Humanity, The Dead, and Joyce

One thing that I really enjoyed about “The Dead”was that nothing really happened. What I mean by that is that nothing big or monumental happened, like the house catching on fire or someone having a heart attack in the middle of Christmas dinner. From an outsider’s standpoint, the entire novella was just another night. So what fascinated me was the fact that Joyce had the capability to take extremely normal situations and make them extraordinary simply by taking a deep dive into the human mind. I feel like I am so conditioned to be entertained by books that are very plot driven–tangible stuff happens to the characters and they have to respond to it in tangible ways, and so the story proceeds. So when reading “The Dead,” I was intrigued by how powerful the story was, even though it centered around a single man, during a single event, and the thoughts in his head. I found this video on YouTube that explains this whole idea pretty well. 

I really like when he talks about how the characters are ordinary and people that any other writer would never write about. I think it speaks to the great ability that Joyce had to encompass humanity in what it really is–just normal people going through normal struggles but with emotions that create importance. And they create importance to readers because they come from ordinary people. Humanity and the human mind is anything but simple, and “The Dead” is a perfect example of this. Despite taking place in a setting that would normally have people brushing it off and moving on to the next exciting thing, Joyce creates a narrative that leaves us asking so many questions, and it makes for a really fascinating experience.


  1. Hi Kayla,

    This is an interesting detail that you pointed out as I did not pick up on it heavily while reading through “The Dead” but reflecting back on the story I agree that Joyce being able to tell a story in this way makes the characters more important and by extension relatable to the audience. Most authors give key characters an interesting quirk or trait that defines them however Joyce does not do this with every character in “The Dead”. This may because we are told the story from Gabriel’s point of view and his thoughts and emotions are mainly centered around himself and his wife. The party is not centered around them so nothing dramatic happens until it is just them at the end and Gretta tells him about the song that reminds her of the boy who loved her and died so long ago.

  2. Hey Kayla,

    I really enjoyed “The Dead”, but I honestly never really noticed that there are no significant plot points! I agree with your statement that the lack of physical events written is testament to how great Joyce is at capturing the human mind. He is so eloquently able to show that, as humans, even in our boring routine life (not unlike what we’re experiencing right now) most of our activity is mental, rather than physical, yet both physical and mental events are captivating and can hold our attention for hours. Great point – I definitely appreciate Joyce more now after reading your post!

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