“The Dead”: A Look into 1900s Ireland

Illustration for James Joyce's The Dead

For my paper, I have decided to write about the role/symbolism of women, snow, Michael Fuey, and other miscellaneous symbols, in “The Dead” and how Gabriel Conroy’s inner conflicts coincide with the outer conflicts of the Irish people during the early 20th century.  The reason why I mentioned “women” is because while I will not make this a paper focusing on feminism/gender roles/etc, I feel as if all of the women Conroy has an interaction with in this story are representations of a bigger picture; for example, Lily represents a separate, lower class from Gabriel Conroy who seems himself as superior because of his higher class, and their interaction stings Gabriel and leaves him feeling awkward. This superiority is later crushed in the duel between male prides when his wife brings up Michael Furey (mentioned later), and is very telling of the different classes in Ireland and the difference in their freedoms and limitations. Another symbol is Miss Ivors, who represents the Gaelic League found in Ireland during the 1900s. Miss Ivors serves the same purpose as this league during the time, which is conservation of Irish culture, language, etc. Gabriel is symbolized as the people’s resistance to such movements, as he is a Catholic who supports the British rule. This is also where the theme of paralysis comes in, as Gabriel feels the paralysis of motionless living as (some of) the Irish people did with the idea of being enclosed in Ireland and thus not being able to live like a “European”. The last is the most important: his wife Gretta Conroy, and her past lover Michael Furey. This causes Gabriel to have an epiphany of his relationship with Gretta and the significance of Michael, and relates to the bigger picture that upper class are not superior just because of their jobs. The paralysis of Gabriel and Gretta’s relationship is symbolized by the snow that shows the motionless living of Gabriel along with the motionless, “dead” life of Ireland in general. Gabriel is the symbol of the Irish who can’t live fully because of the setbacks of nationalism.

1 Comment

  1. Hi, I really like your essay topic! The idea of each of the characters in The Dead as symbolic of an element of Irish culture sounds like it will make for a really interesting paper! I feel like you will have a lot to talk about and explore.

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