The Dead


James Joyce

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The Dead: Genre 1 key example

Explanation and Analysis:

"The Dead” is a modernist short story notable for its use of epiphany: Gabriel's sudden realization, at the story's climax, that he has been short-sighted in many aspects of his life—about his wife's desires and own experiences (which he has not taken seriously, or come to fully understand), his own superiority complex, and his inability to confront mortality directly.

Whereas 19th-century short stories often focused on external events—such as the horror stories of Edgar Allen Poe, which emphasize plot and suspense—"The Dead," like other modernist short stories and novels, focuses more narrowly on interiority, and a diverse range of human experiences and emotional realizations, ranging from the subtle to the life-altering. (Other examples of modernist writers who employ epiphany in their short stories include Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf.)

The story's major epiphany occurs near the end, when Gabriel realizes he has never felt for a woman what his wife's former lover felt for her, and simultaneously acknowledges his mortality when he "imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. [...] His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead." By employing the close third-person perspective, Joyce depicts a process of change that would be invisible to an outsider, but constitutes a profound experience for the character in question.