Analysis of John Huston's the Dead

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James Joyce’s “The Dead” is one of the most famous and revered short stories in the English language. It is also one of the least eventful. The majority of the action takes place inside the head of Gabriel Conroy; the events of the evening and a revelation about his wife’s former lover trigger a lengthy (and beautifully written) interior monologue, which eventually culminates in an epiphany. It’s through partaking in Gabriel’s thoughts by the use of free indirect discourse that Joyce unfolds the story of Gabriel’s epiphany and the great themes he wishes to convey: recognition of the passage of time, inevitable death, and what happens to the living. In a film, however, the narrative cannot include thoughts (at least not without the mechanical use of voice-overs), which presents an obvious challenge for John Huston. How does one show the audience the nuances of Gabriel’s character essential to understanding his epiphany, avoid using his thoughts, and still remain faithful to the text? The answer lies in the fact that film and writing are fundamentally different mediums, with vastly different methods of expression. Through ingenious usage of the camera, and subtle changes to the narrative, Huston reveals Gabriel’s superiority complex and lack of emotional intelligence, which allows the audience to understand the epiphany at the conclusion of the film. In the scene in which Aunt Julia sings “Arrayed for the Bridal,” Huston conveys much of the spirit of Joyce’s writing, yet at the same time uses the visual nature of film to create a scene that stands on its own merits. In Joyce’s story, Aunt Julia's performance is preceded by Gabriel’s obsession over his speech. He devises a way to snub Miss Ivors by praising his aunts, whom he smugly dismisses, however, as "two ignorant old women" (192). Joyce purposefully contrasts Gabriel's shallow view of his aunts with Freddy Malins’s sincere, albeit intoxicated, reaction to the song. Instead of simply juxtaposing Gabriel and...
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