The Dead (short story)

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"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 and is often considered the best of Joyce's shorter works. 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.
  • Kate Morkan and Julia Morkan - Gabriel'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.

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 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, 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.

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 makes a joke that is not funny about the maid's 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. 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 overcompensates for some of his earlier statements to his evening dancing partner 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. In fact he hurts Miss Ivors by mistake so much that she rushes away even before dinner is served.

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. 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.

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. It is ambiguous whether the epiphany is just an artistic and emotional moment or is meant to set the reader pondering whether Gabriel will ever manage to escape his smallness and insecurity.

In fact, Gabriel is forced to consider whether it is better to die young, when emotion and time diminish weakness; or die old, when the threat of error grows more with every year. It's a question of being remembered, and Gabriel may seem to find himself wishing he were gone.

Legacy[edit]

Dubliners was the chosen book for Dublin's One City, One Book project in April 2012. Stephen Rea read "The Dead" on RTÉ Radio 1 to mark this.[2]

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Irish Playography entry for Hugh Leonard, The Dead [1] retrieved 7 July 2013
  2. ^ "Rea reads The Dead on RTÉ Radio". RTÉ Ten (Raidió Teilifís Éireann). 2 April 2012. Retrieved 2 April 2012. 

External links[edit]