The Dead

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Themes and Colors
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
Nostalgia and the Past vs. the Present Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Ireland, Anti-Nationalism, and the Foreign Theme Icon
Women and Society Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Dead, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon

Throughout “The Dead,” the protagonist Gabriel is strongly influenced by his interactions with women, which often spur jealousy and injure his pride. He places a great deal of emphasis on how women react to him, regardless of whether they are a romantic interest or not. His pride is also nurtured by his strong adherence to his role as a man and his desire to “master” his wife.

Gabriel seems to take a lot of pride in his masculinity, but when he seeks validation from female characters, he is often let down. What he does not realize is that these interactions often leave the female characters just as wounded. In the opening scene, Gabriel seeks female validation in his interaction with Lily, the caretaker’s daughter whom he has known since she was a girl. On this night, he suddenly notices her physique and complexion, realizing she is no longer the child he knew her as. Gabriel makes a comment about her being of the age to marry, and is immediately hurt when she responds with a bitter remark about men. Gabriel is hurt by “the girl’s bitter and sudden retort” and continues to linger in the “gloom” it has cast over him. Instead of leaving her alone, Gabriel tries to tip her to make himself feel better. Lily wants to reject his tip as she rejected what he intended as a compliment, but this time Gabriel insists that she take it. After he forces his tip on her, she has no choice but to thank him, suddenly changing the dynamic: Lily can no longer be offended, but feels obligated to express gratitude instead. Soon after, Gabriel’s brief conversation with his colleague, Miss Ivors, leaves him with an unpleasant feeling and a desire for revenge. He seems to believe she was maliciously trying to “make him look ridiculous before people, heckling him and staring at him with her rabbit’s eyes.” In reality, it seems that Gabriel is the one who has upset Miss Ivors, as she leaves the party before dinner and refuses to let anyone walk her home. Gabriel is blinded by his pride and is unable to see how these interactions affect the women involved. His comment about marriage clearly conjured up some negative experiences for Lily, spurring her bitter remark about men, and his interaction with Miss Ivors causes her to leave the party in a rush.

Gabriel’s pride is also affected by his ability to fulfill his masculine role. Throughout the evening it appears that Gabriel feels most comfortable when he is finally seated at the head of the table, serving meat to the guests, as he “liked nothing better than to find himself at the head of a well-laden table.” This highlights Gabriel’s need to fulfill a typical male role, and his resulting insecurity when this doesn’t happen. Part of Gabriel’s desire for female approval stems from his relationships with his aunts, who flatter him endlessly and reinforce his role as the man of the family. His aunts are the ones who put him at the head of the table to serve the meat. In return, Gabriel seems to cater to his aunts, helping when they ask him to. Later in the text, after Gabriel realizes his wife was thinking of another man, he becomes ashamed, and begins to see himself as a “ludicrous figure, acting as a penny boy for his aunts.” Suddenly Gabriel sees running simple errands for his aunts as an assault to his masculinity, and he finds shame in even this commonplace action.

Gabriel’s almost irrepressible lust for Gretta marks their interactions in the second half of the text, and also spurs his jealousy and anger at her feelings for her first love. While he is thinking about how much he wants to overpower her, she is overcome with sadness, lamenting the loss of her former lover, Michael Furey. Gabriel’s jealousy is driven completely by his lust for his wife, and his desire to “master” her. Initially, when Gabriel finds out she is thinking of her former lover, he is angry and jealous rather than sad or disappointed. Gabriel’s feelings toward his wife are complicated, and he definitely feels genuine tenderness towards her—however, the text implies that he does not truly “love” her, or at least not in the way that Michael Furey loved her. Gabriel “had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love.” If Gabriel loved his wife or if he didn’t let his feelings of pride, lust, and anger get in the way of his feelings for her, his jealousy could perhaps be justified as a byproduct of unrequited love. Instead, Gabriel’s jealousy is a result of his selfish desire to control Gretta, his own insecurity, and his fear of competition. Gabriel has to finally get past his jealousy and lust in order to have the realization that he has not experienced love in the same way his wife has with her previous lover. Gabriel’s reaction when his wife says the she thinks Michael Furey died for her is “terror,” which only serves to highlight his insecurity. He feels threatened by this dead man, as though “some impalpable and vindictive being was coming against him, gathering forces against him in its vague world.” Once Gabriel allows his initial terror and jealousy to fade, however, he reaches his epiphany and is no longer filled with anger and lust, but sadness. He looks at his wife “unresentfully” while she sleeps and realizes “how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life.”

Gabriel’s epiphany is similar to that of the narrator in “Araby,” as they both come to the realization that they are experiencing feelings that are more commonplace and shallow than what they had first imagined. Gabriel’s strong desire for his wife was lust, a common occurrence, but the real pain in his epiphany comes from the fact that his wife has already experienced a deeper connection to a man other than himself. Once Gabriel is able to get past his male pride and jealousy, he is able to see that he was too distracted by his pride and desire for female approval and submission and so he never sought out or experienced real love.

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Jealousy and Male Pride ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Jealousy and Male Pride appears in each Section of The Dead. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Jealousy and Male Pride Quotes in The Dead

Below you will find the important quotes in The Dead related to the theme of Jealousy and Male Pride.
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

…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.

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.

Section 3 Quotes

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.