For this week’s virtual diary, I wanted to explore the route of a story I read a long time ago, back in high school. After rereading “The Dead” for this class, I was brought back again the emotions I had reading the piece; at first, one could think of the work as boring or “plot-less” until they realize this is exactly what James Joyce is trying to portray about Gabriel Conroy. The story goes over a mundane scenario of a house party ending in a hotel night-stay; however, the realizations and inner thoughts that Gabriel has throughout is the main importance and focus of the story. Gabriel has some negative interactions with a couple of women in the beginning, including Lily and later Miss Ivors. It eventually ends with a rough realization he has about Gretta and their relationship together, which he now feels is like an empty shell of his inferiority and her yearning for an old lover who died for her.
It’s obvious that Gabriel is a very boring character, as nothing of what he says or does really sticks out to anybody much. This is to the point that even Lily embarrasses him and he tries to instead avoid her and blend into the crowd in the party before he stands out too much. Inferiority complex bleeds into his thoughts, his view of the world, and his opinions on his relationships and love. This is why the work gets interesting, and his heart-pulling conclusion around the end is basically illuminated by the world around him. Although the journey to the hotel leads him east, the story of Gretta and her past lover makes him feel that “the time had come for him to set out on his journey westward”. Through the cold night, he can see the “lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried” even though the nearest churchyard isn’t for another 230 km (https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2814/2814-h/2814-h.htm#chap15). These all are juxtapositions that he’s faced with, as the physical route and world is not like what he is feeling deep inside.
For Gabriel Conroy, heading east is temporary while westward is the permanent journey his soul decides on. The distance from the hotel and the past lover’s grave is the distance Gabriel feels with the whole world, and especially with his own wife Gretta. The contrast from the work and the actual route just seems to further explain Gabriel’s thoughts, hesitance, and struggle. And that’s what makes the story so relatable.