The Dead

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Gretta Conroy Character Analysis

Gabriel’swife, a good-natured and kind woman. She does not hate Dublin as Gabriel does, and finds his interest in things like galoshes to be ridiculous. She reveals the story of her first love, Michael Furey, to Gabriel on the night of the party. Gretta believes that Michael died for her sake, and for this reason, she is also distracted by the past and unable to focus on finding love and passion in the present.

Gretta Conroy Quotes in The Dead

The The Dead quotes below are all either spoken by Gretta Conroy or refer to Gretta Conroy. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Dead published in 1993.
Section 2 Quotes

It was she who had chosen the names for her sons for she was very sensible of the dignity of family life. Thanks to her, Constantine was now senior curate in Balbriggan and, thanks to her, Gabriel himself had taken his degree in the Royal University. A shadow passed over his face as he remembered her sullen opposition to his marriage.

Related Characters: Gabriel Conroy, Gretta Conroy, Gabriel’s Mother, Constantine
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:

Gabriel’s mind suddenly wanders to his mother, and the role of nostalgia begins to manifest itself in the text. He credits many of his and Constantine’s achievements to his mother, and seems to remember many good aspects about her, such as her value of family life. Gabriel also remembers some bitter memories, such as her lack of respect for Gretta, but ultimately he lets these feelings go, and as he says later in his speech, decides to focus on the positive aspects of the past. This can be dangerous, however, as idealized memories of the past tend to distract the characters in “The Dead” from the present.

The theme of the constant presence of death also comes into play here; even though Gabriel’s mother is dead, he still credits her with his own accomplishments, even in the present. This exemplifies the idea that the dead sometimes have a more powerful influence on the living than other living people.

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Section 3 Quotes

Their children, his writing, her household cares had not quenched their souls’ tender fire. In one letter that he had written to her then he had said: Why is it that words like these seem to me so dull and cold? Is it because there is no word tender enough to be your name?

Related Characters: Gabriel Conroy, Gretta Conroy
Related Symbols: Snow
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:

Gabriel has this thought when he is experiencing a wave of nostalgia for the beginning of his relationship with Gretta. He rejects their current life together, which consists of “their children, his writing, her household cares” in favor of their early days together, which he remembers as being filled with passion. This passion is symbolized by “their souls’ tender fire,” which remains unsatisfied by their adult life.

The symbol of snow appears when Gabriel refers to his words as “cold.” He sees even words as dead, compared to the passion he felt for Gretta at the time when he wrote the letter. Gabriel’s sudden strong desire to return to this time in his life relates to his idealized view of the past, since it is later revealed that, though he has tender feelings for Gretta, it is not the true passion or love that one would be willing to die for.

Was she annoyed, too, about something? If she would only turn to him or come to him of her own accord! To take her as she was would be brutal. No, he must see some ardour in her eyes first. He longed to be master of her strange mood.

Related Characters: Gabriel Conroy, Gretta Conroy
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:

The fact that Gabriel wants to be the “master” of Gretta’s emotions comes largely from his inability to see her as an individual with feelings and experiences separate from his own. On a social level, this is because of their status as a married couple, wherein the wife is expected to generally adopt the husband’s identity and give up her individuality. This goes along with Gabriel’s sense of male pride, which is nurtured by his adherence to gender roles (and by his wife’s adherence as well). On a more personal level, Gabriel has been feeling affection and desire for Gretta and remembering the early days of their relationship—and he wants Gretta to be echoing these thoughts and feelings, conforming to his expectations of the situation and their relationship in general.

While he had been full of memories of their secret life together, full of tenderness and joy and desire, she had been comparing him in her mind with another…He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting as a pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealizing his own clownish lusts…

Related Characters: Gabriel Conroy, Gretta Conroy
Page Number: 221
Explanation and Analysis:

Gabriel’s pride is wounded when he learns that Gretta was thinking of someone else, and because he relies so much on female validation, he immediately begins to doubt himself in all ways. Suddenly the favors he did for his aunts make him a “pennyboy” doing their bidding, and all of his feelings seem trivialized, the tenderness he felt for Gretta earlier becoming nothing but “clownish lust.”

This is the closest Gabriel comes to recognizing his own idealization of the past and reliance on nostalgia. He becomes somewhat aware that he is a “sentimentalist,” and yet he is still not able to apply it to his own present situation.

I think he died for me, she answered. A vague terror seized Gabriel at this answer as if, at that hour when he had hoped to triumph, some impalpable and vindictive being was coming against him, gathering forces against him in its vague world.

Related Characters: Gretta Conroy (speaker), Gabriel Conroy
Page Number: 221–222
Explanation and Analysis:

Gretta’s statement that Michael Furey died “for” her is another manifestation of nostalgia. She feels guilty, and from this guilt and her glorified memories of her past love, she paints him as a martyr. Regardless of whether or not his late night visit caused his death, Michael Furey did risk his life to see her again, and since he actually died, these two scenarios become equivalent. This not only highlights the power of nostalgia, but also the power of the dead. Michael Furey has taken a more prominent role in Gretta’s life than many of the living. The fact that he died intensifies all of their previous experiences and her memories of them. Michael Furey gained influence through his death, and this is exactly why Gabriel fears him.

Gabriel feels jealous and threatened, even though these feelings are illogical, because his wife’s love interest is now dead. Gabriel sees this deceased lover as an even greater threat, since Gabriel cannot give Gretta what Michael gave her – he does not feel passionately enough to die for her. Gabriel must let go of these feelings of jealousy and pride in order to see that he has missed out on a love as passionate as Michael’s, and indeed this feeling of “vague terror” soon leads to his ultimate epiphany.

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Gretta Conroy Character Timeline in The Dead

The timeline below shows where the character Gretta Conroy appears in The Dead. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Section 1
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Women and Society Theme Icon
...Malins, who often arrives late and drunk. When Gabriel finally arrives, along with his wife Gretta, Lily takes his coat, which is covered with snow from outside. Lily asks if it... (full context)
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Ireland, Anti-Nationalism, and the Foreign Theme Icon
Julia, Kate, and Gretta interrupt Gabriel’s thoughts as they exit the dressing room. Aunt Julia’s face and hair are... (full context)
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
Ireland, Anti-Nationalism, and the Foreign Theme Icon
Women and Society Theme Icon
Gabriel and Gretta’s conversation with Julia and Kate is interrupted by the arrival of Freddy Malins. Aunt Kate... (full context)
Section 2
Nostalgia and the Past vs. the Present Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Women and Society Theme Icon
...his and Constantine’s accomplishments to his mother, but resents his mother’s lack of respect for Gretta. Gabriel lets his hostility go as Mary Jane ends her performance. (full context)
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Ireland, Anti-Nationalism, and the Foreign Theme Icon
Women and Society Theme Icon
Gretta joins Gabriel after the dance, and when he says Miss Ivors invited them both on... (full context)
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
Women and Society Theme Icon
...way to the dining room, Gabriel sees Miss Ivors putting on her coat to leave. Gretta and Mary Jane are trying to convince her to stay, and since she continues to... (full context)
Section 3
Nostalgia and the Past vs. the Present Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Ireland, Anti-Nationalism, and the Foreign Theme Icon
...that Mr. Browne is all too available and none too useful. As Gabriel waits for Gretta to get her coat, Mary Jane remarks once again how cold the men look, and... (full context)
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
Nostalgia and the Past vs. the Present Theme Icon
Women and Society Theme Icon
...gazing up the staircase at a woman in the shadows. He realizes the woman is Gretta, leaning on the banister and listening to piano music coming from above. The others come... (full context)
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
Nostalgia and the Past vs. the Present Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
...dark, with a dull light coming up over the houses and the river. Gabriel watches Gretta walking next to Mr. D’Arcy and feels sudden tenderness towards her. He begins reflecting back... (full context)
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
Nostalgia and the Past vs. the Present Theme Icon
Women and Society Theme Icon
Gretta and Gabriel get out of the cab, and as she leans on him for support... (full context)
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
Nostalgia and the Past vs. the Present Theme Icon
While Gabriel is recounting an unremarkable story, Gretta suddenly kisses him tenderly on the lips. Gabriel feels a rush of confidence, hoping that... (full context)
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
Nostalgia and the Past vs. the Present Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Gabriel asks if Gretta wanted to go to Galway with Miss Ivors in order to visit this boy, and... (full context)
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
Nostalgia and the Past vs. the Present Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Gabriel is seized with terror when Gretta tells him that the boy, Michael Furey, died for his love for her. Michael was... (full context)
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
Nostalgia and the Past vs. the Present Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Gabriel continues to watch Gretta, and sees her as though for the first time. He thinks about how soon he... (full context)