Living Ghosts: Memory, Time and Irish Identity in “The Dead”

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Each time I reread “The Dead,” a myriad of new meanings and interpretations stick with me as if I have read it for the first time. I think there is profound meaning that lies in the division between the “living” and the “dead,” (or, perhaps, the blurring of this distinction) that Joyce evokes.

The story is ultimately a tale of buried Irish cultural history and the ways in which Gabriel is haunted by its memory, especially in the concluding passage. I found a particularly intriguing article, “DEATH SENTENCES: SILENCE, COLONIAL MEMORY AND THE VOICE OF THE DEAD IN DUBLINERS”, that investigates the role of silence in Joyce’s fiction and the “impossibility of representing the occluded voices of the past without altering the terms and conditions of representation itself.” (Pearson, 144). As we have read, Gabriel can feel the presence of the “vast hosts of the dead,” and feels his own identity almost intertwine with theirs. Time seems to collapse in this instant, and Gabriel is not a member of the past nor the present, the living nor the dead. In fact, these binaries dissolve with Gabriel’s sense of identity, and the very notion of history is complicated.

Taking these points into consideration, it is clear that the past is inextricable from the present. Gabriel clearly feels the weight of Irish history and its people permeating the present. In my essay, I hope to analyze Gabriel’s consciousness, specifically how he “remembers” the past. In addition, I will discuss how “The Dead” begets a discussion of the inadequacy of properly representing such a vast, complex history within the confines of prose, narrative, and fiction. It is clear that in writing Dubliners, Joyce also grapples with the issue of forging an Irish identity in the wake of the past: silent, yet eternally present its influence.

1 Comment

  1. I am intrigued by the dichotomies you are going to explore in your paper. Linking the dead to Irish culture is a great way to link the paper topic to the story. Gabriel’s insecurity seems to come from the binaries through which he sees the world. He is clouded by his own sense of inadequacy, and he can’t see anything else. The most interesting of these binaries is how he feels guilt and a bit of jealousy about other people’s connection to Irish culture. Good luck on your paper!

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