts, the statue of Daniel O'Connell, etc. 

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