The Dead (short story)

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"Michael Bodkin" redirects here. For the GAA inter-county referee, see Michael Bodkin (referee).
"The Dead"
Author James Joyce
Country Ireland
Language English
Genre(s) Short story or Novella
Published in Dubliners
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Publication date 1914
Preceded by "Grace"

"The Dead" is the final short story in the 1914 collection Dubliners by James Joyce. It is the longest story in the collection. At 15,672 words it has also been considered a novella.

It was adapted as a one act play of the same name by Hugh Leonard in 1967.[1] "The Dead" was made into a film also entitled The Dead in 1987, directed by John Huston. In 1999 it was adapted into a musical by Richard Nelson and Shaun Davey. Christopher Walken starred in the original production.

Characters[edit]

  • Gabriel Conroy - The main character of the story.
    King William Statue, Dame Street, Dublin.
  • Kate Morkan and Julia Morkan - Gabriel and Mary Jane's aunts, elderly sisters who throw a party every year during Christmas time.
  • Mary Jane Morkan - Niece of Kate and Julia Morkan.
  • Lily - Maid.
  • Gretta Conroy - Gabriel's wife.
  • Molly Ivors - Colleague of Gabriel, very patriotic about Ireland.
  • Mr. Browne - Only Protestant guest at the party.
  • Freddy Malins - An alcoholic and friend of Gabriel.
  • Bartell D'Arcy - A famous, retired tenor.
  • Patrick Morkan - The deceased brother of Kate and Julia. Famously rode a mill horse that led him in circles around the statue of King William III in Dublin.

Gabriel Conroy, Gretta Conroy, Kate and Julia Morkan, and Bartell d'Arcy are all alluded to in James Joyce's later work, Ulysses, though no character from "The Dead" makes a direct appearance in the novel.

Plot summary[edit]

The story centres on Gabriel Conroy, a pretentious, pedantic university professor, on the night of the Morkan sisters' annual dance and dinner in the first week of January 1904, perhaps the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6). Typical of the stories in Dubliners, "The Dead" develops toward a moment of painful self-awareness; Joyce described this as an epiphany. The narrative generally concentrates on Gabriel's insecurities and weakness of personality, his social awkwardness, and the defensive way he copes with his discomfort. The story culminates at the point when Gabriel discovers that, through years of marriage, there was much he never knew of his wife's past, and that his wife had probably never been in love with him.

The house from "The Dead".
JOYCE HOUSE, the fictional Morkan sisters' home. 15 Usher's Island, Dublin.

Upon arriving at the party with his wife, Gabriel encounters the young house maid and makes an ill-received comment on her marriage prospects; and he fidgets, adjusts his clothing, and offers her money as a holiday present. Not long after that, he gets flustered again when his wife pokes fun at him over a conversation they had earlier, in which he had forced her to wear galoshes for the bad weather. He also verbally gets the worse when his dancing partner, Miss Ivors, teases him about his work for a Protestant newspaper. Miss Ivors invites him to the Aran Isles to which Gabriel refuses and claims that he does not want to spend any more time in Ireland. With such episodes, Gabriel is depicted as particularly pathetic. Similarly, Gabriel is unsure about quoting a poem from the poet Robert Browning when he is giving his dinner address, as he is afraid to be seen as pretentious. But, at the same time, Gabriel considers himself above the others when he speculates that his audience would not understand the words he uses.

Later, when giving the traditional holiday toast, Gabriel praises Irish hospitality in a way that contrasts some of his earlier statements to Miss Ivors, an Irish nationalist. His talk relies heavily on conventions; and he praises the virtues of the Irish people and idealizes the past in a way that feels contrived and disingenuous, especially considering what the past will mean to him once he hears his wife's story.

As Gabriel is preparing to leave the party, he sees a woman absorbed in thought, standing at the top of the staircase. He stares at her for a moment before he recognizes her as his wife. He then envisages her as though she were the model in a painting that he would call "Distant Music". Her distracted and wistful mood arouses sexual interest in him. His newly piqued sexual interest occupies his mind as he and his wife travel to their hotel from the party. He tries indirectly to confront her about it after the party, in the hotel room he has reserved for them; but he finds her unresponsive. Trying to make ironic, half-suggestive comments, Gabriel learns that she was feeling nostalgic after having heard Mr. D'Arcy singing "The Lass of Aughrim" at the party.

Upon being pressed further, Gretta says that the song reminds her of the time when she was a girl in Galway and in love with a boy named Michael Furey. At the time, Gretta was being kept at her grandmother's home before she was to be sent off to a convent in Dublin. Michael was terribly sick and unable to see her. Despite being bedridden, when it came time for her to leave Galway, Michael travelled through the rain to Gretta's window; and, although he was able to speak with her again, he died within the week. It dawns on Gabriel that he has never occupied anywhere near a similar place in Gretta's heart and that every romantic conceit he believed about their marriage was a fantasy.

The remainder of the text delves further into Gabriel's thoughts after he hears this story, exploring his shifting views on himself, his wife, the past, the living and the dead. A shattering realization then causes him to experience frightening hallucinations. The loss of the sense of self is so complete that he imagines himself wholly transfigured and dwelling among very real visages of the dead. The story ends with perhaps the most unforgettable portrayal of desolation ever written.

Reception/Legacy[edit]

"The Dead" is regarded by some critics as one of the most famous stories in "Dubliners"[2][3]

Adaptations[edit]

"The Dead" was adapted as a one act play of the same name by Hugh Leonard in 1967.[4]

In 1987 "The Dead" was adapted into a movie directed by John Huston, starring Anjelica Huston as Gretta Conroy and Donal MCcann as Gabriel Conroy.[5] It would be the last movie John Huston would direct before his death that same year[6]

Later in 1999 "The Dead" would be adapted into Broadway musical by Richard Nelson and Shaun Davey, for which would win a Tony for Best Book of a Musical.[7] The original production starred Christopher Walken as Gabriel Conroy.

Michael Bodkin/Michael Furey[edit]

Michael Bodkin (c. 1879 – 11 February 1900) was the inspiration for Michael Furey in The Dead.

He was a descendant of The Tribes of Galway, and lived at No. 2 Prospect Hill, where his family ran a shop. He worked as a clerk at the local Gas Company, and was a student at Galway University. Nora Barnacle, aged fifteen, fell deeply in love with him. He reciprocated, giving her a present of a bracelet. However, Bodkin contracted tuberculosis and died. He was buried in Rahoon Cemetery just outside the town.

Joyce used Nora's reminiscences of Bodkin, and another deceased friend - Michael Feeney - to create the character of Michael Furey, while the character of Gretta Conroy is modelled on Nora. On 16 June 1996 - Bloomsday - Mayor of Galway Michael O'hUiginn unveilled a plaque on the facade of Richardson's Bar, which reads: "James Joyce's world famous short story 'The Dead' was inspired by the sad tale of his wife, Galway woman Nora Barnacle, whose first love, Michael Bodkin (Furey) lived in this building and died in 1900 'for love'. His sister, Irene Lynch, was alive as of May 2011."

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

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