A Moment of Introspection

Image Source: joycesdublin.ie

I finished reading “The Dead” four days ago, and the concluding passage has not left my mind since:

“Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling.” (Dubliners, 224-225)

At first, I couldn’t really figure out why this scene had touched me so. I went back and read the passage over again slowly. It seemed to pinpoint that feeling we often confuse as an amalgamation of longing, peace, and melancholy. Despite the profound sense of closure these lines present us with, there seems to be a chasm of meaning that has yet to be reconciled. What’s more, however, is the chasm between life and death that Joyce conjures in these lines. The story, as well as Gabriel, enters a liminal place and stays there: it’s not clear what exactly Gabriel is feeling from reading these lines alone. This narrative indeterminacy is certainly applicable to Dubliners in its entirety. Many, if not all of the stories have multiple, equally plausible interpretations, many lingering concerns remain unanswered. While this is a prominent feature of the collection, perhaps we can read this narrative style as a mediation on the nature of life itself.

This ending reminds us of our fleeting mortality as well as our perpetually shifting personhood in the phrase “wayward and flickering existence.” Perhaps Gabriel is reminiscing upon the previous night, resplendent and merry and grandiose. Perhaps he is mourning the version of Gretta he had safely nestled in his mind before she revealed that she had loved someone else with a fervor completely absent from their own marriage. It seems that Gabriel is straddling different states of being, and with that comes the concern of forging a sense of self in between periods of our lives. Even the title of the story itself, “The Dead,” is ambiguous. Sure, it may reference those who have passed and their culture that has died out with them, but maybe it also encompasses the death of the parts of ourselves and our loved ones that we may never reconcile with. Amidst it all, we have no choice but to carry onwards into the unknown of a strange, “grey impalpable world.”

1 Comment

  1. I really like this, as I also enjoyed that last paragraph the most from “The Dead”. I agree, I believe that Gabriel has somewhat of a breakdown when he realizes Gretta wasn’t always the self that she is in front of him right now. And because of a deep love with a past man, he feels isolated and miles apart from her, and wants to close out the distance. But Gabriel, although outwardly ordinary, is a man who cannot seem to fit in no matter how hard he tries. And I think that is one of the issues he faces with Gretta, and “not being good enough for her”. Great insight!

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