Galway, Gretta, and Gabriel

Salmon Weir Bridge, Galway City, Co. Galway, photographed by Eason and Son between 1900 and 1939. From the Eason Photographic Collection at the National Library of Ireland.

In Joyce’s “The Dead,” Galway is mentioned as the hometown of Gabriel’s wife, Gretta. Throughout the story, this place increasingly emphasizes the separation between Gabriel and Irish culture. When asked by Miss Ivor about a vacation to Galway, he refuses, insisting that a vacation outside Ireland would be strides better. Miss Ivors siezes this opportunity to make Gabriel question his reply. He becomes more and more frustrated at the insistence that he is a West Briton, despite his inability to state otherwise. This scene paired with Gabriel’s exchange with Gretta shortly afterwards brings forward the connection that the setting of Galway has with culture and Unionist ideals. While Gretta would jump at the chance to revisit her past and thrive within it, Gabriel actively looks for satisfaction in places elsewhere, places that are culturally separate from Ireland. This speaks volumes to the weight he gives to his own roots, whether Gabriel realizes it or not. He does not know passion for his origins in the same way that Gretta and Miss Ivors do.

Furthermore, the connection between Galway and Gretta’s wistful love may hint that the place, to her, embodies something that was wonderful but could never be. Something beautiful, but also something that was and remains temporary. Ultimately, instead of going back to Galway after moving away, she married Gabriel and left the lifestyle of her hometown behind; she had to leave behind the old passion that Michael Furey so exemplified in exchange for the learning of a new culture, new knowledge, and a new social class. This idea is further displayed in her being sent to a convent by her grandmother, which “might suggest that they had some social ambition for her” (Brown 316). Thus, Gretta’s separation from Michael and placement in a social ladder might reveal that a life apart from Galway and everything connected to it served as a sacrifice for the sake of what her grandmother thought might be a better life.

1 Comment

  1. This is a relevant point to bring up in terms of Gabriel’s inaction and insecurity. He is uncomfortable with the being called a West Briton, but, as you said, cannot say anything to the contrary. He cannot back up a love of Ireland but does not want to be seen as a traitor. He is afraid to take a side and speak up just as he is with Gretta. In addition, you also brought up that he does not have ties to Ireland like Gretta does in her fondness for Galway. Gabriel is not grounded in where he is from which is another point of insecurity for him. he does not have a relationship with his home and does not understand that Gretta does which is emblematic of the many things he does not understand or try to understand about Gretta.

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