James Joyces The Dead begins at the annual 1904 Christmas party given by the Misses Morkans, Miss Kate and Miss Julia. This is also considered a yearly reunion. The party consists of many family members and friends many of whom dislike one another, particularly Gabriel. It is at the party that we are introduced to Gabriel, and our initial impression is that he is self-centered and selfish. As the story continues, our feelings towards Gabriel evolve as he changes. In the beginning of The Dead, Gabriel is self-absorbed and solipsistic; however, he becomes a more caring individual following his epiphany.
Gabriel is a very rude and selfish man. He arrives late to the Christmas Party and then blames lateness on his wife by telling everyone, but they forget that my wife here takes three mortal hours to dress herself(290). In actuality, they arrive late due to Gabriels stubbornness. This man does not enjoy family functions. Perhaps he caused their lateness because he does not really care for his family. By shrugging off people with whom he converses, it shows how much interest he has in his family, which is practically none at all.
Another example of Gabriels self-involvement is his interaction with Lily. Lily has been the caretakers daughter for years, yet Gabriel does not even know how old she is. His asking if she goes to school or if she is planning to be married supports this. Lily realizes that he is not really interested in her life and is just making conversation. She says to him bitterly, The men that is only all palaver and what they can get out of you(290). Lilys response embarrasses Gabriel causing his face to flush. To ease his discomfort he gives her a coin claiming it is given to her due to the Christmas spirit and practically runs away from her.
A third example of Gabriels insensitivity to other peoples feelings is his impatience at Grettas distance from him. Joyce writes that, He was trembling now with annoyance. Why did she seem so abstracted?He longed to be master of her strange mood(312). Gabriel is angry; he is thinking passionate thoughts and she is not in the mood to engage in intercourse. He wants to be the center of her thoughts, but he is not.
It is not until Gretta approaches Gabriel, that he asks her if something is wrong. Her approach is to kiss him, which makes him more comfortable to console her and find out the root of the problem. She broke loose from him and ran to the bed and, throwing her arms across the bed-rail, hid her face.(313).Joyces example of her devastation leads into Gabriels epiphany. Gabriel is finally told that his wife is upset about a man from her childhood is Galway named Michael Furey. She believes that Michael Furey died for her. When Furey was ill, he came up to see her and threw gravel at her window.She then says, I implored of him to go home at once and told him he would get his death in the rain. But he said he did not want to live…(314). While Gretta starts to cry about this, Gabriel takes her hand to try to console her and then looks out the window. Upon looking out the window, he starts to put himself in her position and realizes how awful it is to have lived with a secret about a man she truly cared about. He starts to feel her pain and this is the beginning of his sudden epiphany.
Another example of Gabriels awakening is moving to a different area in Ireland. He is going to do this for his wife, rather than himself. In the beginning of Joyces short story, Miss Ivors had told Gabriel that he should move to West Briton, and yet Gabriel wants to go to another country because of his hatred for Ireland (297). When he realizes that his wife wants to stay in Ireland for Grettas sanity, he sacrifices something for her. Despite his hatred for Ireland, he stays in the country to please his wife.
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