The Dead

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Dead published in 1993.
Section 1 Quotes

The girl glanced back at him over her shoulder and said with great bitterness: The men that is now is only palaver and what they can get out of you.
Gabriel coloured as if he felt he had made a mistake and, without looking at her, kicked off his galoshes…

Related Characters: Lily (speaker), Gabriel Conroy
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the first instance in the text where Gabriel finds his pride wounded by a woman. He has just asked Lily, the caretaker’s daughter, if she has plans to get married soon—and she responds with this bitter condemnation of all men her own age. Gabriel then does not seem to understand that her bitter words may come from her own personal experience with a man and may have nothing to do with him. Instead, Gabriel is wounded by Lily’s remark and even feels the need to compensate her financially, handing her a tip so she is forced to thank him awkwardly. Because Gabriel relies so much on female validation, he is unable to see women as individuals. This is why Gabriel takes Lily’s remark so personally and is unable to imagine how she feels and why. It is not until later in the text, when he begins to understand that his wife has had her own individual experiences outside of their marriage, that he becomes more open to the possibility of seeing women as individuals and relating to them outside of his own pride and need for validation.


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He was undecided about the lines from Robert Browning for he feared they would be above the heads of his hearers…He would only make himself ridiculous by quoting poetry to them which they could not understand. They would think that he was airing his superior education. He would fail with them just as he had failed with the girl in the pantry.

Related Characters: Gabriel Conroy, Lily
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

Gabriel is worried that if he quotes English poet Robert Browning, who is known to be particularly obscure and difficult to understand, his audience will not understand, and will additionally think he is flaunting his superior education. The fact that Gabriel has chosen an English poet is significant, because he sees everything even slightly foreign as superior. This is also why he doubts his audience’s abilities to understand. He sees his fellow Dubliners as ignorant and less cultured, or perhaps even less intelligent.

It becomes clear that Gabriel’s pride is greatly influenced not only by women, but also by his intellectualism. Gabriel draws the parallel himself, predicting that his speech will “fail” just as his efforts to interact with and perhaps compliment Lily had also “failed.”

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.

…Gabriel tried to banish from his mind all memory of the unpleasant incident with Miss Ivors. Of course the girl or woman, or whatever she was, was an enthusiast but there was a time for all things. Perhaps he ought not to have answered her like that. But she had no right to call him a West Briton before people, even in joke. She had tried to make him ridiculous before people, heckling him and staring at him with her rabbit’s eyes.

Related Characters: Gabriel Conroy, Molly Ivors
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

Part of the reason Gabriel takes his interaction with Miss Ivors so seriously is because she is a woman, and she has managed to injure his pride and embarrass him. In the conversation preceding this quote, Miss Ivors has called Gabriel out for his anti-nationalism, and even teasingly called him a “West Briton” (an Irishman loyal to England). Once again Gabriel perceives the interaction as a personal assault, when in reality Miss Ivors is probably just using it is an opportunity to voice her strong political opinions. However, since she is a woman, Gabriel feels this is an assault on his pride and a deliberate attempt to humiliate him, and he responds—even if only in his thoughts—by belittling her appearance. Gabriel is particularly offended by her use of the pejorative term “West Briton.” Miss Ivors is an Irish Nationalist, and Gabriel does not hold these views, as he apparently believes everything outside of Ireland is superior.

I know all about the honour of God, Mary Jane, but I think it’s not at all honourable for the pope to turn out the women of the choirs that have slaved there all their lives and put little whipper-snappers of boys over their heads. I suppose it is for the good of the Church if the pope does it. But it’s not just Mary Jane, and it’s not right.

Related Characters: Kate Morkan (Aunt Kate) (speaker), Mary Jane
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

This is perhaps the text’s most obvious commentary on the role of women. Aunt Kate is clearly opposed to the Catholic Church’s decision to ban women from church choirs, but as a Catholic, she also feels unable to dispute the pope’s infallibility. She concedes that it must be for the “good of the Church” since it was the pope who made the decision, but clearly feels passionately against this decision. This highlights the role of women in Dublin society. Aunt Kate is forced to accept this decision if she wants to continue following her religion, and thus must diminish her own views and even her willingness to voice them. She is forced to become a hypocrite, by a hypocritical society.

Gabriel took his seat boldly at the head of the table and, having looked to the edge of the carver, plunged his fork firmly into the goose. He felt quite at ease now for he was an expert carver and liked nothing better than to find himself at the head of a well-laden table.

Related Characters: Gabriel Conroy
Page Number: 197
Explanation and Analysis:

This moment also comes right after Miss Ivors leaves the party, presumably because she was upset by her interaction with Gabriel. Gabriel briefly wonders if she left because he had upset her, but then he is distracted when Aunt Kate asks him to come carve the goose. He is clearly more concerned with his own pride and is mostly oblivious to how his interactions with women affect them.

Gabriel’s strong feelings of male pride and his need for female approval spring from his desire to fulfill a masculine roll, and from his aunts’ (seemingly consistent) validation of this role. Aunt Kate seeks Gabriel out to carve the goose, and reciprocally, Gabriel feels powerful and validated by taking on this role. The seat at the head of the table is typically occupied by the patriarch, or the most masculine and powerful member of the party. Gabriel enjoys having this role, and this is where his need for female approval and acknowledgement of his masculinity comes from. His aunts reinforce his male pride by conforming to these typical gender roles and seeking out Gabriel to carve the goose.

Those days might, without exaggeration, be called spacious days: and if they are gone beyond recall let us hope, at least, that in gatherings such as this we shall still speak of them with pride and affection, still cherish in our hearts the memory of those dead and gone great ones whose fame the world will not willingly let die.

Related Characters: Gabriel Conroy (speaker)
Page Number: 204
Explanation and Analysis:

During Gabriel’s speech, he addresses the past as well as the dead. As Gabriel talks, he idealizes the “spacious days” of the past. Gabriel takes a great deal of interest in the past, and seems to take on an especially nostalgic tone here. He idealizes the “dead and gone great ones” as well. In his realization at the end of the text, however, he comes to see that the “great ones” are mortal just like everyone else, and that everyone’s life ends in death. Death is universal, and even those who accomplish great things die. However, the dead often have more influence on the lives of those living than other living people. Part of this power in death is because it is human nature to cling only to good memories after someone has died.

But yet, continued Gabriel, his voice falling into a softer inflection, there are always in gatherings such as this sadder thoughts that will recur to our minds: thoughts of the past, of youth, of changes, of absent faces that we miss here tonight. Our path through life is strewn with many such sad memories: and were we to brood upon them always we could not find the heart to go on bravely with our work among the living. … Therefore, I will not linger on the past. I will not let any gloomy moralizing intrude upon us here tonight. Here we are gathered together for a brief moment from the bustle and rush of our everyday routine.

Related Characters: Gabriel Conroy (speaker)
Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:

In the last part of Gabriel’s dinnertime speech he chooses to focus on the sad memories of the past and how to deal with them. Essentially he says that dwelling on the sadness of loss and the past can impede our “work among the living.” This rejection of the sadder aspects of the past, and of the loss of someone, is also a dangerous proposal. There is also great irony here, because shortly after, Gretta is distracted from the present merriment by the memory of her deceased first love.

Gabriel seems to relish the idea of an escape or a reprieve, whether it is from daily life and into the party, from the party and out into the snow, or from the present and back into the nostalgic past. He seems to be celebrating the present here, then—the “work among the living”—but really is conflating the cheerful reprieve of the party with the idea of tarrying with the happy past. Later, however, he seems to accept that one must accept both the happy and the sad aspects of the past, both the attributes and flaws of those who have died, instead of this nostalgic idealization of the past that he has proposed.

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.

One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the glory of some passion than fade and wither dismally with age…He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love.

Related Characters: Gabriel Conroy
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:

In actuality it is Gabriel’s realization that death is universal that forces him to let go of his jealousy and pride and experience a rather dark epiphany. He realizes that he has never experienced a passion as powerful as Michael Furey had for his wife, and that he has lived a passionless life and will most likely die a passionless death.

He also realizes that death is universal, and that he too will die. He begins to see that he is on the track to “fade and whither dismally with age.” He realizes that Michael Furey was lucky to experience a love worth dying for, even though he died young.

The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead…His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling.

Related Characters: Gabriel Conroy
Related Symbols: Light and Dark, Grey
Page Number: 224–225
Explanation and Analysis:

Gabriel suddenly feels like he is very close to the world of the dead, now that he has had his realization about mortality. He imagines Michael Furey standing in the rain, and suddenly begins to realize how close he is to death. He also begins to realize that his empty life does not set him far apart from the inhabitants of the world of the dead. Gabriel feels close to the dead partly because he realizes he is not truly experiencing life, or what he imagines true life to be.

The symbol of darkness acts to indicate that Gabriel is approaching his epiphany, as he is only in “partial darkness,” whereas before he was in often in almost complete darkness. The color grey is also used to describe the world of the dead, or the afterlife, adding to the sense of vagueness and universality that Gabriel associates with mortality.

Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Related Characters: Gabriel Conroy
Related Symbols: Snow, Light and Dark
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:

At the last, Gabriel’s epiphany ends up being less about love and more about death. He realizes the snow, which symbolizes mortality, is indiscriminate, just as death is universal. Everyone must die, regardless of who they are or what they accomplish in life. Furthermore, many of the dead characters in the text prove to be more important to the living characters than the other living people, and conversely, many of the living seem to be leading passionless lives like Gabriel’s, as though living in a death-like state. The snow unites the living and the dead, then, as the narration expands away from Gabriel’s point of view (which it has usually followed closely, as part of Joyce’s technique of free indirect discourse) while Gabriel feels that his own soul is “swooning” and expanding into the wider world.

This passage is the final paragraph of the story, and an ending that is famous for its loveliness. Part of this comes from the sudden widening of the point of view, as the narration leaves Gabriel’s hotel room and touches upon various parts of Ireland, ending with the grave of Michael Furey. The final sentence also achieves its effect through consonance (the recurrence of similar sounds, especially consonants—in this case the f’s and s’s of “falling,” “faintly,” “soul swooned slowly,” and “snow”), repetition, and “chiasmus” (repetition combined with inversion, as when “falling faintly” reoccurs as “faintly falling”). The subtle use of these literary devices allows Joyce to emphasize the closing mood of his story, and invite the reader to slip into Gabriel’s sense of epiphany.

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