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The Dead Essay

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The Dead Essay

The Dead is a short story written by James Joyce which takes place in Dublin during the twentieth century. The story involves the protagonist named, Gabriel Conroy, beginning to make a bold change in his life by traveling westward towards Ireland. Joyce presents the readers with a difficult decision to make. Is Gabriel traveling westward as a symbol of his death or his rebirth? Throughout the story it is apparent to the reader that by ways of his actions, Gabriel is having a difficult time finding meaning and purpose in his life. Gabriel questions his purpose as an individual. With close attention to the author’s writing, by using it is evident that Gabriel is in fact traveling westward to become a new man and be reborn.

One may be confused by Gabriel’s state of “deadness” at the beginning of The Dead. When Joyce first introduces Gabriel into the story he is in fact dead, but because the realization for a need to be reborn has not been made yet the description of Gabriel, compared to the other characters, makes him seem alive. Joyce describes Gabriel's wife and aunts as plainly dressed women with grey hair and shriveled, wrinkled faces. On the other hand, Gabriel is described to be “ruddy faced” with glossy black hair and restless eyes. Someone with restless eyes is clearly not lifeless, so in this point of the story Gabriel is restless, as if he is uneasy. Gabriel is in fact dead, but in desperate need of a rebirth so therefore his uneasy state is not surprising. An example of how it can be clear to the reader that Gabriel is dead is when he goes to visit his aunt’s house for an annual dinner party. It is his duty to deliver a speech to his family and friends once dinner begins and the story shares the thoughts of Gabriel before he makes his speech, “He was undecided about the lines from Robert Browning, for he feared they would be above the heads of his hearers. Some quotation that they would recognize...would be better” (Joyce 121). With this being said about the other individuals attending the party, it can be concluded that they are in fact dead as well. Joyce goes on to explain how Gabriel feels that if he delivers his original speech, the others will be made to feel inferior to his knowledge and that Gabriel will make himself look ridiculous“Here’s the thing to remember about communions of all kinds: in the real world, breaking bread together is an act of sharing and peace, since if you’re breaking bread you’re not breaking heads.” (Foster 45) Gabriel gives in to what everyone else in his company is doing and talking about, because he feels obligated to keep the peace and maintain a light-hearted mood for the evening. The people at the party, including Gabriel are stuck in their normal, boring, dry ways. They want nothing to do with current, relevant topics, because they are dead. Why bother with anything current and important when it will make no difference to their perspective on life anyway? The guests of the party, including Gabriel are stuck in a safe zone where they are unable to escape the grip of the past.

With Gabriel and the guests of the party being stuck in the past there are still some small signs that Gabriel is trying to find a way out of his dead state. For example, at the party though Gabriel gave a basic, normal speech, he did have a speech prepared with topics and statements that the guests may have never considered before. He was prepared to take a step forward in being different but his past ended up having a greater influence on him. Going back a little in the story, when Gabriel firsts arrives to the party, Joyce includes some symbolism that he hopes the reader will catch on to. It is a snowy, winter evening where Gabriel is and upon entering his aunt’s house, Joyce explains how Gabriel proceeds to brush off the snow from his coat shoulders as well as stomp his shoes against the floor to release the snow from his boots. Symbolism can be found in the snow that gets removed from Gabriel’s person, because in Thomas Foster’s book, How To Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster describes snow as being a symbol of not only purity, cleanliness, and life, but it can also symbolize illness, cold, and death. (Foster 110) Gabriel’s actions to remove the snow from his body is a symbol of him trying to brush off the dead state of his being, he is trying to separate himself from what he has been attached to for so long.

In order for Gabriel to determine that he needed to be reborn to save the very purpose of his being, he needed to have an astounding realization. This realization occurs after Gabriel and his wife, Gretta, have an eye opening conversation. The couple arrives to a hotel and is escorted to their room after the long night at the dinner party. Gabriel notices Gretta’s sad demeanor and inquires about it, to which he receives an earth-shattering answer. “I am thinking about that song, The Lass of Aughrim...I’m thinking about a person long ago who used to sing that song...It was a young boy I used to know” (Joyce 149). With



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