Analytical Essay: The Dead
What the concluding details of “The Dead” indicate about Gabriel’s relationship with Ireland and Irish culture?
Gabriel Conroy is a college teacher, a book reviewer and a writer for The Daily Express (Joyce 6). Gabriel’s relationship to his mother country, Ireland, and his culture was not as strong as that to the west. Gabriel with the different positions that he holds sees the other characters who come from rural Ireland and raised in the Irish culture as inferior. He treats Gretta, his wife, who comes from Galway, West of Ireland, as ignorant. He is puzzled when he sees her standing on the stairway, listening to The Lass of Aughrim a song played by Mr. Bartell D’ Arcy. After they arrive in their hotel room, Gabriel tries to give sexual advances to his wife, but she does not respond back as his expectations of an ignorant Irish woman (Joyce 18).
In the conversation with his wife, Gretta opens up to Gabriel about a past lover, Michael Furey, who she believes died for her, “I think he died for me” (Joyce 21). Gretta was to live Galway and go to Dublin but Michael, who was sick at the time had to see her at her grandmother’s house in Galway. The sick Michael was exposed to the cold of winter and died later after Gretta his lover left Galway. He died at a young age, seventeen years old. Gabriel finds this confession shocking. He did not expect such from an ignorant Irish woman and her culture as he saw her. Gabriel had a weak view of Irish people and their culture.
Does Gabriel have an epiphany or change of heart?
Epiphany is a spiritual and mental experience where a person gets a new understanding of life. Yes, Gabriel does have a change of heart. When Gretta confesses of a former childhood friend, Michael Furey, who was also her lover, Gabriel’s eyes are opened to see another side of his life that he had not seen before. He tells himself that, Gretta has never seen him as a husband and a real man, “A shameful consciousness of his person assailed him. He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting as a penny-boy for his aunts, a nervous, well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealizing his clownish lusts . . .” (Joyce 20). This experience will force him to have a second thought on how he treats Gretta.
Gabriel comes to learn some failures in his life when he gets a self-realization moment. James Joyce writes, “He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love” (Joyce 21). These words make Gabriel change from the male chauvinism that had manifested in him. He finally realizes that he too with the urban Irish in him can be in love just like the past Irish love of Michael had for Gretta.
In bed, with his wife, he thinks about the universe and inevitable death that everyone must face. “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…” (James 22). From this, the unconscious nature of his thoughts as he thinks this through are seen, and this brings him into a new revelation of how all people were equal. How everybody was getting old and finally dead.
Does Gabriel remain fundamentally unchanged about Irish culture, or perhaps only partly or superficially changed?
Gabriel will somewhat change his view about Irish culture. Gabriel through interactions with other characters is seen to be disappointed in their answers to his questions, and this will become a basis for him to change his view on the Irish culture. At the start of the story, Gabriel’s conversation with Lily, his aunts’ maid, brings out his failure in handling women. He wants to give Lily a tip, but Lily refuses immediately. Gabriel continues to ask Lily if she will get married soon, but Lily answers, “The men that are now is only all palaver and what they can get out of you” (Joyce 2). Gabriel shamed by the answers he gets from Lily, and he ends up having a different view of the Irish women.
Gabriel is disappointed in his Irish language and culture. He even writes a newspaper article opposing the Irish nationalism that gets him into a disagreement with Miss Ivors, “O, innocent Amy! I have found out that you write for The Daily Express. Now, aren’t you ashamed of yourself? ”(Joyce 6). This confrontation makes him uncomfortable, implying that he was not comfortable with writing for the newspaper.
In his conversation with his dancing partner, Miss Ivors, he is seen to be against his country Ireland. He tells her that, “Irish is not my language” (Joyce 7). Gabriel prefers taking a vacation and go cycling in France, Belgium or Germany compared to going for a vacation in Aran Isles in West of Ireland. Miss Ivors is furious with Gabriel and calls him a West Briton that is a cultural traitor. At some point, Gabriel regrets answering Miss Ivors rudely and when she was leaving Gabriel feels that he is the cause of her leaving, and shows that he regrets taking an argument with her.
Another of Gabriel’s character seen in the story is underestimating women. After Gabriel and his wife arrive, his aunt asks Gabriel why they were late, and he was quick to put the blame on his wife. When Mary Jane was playing the piano, Gabriel does not listen to the music because it does not interest him. Only after Gabriel’s acknowledgment of the unfair treatment his mother had towards his wife, Gretta, is when Gabriel identifies Mary Jane’s song, this can be said to be one of Gabriel’s positive change.
Gabriel has a self-moment where he figures how things are going to be in Ireland shortly. He thinks of his aunt Julia, and how soon she will also pass away like his grandfather, Patrick Morkan and his horse. He also thinks of Aunt Kate and how she will be crying on his shoulder when the curtains fall for Aunt Julia. This episode that he has given him a realization that Ireland would always be his home country and this would help change his mind on the culture of the people of Ireland. All the things and positions he held and no meaning and soon they would all become shades. “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.” (Joyce 22).
Joyce, James. The Dead. Brooklyn, N.Y: Melville House Pub, 2004. Print.