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Dubliners: The Dead Analysis Essay


In what ways does Joyce combine an acute observation and portrayal of Dublin people and their habits with a symbolic representation of the spiritual condition of the Irish people in The Dead? How does Gabriels epiphany relate to these readings of the text?

The Dead, or more specifically Gabrielles epiphany, is Joyces final interpretation of his own personal, acute observation and portrayal of Dublin Life and its people.

The novella itself is cunningly characteristic of several of the previous stories within Dubliners.

For instance in the first story, The Sisters, a young boy is confronted with the death of a Priest. Then, both the woman in Eveline and Clay are tormented by death (Eveline by the memory of her mother, and Maria by the premonition of her own death). A Painful Case also centres on the tragic death of a rejected woman whilst a dead political figure is the root of Ivy Day in the Committee Room.

Thus all of these stories revolve around characters (or Dublin peoples) experiences with death; which rests as the stem of the flowering themes of paralysis and mortality. Once more one must stress the importance of understanding that Joyce has intentionally crafted The Dead in order to unite Dubliners as a book, rather than simply a set of short stories.

Death is thus a recurring, allegorical image incorporated throughout Dubliners finally undergoing its confirmation in The Dead

To begin with, this essay will analyse Joyces personal portrayal of Dublin people in The Dead followed by how such habits (of these people) fabricated life in Dublin at the time.

"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."

This quote is arguably, and in ones own personal opinion, one of Joyces most masterful sentences throughout the entire book. For not only does it sum up the books attempt to depict the fall of Dublin, but it does so in a way that we see such through Joyces very eyes.

For we see just how strongly Joyce felt, that had he remained in Dublin forever, it wouldve have fully consumed him into what can be described as a kind of black hole. A darkness representative of a depression that would have turned Joyce into a shade as he believed it did to many that remained. And when one says shade one means a shadow. However, the meaning of shadow, in this case, is twofold depending on how strong the readers link to Irish culture is. For example, to someone that has no relations whatsoever with Ireland and at its history, a shadow may simply be interpreted as a dark figure cast on the ground or some surface by a body intercepting light. On the other hand though, to someone like Joyce, that body intercepting the light was Dublin itself. Thus one must understand that from Joyces eyes that dark figure cast onto his homelands ground was done so by the very Dublin he so wanted to love. And had he not wanted to love it so then he would never have written so deeply about it within many of his works.

Furthermore, one must inevitably come to question the state of mind of a man that would have felt hed been betrayed, in a sense, by his very own home.

However, Joyce reinforces his view of the tragic state of Dublin in The Dead by describing just what such life in a depressing capital could do to the people that lived in it. Such is depicted by:

The men that is now is only all palaver

What Joyce portrays here is the condition of the citizens that were trapped in Dublins shadow. In other words Joyce is showing us the characteristics of the shades; their spiritual condition.

Theyve been defined as only all palaver, meaning they are nothing by empty talk; mere rhetoric. In other words mindless as a result of the melancholy injected into them by the city.

In order for Joyce to have been able to emphasise this zombie-like effect that Dublin was causing on its own people he needed something subtle yet strong enough to exist and linger within the book that could make people realise, as he did, the impending situation. And this something exists in the form of the epiphanies in Joyces Dubliners.

For Joyce often ironically exposes his characters to moments of self-awareness or realisation to the true nature of their environment (Dublin). For example Gabriels epiphany is the flash in which the essential nature of his wifes (Gretta) and his own life as a whole is perceived all at once; creating an incomprehensible account of the perception of truth and meaning to his life.

In a sense its almost ironic that an epiphany is close to one having seen what all the decisions and actions one had made in his or her life amount to; just as if one had died and during his or her ascension to heaven witnesses their life during judgement. Which is where the irony comes in as a result of The Deads protagonist being named Gabriel.

It is also unusual that Gabriel is a given name or surname derived from the Hebrew word "gavri'el" meaning "strong man of God; whereas in Joyces The Dead Gabriel is almost depicted as a fallen angel in the form of this man whose life seems to be falling around him during his moment of self-realisation.

In conclusion, one must understand that Joyce utilizes the idea of epiphany -in Dubliners- as a symbolic literary technique in order to expose the paralysis of Dublin in addition to the imperfections and drawbacks of the Dublin people.

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