Gabriel is not happy to be in Dublin, and is taken with the rest of the UK and continental Europe in every way – from the fashion trends to the literature to the vacation destinations. It seems as though Gabriel would seek an escape, like many of the other characters in Dubliners, but he also seems to be in denial about his own dissatisfaction with his life. Instead, his desire for an escape is shown more through his lack of patriotism and his obsession with all things foreign.
Gabriel seems to see everywhere outside of Ireland as a bit exotic, and generally superior in every way. Gabriel’s admiration for everything foreign emphasizes his discontent with Ireland. His interest in continental Europe manifests itself in everything from his choice to wear galoshes, which are popular on the continent, to his choice to quote English poet Robert Browning, to his choice to vacation in Belgium and France rather than exploring other parts of Ireland. This glorification of all things foreign also also comes up in the conversation between Mr. Browne and Mr. Bartell D’Arcy, when they are talking about where all the good singers have gone. Mr. Bartell D’Arcy speculates that they are in London, Paris, or Milan. Gabriel is not the only one who feels that Dublin is not exactly the place where great talent chooses to be.
While Gabriel does not really seem to be conscious of his desire for an escape, it is implicit in his anti-nationalist sentiments towards Ireland. He has a condescending attitude toward Dublin and Dubliners, and seems to think everyone there is a bit stupid. He wonders if they will understand the Robert Browning quote he has chosen to include in his speech, as though anything from outside of Ireland would be much too obscure and complicated for his simple Dublin family members. He imagines Shakespeare or the more comprehensible Irish melodies of Thomas Moore would have been more accessible for them. Miss Ivors also criticizes Gabriel for writing a column in “The Daily Express,” an anti-nationalist newspaper, but he does not see any problems with this. She teases him, calling him a “West Briton,” which is someone who sympathizes with England. Gabriel denies this teasing accusation, but it seems to align with his sentiments toward England and his distaste for Ireland. The difference between Gabriel and many of the other characters in Dubliners seems to be that Gabriel is in denial, or at least cannot quite explain or justify his need to escape Dublin, although he does not refute this desire. He exclaims that he’s “sick” of his own country during his conversation with Miss Ivors, but when she asks him why, he does not answer her.
Just as many of Joyce’s other characters in Dubliners get caught up in an idealized version of exotic lands they actually know nothing about, Gabriel gets caught up in an idealized version of the rest of Europe. While Gabriel’s desire for an escape and obsession with the “exotic” is much less obvious than in many of the other Dubliners stories, it greatly influences Gabriel’s attitude towards Dublin, his life, and his sense of superiority to other Dubliners. Unlike the other stories in Dubliners, Joyce is using “The Dead” as less of a critique of Dublin life, but more so a critique of Gabriel’s idealization of everything foreign and his condescending attitude toward Dublin and Dubliners.
Ireland, Anti-Nationalism, and the Foreign ThemeTracker
Ireland, Anti-Nationalism, and the Foreign Quotes in The Dead
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.
…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.