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.
Jealousy and Male Pride ThemeTracker
Jealousy and Male Pride Quotes in The Dead
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…
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.