Traditionally light symbolizes truth or knowledge, and the dark symbolizes ignorance. This holds true in “The Dead” as well. Even in the opening scene, Gabriel calls out to his wife Gretta “I’ll follow” from the dark. The dark is used frequently in Joyce’s descriptions of Gretta, which highlights the fact that Gabriel does not know everything about Gretta, as he soon realizes. As she stands on the stairs partially obscured by the shadows, Gabriel does not even realize it is his wife at first. Later, when they arrive at the hotel, Gabriel sends the porter away with the candle, insisting that they have plenty of light coming in from the street. This represents his choice to stay ignorant or rather his previous inability to seek out a deeper meaning or passion in life. In the end of the text, it is the illumination of the snow by the lamplight that leads to Gabriel’s epiphany. Suddenly he is able to see that everyone is approaching death, but also that everyone has the potential to find passion and love in their lives, no matter how short.
Light and Dark Quotes in The Dead
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.
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.