Richard Ellmann, in his biography of Joyce, devotes an entire chapter to “The Dead” – and the background thereof, how all of these different strands came together to make Joyce write it the way he did.
Joyce said, much later in life, that every woman in his stories was Nora – he didn’t know any other women, basically – and could only write about her.
He carves the goose gallantly, he dances with Miss Ivors – he works hard on his speech that he wants to give at the party … We don’t get the sense that something is MISSING in Gabriel Conroy – until the end. For me, that last paragraph feels like a swoon – with its uncanny repetition of words (“falling”) – it takes on the tone of a prayer, a mantra.
Then we realize that what he was missing was consciousness. The story of his wife’s failed love back in Galway (same story as Nora’s) – has launched him into life. Ellmann writes in his biography of Joyce: In its lyrical, melancholy acceptance of all that life and death offer, ‘The Dead’ is a linchpin in Joyce’s work.
How consciousness of mortality can change what it feels to actually be alive: it is possible to be in both states at once (as Gabriel experiences so devastatingly at the end of “The Dead”).
Essay The Dead James Joyce Problem Solving Involving Addition
Gabriel, up until the revelatory last 2 pages of the story, has been – for all intents and purposes – a good man, a good husband – a bit stuffy, perhaps – self-conscious – but he tries to do the right thing.
She fascinated him, and he stole from her, her lack of punctuation in her letters (think of Molly’s run-on sentence – 40 pages worth – at the end of Ulysses) – her Galways roughness, her tone of voice, how she was …
all of that was pilfered from his wife, and you see it come up time and time again.
The west represents rural life, the east is the rush and bustle of Dublin. like no matter what he says she will never accept it. The point was to get the hell OUT so you could have a chance. Gabriel sees himself as continental – he takes pride in that – which is what Miss Ivors senses, and sets about to pierce through that pride) Despite the fact that his wife is actually FROM the “west” of Ireland – they have never gone back to visit Galway together. Gabriel sees his own pomposity, and silliness – and avoids looking at himself in the mirror, for shame. This was in one sense 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. 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, absence.
At the time of Joyce’s writing of the story, the Irish Revival was in full swing – and the Irish began to look “west” to see who they really were. She leaves the party early – and says goodbye to the crowd in Irish … Gabriel just has no interest in ‘seeing’ the countryside, and having some Irish Renaissance experience out there. But by the end of the story, what has happened to Gabriel is nothing short of a complete transformation. He realizes that his tenderness and lust towards his wife, through the end of the party – was misguided. He then launches us up – up – into the atmosphere – and Gabriel looks down on all. Joyce wrote Stanislaus that Anatole France had given the idea for both stories.