English 301 – Gateway
April 18, 2012
A Time and Place for Everything
Appearances are often deceiving, and at first glance, things are not always which they seem. The same can be said for James Joyce’s work of fiction, “The Dead.” In this short story, which revolves around the Misses Morkan’s annual dance, readers are given insight into the relationship between Gabriel Conroy and his wife Gretta. While the title may suggest it may have to do with the dead, the meaning goes beyond just death, as Joyce develops a story about loss and love. Literary critic Daniel Schwarz argues that in the final paragraph of “The Dead,” readers are given a glimpse into what Gabriel needs and lacks, and that the “dissolution of his ego is a positive move because he can surrender to the lyrical moment, a time when the soul claps its hands and sings.” (Schwarz 123) In partially agreeing with Schwarz, I believe that the dissolution of Gabriel’s ego will allow him to move forward with his life, but at the same time, I would have to disagree that Gabriel cannot experience total joy for he now knows that the another man previously held such great presence in his wife’s life. Evidence in Gabriel’s speech earlier in the night would suggest that he believes that one must get over sad memories of the past and live for today and for the future, but if he himself cannot move on from the past, how can be experience joy?
In the final sentence of the last paragraph, Joyce writes that, “his soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” (59) Contradictory to Schwarz’s belief that Gabriel’s soul will now “clap its hands and sing,” Joyce’s use of the word “swooned” can be interpreted in two different manners. For one, it could be interpreted and translated to mean that it (his soul) was faint from extreme emotion, lending to the idea that his soul...
Cited: Schwarz, Daniel R., ed. James Joyce: The Dead: Complete Authoritative Text with Biographical and Historical Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Five Contemporary Critical Perspectives. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1994.
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