In The Dead, James Joyce lets symbolism flow freely throughout his short story. James Joyce utilizes his main characters and objects in The Dead to impress upon his readers his view of Dublin’s crippled condition. Not only does this apply to just The Dead, Joyce’s symbolic themes also exude from his fourteen other short stories that make up the rest of Joyce’s book, Dubliners, to describe his hometown’s other issues of corruption and death that fuel Dublin’s paralysis. After painting this grim picture of Dublin, James Joyce uses it to express his frustration and to explain his realistic view that the only solution to the issues with Dublin depends on a move to the West and towards a new life, rather than remaining cooped up like Gabriel Conroy in the hopeless city.
On July 3, 1904, James Joyce sent a postcard to his friend Constantine P. Curran exclaiming with excitement that he had just finished a book and that he was now working on “a series of epicleti—ten—for a paper…called the Dubliners to betray the soul of that hemiplegia or paralysis which many consider a city” (Gilbert 55). Joyce passionately believed that the Irish society had been locked in place for many years due to the power struggle between the Roman Catholic Church and England. As a result of this power feud, Ireland became one of the poorest and least-developed countries in all of Western Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Consequently, these symbolic representations of paralysis continually persist throughout Joyce’s short stories in Dubliners. In The Dead, an unmistakable symbol of Dublin’s paralysis occurs with the subject of Gabriel’s grandfather and his horse Johnny.
“Johnny used to work in the old gentleman’s mill, walking round and round in order to drive the mill…when one fine day…out from the mansion of his forefathers, [Gabriel’s grandfather] drove with Johnny. And everything went on beautifully until Johnny came in sight of King Billy’s statue…and he began to walk round the statue...round and round he went” (The Dead 47).
Interestingly, although the circle traditionally symbolizes unity and life as with wedding bands, James Joyce decides to use it to show Dublin’s undefeatable lack of progress and development. Joyce craftily uses Johnny to represent the city of Dublin and shows how its development progressed “beautifully” unt...
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...of progress, development, and growth of the Irish society; a life that mirrors the life of Gabriel Conroy.
Throughout one of the lowest point in Ireland’s history, James Joyce genuinely felt that the political and social struggles of Dublin only continued to fuel the paralyzed state of the Irish. Consequently, Joyce’s The Dead became just one of many books that would make up his Dubliners, in which he tries desperately to call out to his country to leave their oppression, the monotony of their lives, and to come to the West for a fresh beginning and promise of growth and prosperity. This desperate cry to his country can be best described in Eveline, as Frank reaches out for his beloved Eveline and calls out, “’Come!...Come!”
Joyce, James. Ed. Daniel R. Schwarz. The Dead.
St. Martin’s Press: New York, 1994.
Joyce, James. “Gabriel Conroy’s Psyche: Character as Concept in Joyce’s ‘The Dead’.”
Ed. Daniel R. Schwarz. St. Martin’s Press: New York, 1994.
Joyce, James. Dubliners.
Alan Sutton Publishing Limited: United Kingdom, 1992.
Joyce, James. Ed. Stuart Gilbert. Letters of James Joyce.
The Viking Press: New York, 1966.
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