Term Paper: James Joyce's the Dead

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[. . .] Some critics see different readings possible for the story, depending on whether the reader approaches "The Dead" as the lat story in The Dubliners or as standing on its own. Florence Walzl is one who says that seeing the story as a conclusion means viewing Gabriel's epiphany as "a recognition that he is a dead member of a dead society" (Walzl 424). If the story is read on its own, though, Walzl says "the effect is different: the story seems one of spiritual development and the final vision a redemption" (Walzl 424). In both cases, the final epiphany is directly related to the sudden revelation that comes to Gabriel in terms of his relationship with his wife.

Shelley Anspaugh considers the interactions between Gabriel and various women as part of the Gothic roots of the story. She also cites Eggers on the way Joyce uses these interactions and finds that again and again, Gabriel is sexually aroused by Lily, by his wife, only to be rejected a moment later. What sexual arousal creates in Gabriel is the desire to dominate, to assert the male hierarchical role, and rejection pulls him down from that role to a more level one, if not to a subservient one. Anspaugh finds this pattern in the scene where Gabriel and Gretta ar about to leave the party, and when Gabriel sees his wife on the stairs, the image "excites Gabriel, and as they enter their hotel we are told he experiences 'a keen pang of lust'" (Anspaugh 5).

Joyce writes,

He could have flung his arms around her hips and held her still for his arms were trembling with the desire to seize her and only the stress of his nails against the palms of his hands held the wild impulse of his body in check (Joyce 215).

Anspaugh characterizes this language as "Joyce's breathless sentence" and finds that it "reproduces the style of what we would today call 'Gothic' romance, the formulaic novel of Love" (Anspaugh 5). Anspaugh also uses the Gothic here to suggest male dominance, or at last the image of male dominance. As Joyce puts it, Gabriel "longed to be master of her strange mood.... He longed to cry out to her from his soul, to crush her body against his, to overmaster her (Joyce 217).

This image of the woman on the stairs is singled out by many critics as especially revealing of Gabriel's character and his attitudes toward women. Eggers refers to this scene and says of Gabriel,

H]e notes the details, such as the woman's grace and mystery, the color blue of her hat, her elevated position, and her other-worldly attitude, which are traditional associations with the Blessed Virgin that Joyce employs throughout Dubliners. But while Gretta is a human symbol of the Virgin ideal, she is also a composite portrait of women in Dubliners, the symbol of all women. Like many characters in the collection, Gabriel identifies a woman with the Virgin, but unlike any of them he can perceive the woman as spiritually and physically desirable; what Gabriel cannot do is perceive her an integrated person, independent of himself (Eggers 33).

At least, he cannot do this until the end, when he realizes that Gretta does have an existence apart from him, a revelation that makes him question everything in his life and perhaps even sympathize more with the dead than the living. Riquelme points this out when he writes,

At the story's end, Joyce coordinates the dismantling of Gabriel's defenses with Gretta's assumption of the speaker's role. It would be going too far to claim that male speech and the male gaze are displaced by woman's speech and the female gaze at the end of "The Dead," but, at the least, the male's ignorance about the meaning of the woman's perspective is partially overcome in a recognition of shared mortality (Riquelme 489).

Gabriel gets a different vision of himself, one which shifts the hierarchy in his mind so that now he is on a level at least below his aunts, giving women the ascendancy in his life. Gretta has just shown him that she also does not exist in the world-vision he had of her but has a life of her own:

shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him. 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, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror (Joyce 219-220).

Joyce brings out differing perspectives on the male and the female through the interactions of Gabriel with several women, including Lily, Mrs. Ivors, and Gretta, as well as in his relationship with his aunts. In the end, these differing perspectives lead to a shift in the perspective of Gabriel himself, altering how he views women and so how he views himself, for he never has been able to see women except as they relate to himself. Whether he can now is open to dispute.

In this last story in The Dubliners, Gabriel has an epiphany paralleling those of other characters in this collection of stories, an epiphany that offers him a revelation about himself on which he may be able to build for a future. For others, such a revelation may mean that they see they have no way out at all. Joyce is not entirely hopeless in his view of the people of Dublin and thus of the world, and he does believe that some will be able to find a way to escape from the paralysis of society and of their own societally-developed souls to achieve a higher level. Gabriel seems to see this revelation as an end, for he looks out on the falling snow and sees himself as one of the dead. He is not dead, though, and might be able to make good use of this experience.

Works Cited

Beja, Morris. "Joycean Psychology." In Work in Progress: Joyce Centenary Essays, Richard F. Peterson, Alan M. Cohn, and Edmund L. Epstein, 106-129. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983.

Brivic, Sheldon. "One Good Look at Themselves: Epiphanies in Dubliners. In Work in Progress: Joyce Centenary Essays, Richard F. Peterson, Alan M. Cohn, and Edmund L. Epstein, 1-14. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983.

Eggers, Tilly. "What Is a Woman... A Symbol Of?" In James Joyce's Dubliners, Harold Bloom (ed.), 23-38. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

James Joyce." DISCovering Biography. Gale Research, 1997. Reproduced in DISCovering Collection. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group. October, 2001. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/DC/.

Joyce, James. Dubliners: Text, Criticism, and Notes, Robert Scholes and A. Walton Litz (eds.). New York: Penguin, 1976.

Riquelme, J.P. "Joyce's 'The Dead': The Dissolution of the Self and the Police." Style 25(3)(Fall 1991), 488-505.

Tindall, William York. A Reader's Guide to James Joyce. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1959.

Torchiana, Donald T. Backgrounds for Joyce's Dubliners. Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1986.

Walzl, Florence. "Gabriel and Michael: The Conclusion of 'The Dead.'" Dubliners: Text,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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