Resurrection of The living dead What is the difference between the living and the dead Is simply walking, breathing, and going through the motions of a living being applicable enough for one to be called alive, or are such unemotional, detached actions more appropriate for the dead James Joyce deals with such questions in the novella The Dead, as he portrays a story of the living dead, in which the antagonist, Gabriel, comes to the realization of his false attempts at full livelihood. Through Gabriel, Joyce illuminates the struggles and tensions that live within the human spirit as he brings about this central theme. As Gabriel attends Misses Morgans annual dance, the full force of Gabriels incomplete knowledge of himself, his country, and his wife, are illuminated. This lack of self becomes obvious to Gabriel, as he reaches his epiphany towards the end of the story. As Gabriel is first introduced, he is shown interacting with a symbol of the living dead – Lily. Lily, the caretakers daughter is described as having a pale complexion (Joyce 327), implying a deathly state, and her name, no less, is of the flower that is commonly symbolic of a funeral.
In addition to discovering that Lily is no longer in school, Gabriel discovers that Lily has no intentions of marrying, and for that matter, no intentions of furthering her life. Hence, she will always be nothing more than the caretakers daughter. As Lilys tone grew bitter as a result of Gabriels prying questions, Gabriel coloured (328) as he was embarrassed the he had insulted her. Gabriel realized both his failure to appear perfectly agreeable, and the possibility of being inclusive among those men that Lily denounced – those men she would not marry who were of all palaver and what they can get out of you (328) This remark triggered an uneasy realization in Gabriel, in that it dawned on him that he too was a man of all palaver and no action, with intentions that were not always as they seemed. As Gabriel was a man of all talk and no action, he talks the talk that the people want to hear regardless of whether or not he agrees with what he is saying. In addition, he never openly acts upon his own ideals, and is therefore a man of no action.
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And as for intentions, it becomes evident at the end of the story that Gabriel was clearly not married to his wife out of love, as in fact he was married to her out of lust. As Gabriel felt like a failure and did not want to be perceived as anything other than a total success, he trusted a gold coin into Lilys hand in hopes of exiting smoothly from the previously heated situation. Gabriel has entered into the land of the dead, as he compromises his true self for the approval of others, and as he is one step closer to the realization of his own meaningless life. While Gabriel tries to pass in a world where he is not fully comfortable being himself, he outwardly pretends to be a someone he is not. He is living this double life in which his outward self expresses noting of his true inner self. Although it is evident that he does have opinions of his own, he looks for the approval of others instead of from himself.
Gabriels contradiction from within is evident when he contemplates what quote to center his speech around. As Gabriel pondered, The indelicate clacking of the mens heels and the shuffling of their sole reminded him that their grade of culture differed from his. (328).
Gabriel thought of himself as an educated man who was far superior to those bungling men that surrounded him. Gabriel thought He would only make himself ridiculous by quoting poetry to them which they could not understand (328).
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Deferring to the lesser educated people at the party, Gabriel chose a simple quote that everyone would understand, instead of the quote that he truly wanted to use. As Gabriel tries to be the epitome of all men, he realizes that he must compromise his own ideals and ways of thinking in order to achieve this status. He can speak as the educated man that he really is and be as he called himself, an utter failure (328), or he can sacrifice himself and speak to those around him and be a success. Gabriel is stuck between two conflicting images of who he wants to be – himself, or who others want him to be. Because Gabriel has lost touch with his Irish roots he does not wholly understand himself. He feels Ireland is not as civilized as, for example England, and he therefore feels too superior to be inwardly comfortable with his old fashioned heritage.
Now Gabriel, on the other hand, was very modern compared to those around him, and he seemed to keep up with the new trends on the continent (330), as he arrived at the party wearing galoshes. Gabriel was the only person wearing them at the party, and Gabriels Aunt Julia didnt even know what they were. In addition, Gabriel also took up writing for The Daily Express, an English newspaper. Although he only signed his initials, G. C.
, in hopes that no one of Irish acclaim would recognize his name. Although someone did – Miss Ivors. Now arent you ashamed of yourself, exclaimed Miss Ivors. And of course she went on to accuse him of being a West Briton (334), even though Gabriel did not claim to be loyal to the English.
As their conversation continued, Miss Ivors invited Gabriel for an excursion to the Aran Isles – islands off of Galway. Gabriel declined as he had previously arranged to go for a cycling tour outside of Ireland. Miss Ivors was distraught at the fact that Gabriel would visit other countries instead of visiting [his] own. (335).
As Gabriel became extremely bothered with the conversing going on he exclaimed, Im sick of my own country, sick of it (335).
Gabriel did not care to acknowledge the Irish in him.
He obviously did not know the part of himself that he would have known if he took pride in, and honestly participated in his Irish roots. Aside from Gabriels lack of understanding of the Irish in him, Gabriel knew his wife, Gretta, even less. Throughout the evening, he refers to Gretta as his wife, and not by her name. It was almost as if she was not a person at all in Gabriels eyes. While Gabriel was preparing to leave the party, he went to find his wife. He discovered her standing on the stair case, attentively listening to Mr.
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DArcy singing and playing the piano. As Gabriel did not truly know his wife, he is portrayed standing in a dark part of the hallway gazing up the staircase. (348) at his wife. Furthermore, he could not see her face but he could see the terra-cotta and salmon-pink panels of her skirt, thus illustrating the fact that he does not know the sentiments of his wifes mind, and that he only knows her in a more lustful fashion. As his wife listened to the music that reminded her of her lost love of long ago, Gabriel strained his ear to listen (348).
Gabriel could not hear this music of love because he has never experienced such a feeling himself.
In addition, he had no idea that his wife even had a past love. Moreover, he tries to make a symbol out of his wife, further objectifying her. He even goes as far as to having the desire to immortalize her in a painting. As his wifes cheeks were colored, and her eyes were shining (350), Gabriel assumed that it was out of lust for him. Gabriel could not read his own wifes facial expressions. Her eyes were in fact shining at the thought of a love for another man.
When it comes to his wife, Gabriel was truly in the dark. Though it may appear that Gabriel has no idea of his zombie like condition, Gabriels delicate and restless eyes (328) give him away. This description is cause enough to suggest that he is looking for something that is missing – even something he does not yet know is missing. The act of Gabriels subconscious searching for something is portrayed when Gabriel inquisitively gazes out the windows. At one point during the party, Gabriel fled the crowd of people where he retired into the embrasure of the window (337).
As the window embraced him, it was a place of security for him.
The window was an outlet from which he could view his environment through a different perspective that was more appealing to that of his present. His fingers tapped the cold pain of the window (337), almost as if he wanted to get at something from outside. As he tapped the window, he acknowledged that there indeed was something missing, and that he would find it right outside the window. After leaving the party, Gabriels distraught wife spoke to him of her lost love, Michael Furey. Upon this newly gained knowledge, Gabriels restless eyes became curious.
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His wife spoke of Michael Furey eyes – Such an expression in them -an expression! (354).
Obviously it was an expression that Gabriel never had. It was almost as if he had no meaning in his eyes at all. But now Gabriels eyes were curious, thus marking the beginning of the new eyes Gabriel would use to view the world and his life in it. His wife continued, telling Gabriel that the night before she left her grandmothers house, she heard gravel thrown up against the window (354).
She came outside and noticed, Michael Furey as he stood before her and announced that he did not want to live without her.
The gravel tapping against Gretta window is representative of this true life force, Michael Furry, wanting to get in. Although Michael Furey died, he lived his life with purpose as he experienced falling in love. Although he is not physically alive, his memory has more life force to it than Gabriel has ever had. When Gabriels wife fell asleep, Gabriel walked over towards the window where he began to think. He thought of his old Aunt Julia, and how she would die soon. He thought about the way he would have to comfort her sister as he would cast about in his mind for some words that might console her, and would find only lame and useless ones (356).
It was as if he realized the pointlessness of his Aunts life, as well as the pointlessness of his own. Now tears filled Gabriels eyes, as he realized that he had never felt love towards a woman. He never experienced anything for that matter with such emotion. He realized that his own identity was fading out into a gray impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving, dwindling (357).
He now understood that the life he was living was a dismal one, as he did not have the true passion to be alive and to experience the world with enthusiasm.
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It seemed as if Gabriel was the embodiment of the living dead. A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again (357).
It was then as he looked out upon snowy Ireland that he had his epiphany.
He realized that it was time for him to set out on his journey westward (357), into the heart of Ireland, to Galway, to find himself and his roots. 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. (357).
As his soul swooned, it was like something was reawakened in him. The falling snow symbolized the resection of Gabriels soul – a chance for him to truly begin his life anew.
As James Joyce illustrated in The Dead, living is something that requires emotion and a sense of purposefulness. Without the knowledge of ones self, ones heritage, or ones companion in life, the lack of passion and determination is obvious. If one does not live life with such vitality, life is not worth living at all. And if such a lifeless person were to die it would be as if he was never alive to begin with.
Joyce, James. The Dead. Literature. 5 th ed. Eds.
Hoe per, Jeffrey D. , and Pickering, James H. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 1997. 326 – 357.