I have not been just to its beauty: for it is more beautiful naturally in my opinion than what I have seen of England, Switzerland, France, Austria, or Italy. Another element of “The Dead” is Joyce’s relationship to his wife, Nora.
Nora was a Galway girl (just like Mrs Conroy in “The Dead”) – and had had a love affair back in her youth – where a young man stood outside her window in the rain, and then died of pneumonia later.
“The Dead” can also be seen (since it is the last story) as the launching pad into the novels.
Joyce wrote 3 novels: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake – and while Dubliners is marvelous, it doesn’t prepare you at all for the ground-breaking quality of the novels – except for “The Dead”.
It seemed that the rural folk had been lost in the shuffle, the rural folk still spoke Irish – they were untouched by British oppression, there was something that still survived out there in the west that those in Dublin have lost. Irish language schools started popping up, and people started traveling out to the Aran Islands, and Galway, etc. Synge – the playwright – took Yeats’s advice to “go west, young man” – and lived out on the Aran Islands (wrote a wonderful memoir about it too) – and from that experience of the untouched peasantry of Ireland – began to write his plays that would make his name. He, for the first time, feels his own isolation from his fellow man. In the last 3 or 4 paragraphs of the story, Gabriel – by realizing his own alone-ness, his own failures as a man – joins the human race for the first time. There may be other sources in France’s works, but a possible one is ‘The Procurator of Judaea’.
So people like Yeats and Synge wrote about the west. In it Pontius Pilate reminisces with a friend about the days when he was procurator in Judaea, and describes the events of his time with Roman reason, calm, and elegance.
One of the other things going on in this story – which may be a bit too local for American readers (or anyone not Irish, I suppose): the feeling of west vs. Internally, he is now “visiting” his country – for the very first time.) Joyce places a character at the party – a Miss Ivors. She chides Conroy for publishing his book reviews in a non-Irish magazine. She couldn’t disagree more, and calls him a “West Briton”. She asks him if he wants to come out to Aran with a group of friends … Miss Ivors is basically saying, I am more Irish than any of you … Joyce had contempt for such provincial issues – and felt that Irish people’s dedication to their own country was just another way to keep themselves down. In “The Dead” he presents all of those issues – it’s all there – Gabriel feels a bit superior to the rest of the party, and wonders if he should re-word his speech so that everyone will ‘get’ it. The final purport of the story, the mutual dependency of living and dead, is something that he meditated a good deal from his early youth.
east in that country, which still exists, on some level, today. he says no, he prefers to vacation “on the continent”. “What – your own country isn’t good enough for you? Gabriel has a hard time dealing with her – he feels attacked and humiliated … The point was not to go west, and romanticize their own peasantry – who lived in poverty – and spoke a dead language … He chooses a Robert Browning quote to start it all off and questions this choice. (Notice that he doesn’t choose an Irish poet to start things off. He had expressed it first in his essay on Mangan in 1902, when he spoke already of the union in the great memory of death along with life; even then he had begun to learn like Gabriel that we are all Romes, our new edifices reared beside, and even joined with, ancient monuments. The interrelationship of dead and living is the theme of the first story in Dubliners [excerpt here] as well as of the last; but an even closer parallel to ‘The Dead’ is the story, ‘Ivy Day in the Committee Room’ [excerpt here].
How consciousness of mortality can change what it feels to actually be alive: it is possible to be in both states at once (as Gabriel experiences so devastatingly at the end of “The Dead”).
Gabriel, up until the revelatory last 2 pages of the story, has been – for all intents and purposes – a good man, a good husband – a bit stuffy, perhaps – self-conscious – but he tries to do the right thing.