Dead By James Joyce
James Joyce’s "The Dead" begins at the annual 1904 Christmas party given
by the Misses Morkans, Miss Kate and Miss Julia. This is also considered a
yearly reunion. The party consists of many family members and friends many of
whom dislike one another, particularly Gabriel. It is at the party that we are
introduced to Gabriel, and our initial impression is that he is self-centered
and selfish. As the story continues, our feelings towards Gabriel evolve as he
changes. In the beginning of "The Dead", Gabriel is self-absorbed and
solipsistic; however, he becomes a more caring individual following his
epiphany. Gabriel is a very rude and selfish man. He arrives late to the

Christmas Party and then blames lateness on his wife by telling everyone,

"‘but they forget that my wife here takes three mortal hours to dress
herself’"(290). In actuality, they arrive late due to Gabriel’s
stubbornness. This man does not enjoy family functions. Perhaps he caused their
lateness because he does not really care for his family. By shrugging off people
with whom he converses, it shows how much interest he has in his family, which
is practically none at all. Another example of Gabriel’s self-involvement is
his interaction with Lily. Lily has been the caretaker’s daughter for years,
yet Gabriel does not even know how old she is. His asking if she goes to school
or if she is planning to be married supports this. Lily realizes that he is not
really interested in her life and is just making conversation. She says to him
bitterly, "‘The men that is only all palaver and what they can get out of
you’"(290). Lily’s response embarrasses Gabriel causing his face to flush.

To ease his discomfort he gives her a coin claiming it is given to her due to
the Christmas spirit and practically runs away from her. A third example of

Gabriel’s insensitivity to other people’s feelings is his impatience at

Gretta’s distance from him. Joyce writes that, "He was trembling now with
annoyance. Why did she seem so abstracted?...He longed to be master of her
strange mood"(312). Gabriel is angry; he is thinking passionate thoughts and
she is not in the mood to engage in intercourse. He wants to be the center of
her thoughts, but he is not. It is not until Gretta approaches Gabriel, that he
asks her if something is wrong. Her approach is to kiss him, which makes him
more comfortable to console her and find out the root of the problem. "She
broke loose from him and ran to the bed and, throwing her arms across the
bed-rail, hid her face."(313). Joyce’s example of her devastation leads into

Gabriel’s epiphany. Gabriel is finally told that his wife is upset about a man
from her childhood is Galway named Michael Furey. She believes that Michael

Furey died for her. When Furey was ill, he came up to see her and threw gravel
at her window. She then says, "‘I implored of him to go home at once and
told him he would get his death in the rain. But he said he did not want to
live...’"(314). While Gretta starts to cry about this, Gabriel takes her
hand to try to console her and then looks out the window. Upon looking out the
window, he starts to put himself in her position and realizes how awful it is to
have lived with a secret about a man she truly cared about. He starts to feel
her pain and this is the beginning of his sudden epiphany. Another example of

Gabriel’s awakening is moving to a different area in Ireland. He is going to
do this for his wife, rather than himself. In the beginning of Joyce’s short
story, Miss Ivors had told Gabriel that he should move to "West Briton", and
yet Gabriel wants to go to another country because of his hatred for Ireland
(297). When he realizes that his wife wants to stay in Ireland for Gretta’s
sanity, he sacrifices something for her. Despite his hatred for Ireland, he
stays in the country to please his wife.


1. Joyce, James. "The Dead." Literature: The Evolving Canon. Second
edition. Sven P. Birkerts. Needham Heights, Mass.: A Simon and Schuster Company,

1996. 289- 316. 2. Litz, Walton A. "On Joyce’s ‘The Dead’." In

Birkerts. 520-523. 3. Loomis Jr., C. C.. "Structure and Sympathy in ‘The

Dead’." In Birkerts. 523-527