Restrictiveness of Routine in the “Dead” Essay

Restrictiveness of Routine in the “Dead” Essay

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According to Edgar Allan Poe’s “Single Effect Theory”, “the short story writer should deliberately subordinate everything in the storycharacters, incidents, style, and toneto [the] brining out of a single, preconceived effect” (qtd. in Reuben). In other words, all elements within a short story have to come together to create tone. One such story is the “The Dead”, an exceptional conclusion to James Joyce Dubliners (1914) that is a collection of short stories that consist of natural depictions of middle class Irish men and women in the early twentieth century. The primary focus of “The Dead” concerns not only dead people, but more specifically a dead generation and the living who behave as if they were dead already. Through artistic unity, Joyce creates a portrait of ordinary people who are more concerned with fulfilling duties rather than enjoying a Christmas party. In depicting this dead society, Joyce adheres to Poe’s “Single Effect Theory” by creating vivid imagery of people who are fettered by tedious routines and the past.
To begin with, Joyce depicts the Misses Morkan’s annual Christmas party as one that is characterized by deadened routines and lifelessness. Though the party may seem celebratory on the surface, it is anything but. Joyce illustrates, “never once had it fallen flat. For years and years it had gone off in splendid style as long as anyone could remember…” (175). The party is monotonous as the events repeat every year with Freddy Malins arriving late and drunk, everyone dancing the same memorized steps to the waltz, Mary Jane playing her Academy piece, everyone eating the same food that is served every year, and Gabriel giving a speech during the dinner. The Dubliners have settled into a thirty-yea...


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... are alive, but they behave as though dead, while Michael Furey who is the only true dead character of the story, lives the most with his intense emotions, ardent love, and unconventional behavior. Furey helps Gabriel realize that life cannot be based off of deadened routines and formal conduct, but instead has to be full of adventure and excitement. In the end, Joyce uses artistic unity to suggest that people can exist outside of a state of paralysis by reaching their full potential and living in the moment.



Works Cited

Joyce, James. "The Dead." Dubliners. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006.
175-223. Norton Critical Edition Series.
Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 3: Early Nineteenth Century-Edgar Allan Poe." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. 21 Oct. 2011

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