Barren Lives in James Joyce's The Dead Essay

Barren Lives in James Joyce's The Dead Essay

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The Barren Lives of The Dead    

 

"One day he caught a fish, a beautiful big big fish, and the man in the hotel boiled it for their dinner" (p.191). Little did Mrs. Malins know that those words issued from her feeble old lips so poignantly described the insensibility of the characters in James Joyce's The Dead toward their barren lives. The people portrayed in this novelette represented a wealthy Irish class in the early twentieth century, gathered at the house of the Morkan sisters for an annual tradition of feast and dance. Although all of the personages had, at one point, a potential for a beautiful life, sad memories of the past and the despair that invaded Ireland had eventually boiled all true senses and desires into a dull stew, destined to rot. Of particular interest is Gabriel Conroy, whom Joyce singularly bestowed a gift of introspection, though that did not save him from becoming yet another of the living dead.

Gabriel, a respectable middle-aged professor and writer, wished for an escape, but did not search for one. It was this passivity and resistance to change, like the "beeswax under the heavy chandelier"(p.186), that eventually solidified into the wall which he had not the courage to oppose. He felt himself a "pennyboy for his aunts"(p.220), the hostesses of the congregation, a victim of his own inability to "feel and show the excitement of swift and secure flight"(p.193). In contrast, Miss Molly Ivors, a professor of politics and Gabriel's academic equal, possessed this capability of escaping obligations, as she departed from the gathering before dinner was served, "quite well able to take care of [her]self"(p.195). In this respect, Miss Ivors differed from the rest of the charact...


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...He had been surrounded his whole life by a "ghostly light"(p.216) of sad memories and death, emanating from the hearts of the people with whom he had had the closest contact, which eventually suffocated his own identity "into a grey impalpable world"(p.223). The whole country of Ireland was covered in the "silver and dark"(p.223) snowflakes of death, and the Mr. Browne's of the world, who reminisced of great singers long gone and hid their true senses under countenances of false gallantry, were everywhere. All of the characters in The Dead contributed to a viscous web that made escape virtually impossible for Gabriel, for "one by one they were all becoming shades"(p.222) of the "region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead"(p.223). They were all fishes in an icy cold pond, acting their parts and waiting for the day they would be caught and boiled for dinner.

 

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