The Dead

Light and Dark Symbol Analysis

Light and Dark Symbol Icon

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 The Dead quotes below all refer to the symbol of Light and Dark. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of The Dead published in 1993.
Section 3 Quotes

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:
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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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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Light and Dark Symbol Timeline in The Dead

The timeline below shows where the symbol Light and Dark appears in The Dead. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Section 3
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
Nostalgia and the Past vs. the Present Theme Icon
Women and Society Theme Icon
Gabriel stands in a dark part of the hall, gazing up the staircase at a woman in the shadows. He... (full context)
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
Nostalgia and the Past vs. the Present Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
It is early in the morning but still dark, with a dull light coming up over the houses and the river. Gabriel watches Gretta... (full context)
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
Nostalgia and the Past vs. the Present Theme Icon
Women and Society Theme Icon
...and Gabriel almost feels like they are escaping from their dull, everyday lives. The porter lights a candle and leads them to their room. The porter apologizes for a malfunctioning electric... (full context)
Death Theme Icon
...impalpable world.” He hears snow falling against the windowpane and turns to see “silver and dark” snowflakes contrasting with the lamplight. He realizes that snow is falling all over Ireland, even... (full context)