Vitality and Death in James Joyce's The Dead Essay

Vitality and Death in James Joyce's The Dead Essay

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Vitality and Death in The Dead  

    In his short story The Dead, James Joyce creates a strong contrast between Gabriel, who is emotionally lifeless, and the other guests, who are physically aging and near death. Though physical mortality is inevitable, Joyce shows that emotional sterility is not, and Gabriel ultimately realizes this and decides that he must follow his passions. Throughout the story, a strong focus on death and mortality, a focus that serves as a constant reminder of our inevitable end of physical life, is prevalent in Joyce's selection of details. In the story, the unconquerable death ultimately triumphs over life, but it brings a triumph for the central character, not a loss. Despite the presence of death, the characters’ passions and individuality oppositely flourish, an irony that Joyce dares to make humorous.

Every year Kate and Julia Morkan, two aging sisters, hold a dinner party at their house in Ireland for their relatives and music students and peers. The two ladies, often referred to as Aunts because of their relationship to the main character Gabriel Conroy, make sure to have a festive event full of dance and rich in food, although they are not wealthy. The story begins at the commencement of this party, and we first learn about Lily, the youngest person in the story, who serves as the housemaid. She is described as a growing girl, but also as "pale in complexion," indicating weakness and frailty. Even her "tagname, that of the funereal flower, serves as a symbol of death." Joyce comically describes the busy girl with a "hyperbolic figure of speech (‘run off her feet’), which although figurative, is offered to the reader to be accepted ‘literally,’" (Benstock 165) hinting at pending death. ...

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... Gale, 1990. 239-245.

Friedrich, Gerhard. "The Perspective of Joyce’s ‘Dubliners.’" College English (March 1965) Vol. 26 No. 6. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism Vol. 35. Detroit: Gale, 1990. 166-169.

Handy, William J. "’Joyce’s ‘The Dead.’" Modern Fiction: A Formalist Approach. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism Vol. 35. Detroit: Gale, 1990. 183-189.

Joyce, James. "The Dead." The Dubliners. Rpt. in The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W W Norton & Company. 2345-2373.

Magalaner, Marvin, and Kain, Richard M. Joyce: The Man, the Work, the Reputation. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1990. 222-224.

Walzl, Florence L. "Gabriel and Michael: The Conclusion of ‘The Dead.’" James Joyce Quarterly (Fall 1966) Vol. 4 No.1. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1990. 233-239.



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