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The Dead by James Joyce

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This extract corresponds to the last three paragraphs of the short story “The Dead”, taken from the fifteen-story book “the Dubliners” by James Joyce. It narrates Gabriel’s (the main character of the story) feelings and thoughts as he is left alone to organise his thoughts after a revealing conversation with his wife, where he learned about her character, her past and of his own failure to see all of this in the women he had lived with for so many years. The passage starts by reminding us the cold that is covering the outside world, with the sentence “the air of the room chilled his shoulders”.

It is the first time that we see both the outside and the inside world starting to mingle, as they had been completely isolated one form the other through out the whole of the story. We can notice this from the moment Gabriel entered his aunt’s house, as his first action was to remove the snow on his goloshes, as if trying to remove anything from outside that could “contaminate” the inside world. I find really interesting to note how Joyce can include all of this in only one short line.

The second line, which is also rather short, it is used to introduce another element that will be essential for the ending, and that is Gabriel’s self-consciousness, implied in the word “cautiously”. The author is quickly introducing all of the elements that will be necessary to make the ending verisimilar. Suddenly, without any warning, the theme of death is introduced. That third, short sentence surprises and catches attention, and creates a mood of expectation as the reader needs to know who is he including in the statement “one by one they were all becoming shades”.

His sudden realisation of the half emptiness of his life makes him envy that who he regarded as his rival just a few minutes ago. I believe that what Gabriel discovered within himself is that Michael Furey person which seemed to be completely honest with his true feelings, without fearing the consequences of his actions. He cannot hate such a person, as he himself wishes to have that capability of self-awareness. That is what I believe the true meaning of “Better pass into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age”.

In addition to this, we have how, seemingly out of the blue, “generous tears filled” his eyes. I believe that what this means is that he is allowing his real feelings to flourish, as he had never done before. That self-consciousness that was implied at the start of this extract becomes evident, and this, together with the probable psychological exhaustion that he has undergone after the several mood changes he suffers through out the night, plus the rather unexpected confidences of his wife, make him even more vulnerable to his own emotions and to the world surrounding him.

And is only in that moment of vulnerability that he is able to release tears of love for his wife, and recognise her as person and not only as his legal partner, only when he is alone, as she is sleeping, where he allows himself go. He is not really responsible for his actions from that moment on, as he allows himself to enter an oneiric state, what usually means you do not really remember anything the next day.

Remember that people usually define their personalities when in society, so if self-discovery is not applied to our common routine, it is useless. Also in this paragraph, Joyce continues working the symbolism of the shadows and the mental paralysis it represents. Suddenly, everything is turning “grey”, we are submerged into a “partial darkness” comparable with the “shadows” he mentions earlier. “The dead” start surrounding him and he feels as if his “own identity was fading”.

This is what I believe the title of this story signifies: the paralysis that death, either physical or symbolic entangles, blocks any possible mental or emotional growth, as it is the ultimate and most complete form of stagnation. When you die, you lose your individuality and you become another name carved on a gravestone, you cannot hope to evolve, to change or to learn. The text then suffers a sudden break, bringing “light” into the scene. The “snow” is “tapping” the window, what I believe symbolises both the pebbles been thrown by Michael Furey on Gretta’s (Gabriel’s wife) window on that fatal snowy night.

Therefore it means that it is both the past and the outside world trying to enter the room, trying to complete that sudden enlightenment, although unable to as they are forced outside that world by the window. It is now time for Gabriel to start “his journey towards westward”, accepting the general paralysis that covers Ireland, as it is symbolised by the “snow”. He is accepting this abolition of personality and become another Irishman, giving up on the individuality that the east allowed him to have. He surrenders to the unavoidable hemiplegia of the west.

That “snow” that falls is both “silver” and “dark”, and it falls “all over Ireland”, not distinguishing between what is “dark” and what is illuminated, what is alive and what is dead. This is another reason for why I believe that the epiphany described on the last paragraphs (Joyce adapted the meaning of this word from the religious term into meaning “a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgar speech or of a gesture or in a memorable phrase of the mind itself”) is used symbolically then to present the paralysis Dublin holds upon its inhabitants.

To conclude, I believe that this passage is an extremely symbolic text in which Joyce manages to concentrate all of the aspects that had been already present in the book into one moment where they were all exacerbated in such a way that all of their consequences for the life of the main character become easy to see. I believe that it involves his stagnation and the completion of the mental paralysis he had managed to avoid until that moment.

Joyce’s statement on August 1904 “I call the series Dubliners to betray the soul of that hemiplegia or paralysis which many consider a city”, I believe also sustain my argument as I believe it means all of the series of short stories mean that there is no real evolution for the characters, they all are doomed to stay exactly where they are. Another example can be the story “Clay”, also part of the Dubliners series, where the main character’s fate and life is doomed to remain unchanged no matter the efforts she or her loved ones try and make to change that situation.

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