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Gabriel Conroy is a sensitive, pleasant, but rather smug young man at the beginning of the story. His worries-like how to compose his speech, and whether his family would catch colds are small ones. He is complacent about being the favorite nephew of the Morkan ladies, and basks in their affection. He feels rather superior to the rest of the party because of his job of teaching English Literature at a college. Yet he is a devoted family man, a loving husband, though he takes Gretta somewhat for granted.
The events starting from Lily’s rebuff as he enters, to Miss Ivors hostile banter about his ‘doubtful’ nationalism leave him feeling shaken and irritable. They also foreshadow his major disturbance of the night-when Gretta reveals her past. After that it seems life and marriage can never be the same for Gabriel in particular. The relationship, and the life, which he was so snugly confident of, have developed serious cracks, which have shattered his sense of security.
However, the heavy weight of pessimism, which hangs over most of the volume "Dubliners", is much less here. Gabriel a thinking intellectual of liberal ideas has the capacity to think beyond his own immediate injuries or problems, and look ahead. Furthermore, the rival lover in this case, has long been dead, and is not a threat to his immediately happiness. Gabriel is shown rooted in a warm, culturally active, and sociable lifestyle, which distinguishes him from recluses like Mr. Duffy in ‘A Painful Case.’
Another hopeful aspect of "The Dead" is the rich and cheerful cultural life of the people at the party. The Misses Morkan seem to represent a determined cheerfulness, hospitality and refinement, which gives the story’s passive message much vigor.
Gabriel is very disturbed
by this epiphanic revelation from the past. Yet he doesn’t let his jealousy overcome
his humanity. He comforts Gretta, and accepts the tragic affair as a part of their
lives. Hence, this story considered one of Joyce’s best works, looks forward to
his more robust and hopeful writing of the future. In fact it has been considered
by critics to be a threat to the tightly symmetrical harsh and pessimistic design
of the rest of Dubliners.
Gabriel is "a stout tallish young man" with "a high color" and "a hairless face"-"the bright gilt rims of his glasses...screened his delicate and restless eyes." He is rather precise and dandyish and leads a contented and pleasant life as a teacher at a college in Dublin. His family life is secure and apparently happy, so too is his professional life. He loves books and writes book reviews and articles for newspapers-"The books he received for review were almost more welcome than the paltry check." He also believes in liberal views and that literature is above politics. Thus, the author doesn’t seek to expose him through the exchange with Miss Ivor, but rather shows his liberalism more favorably than her narrow philosophy.
Gabriel is sensitive and affectionate towards women, as we see with Lily, Miss Ivors, his aunts and his wife. His is not a case of dehumanized existence as with the other Dubliners, more of a complacent existence not involved in the dysfunctional world around him. Thus his wife’s disclosure however innocent comes as a terrible blow. Yet his innate sensitivity helps him overcome his feelings, and show and even feel kindness towards her and her dead young lover. Thus, Gabriel is one of the most attractive characters in the collection.
Gretta’s is not a fully realized character. We see her initially through Gabriel’s rosy glasses, with the occasional small domestic quarrel intervening. We are told she was disapproved of by his mother, and had still nursed that lady until her death. She is obviously fond of him, faithful and a willing participant in his family’s social life. Her routine is basically domestic, hence her being taking for granted by Gabriel. Hence, it is a great blow when she disappoints his amorous tendencies and reveals her past. In this too, there is no artifice and she confides trustingly in him. It is in the intensity of her past feelings that Gabriel feels cheated. Yet with acceptance the reader is left feeling that they can overcome this incident and live fruitfully.
PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
The opening scene is that of the cheerful bustle of the Morkan’s party. Before Gabriel’s entry, his image as family man is already established. As he enters, we have the incident with Lily, which foreshadows, along with Miss Ivors’ comments, the revelation to come. The party serves to establish the cultural milieu and the values of the family. At its conclusion comes the scene with Gretta listening to the song. Here, the expectations of Gabriel lead up to an ironic contrast with the thoughts in Gretta’s mind. This amounts to an epiphany for Gabriel, shaking the foundations of his marriage and his whole outlook on life. The concluding scene is the calm after the storm, and ends with Gabriel’s philosophical acceptance. The day is clearly a little before New-Year’s Eve, and critics have suggested it is the day of the Epiphany, when the Magi visited the Christ child.
The central theme of The Dead is the unexpected shock to an otherwise happy and complacent man on hearing about his wife’s old love affair, which had ended tragically. This makes the protagonist doubt the very foundation of his own marriage and family life. However, it deepens his understanding of the human condition and he is able to emerge from it whole.
SYMBOLISM / MOTIFS / IMAGERY / SYMBOLS
Music and books are used to represent opposing outlooks in the story. The whole gathering at the party appears to be musical, except for Gabriel. He stays away as long as possible from the music and the dancers. Gabriel can’t appreciate Mary Jane’s music. He can’t appreciate the "Lass of Aughrim," which stirs such a storm of feeling in Gretta. On the other hand he loves books, prefers them to politics, and his spectacles, which help him to read "screened his delicate and restless eyes" from other aspects of life. Music is much loved by both Gretta and Michael Furey-standing perhaps, for an intense emotional life, as opposed to Gabriel’s preference for the rational and liberal.
Another dominant symbol is the snow. It is a complex symbol, standing for an escape from social duties in the beginning when Gabriel longs to escape from the party, to the outdoors. It is also snowing when Michael Furey meets Gretta, only to perish soon after. Finally the snow seems to represent nature, even death, which ends all human lives, and puts the small heart breaks into a proper perspective.