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"The Dead" story

Paper type: Essay
Pages: 6 (1331 words)
Categories: Book Review, Books And Reading, Linguistics, Literature, Short Story
Downloads: 23
Views: 5


This essay will attempt to analysis how the narrative style and structure of The Dead contribute to key themes in the novel. The use of Joyce’s narrative technique of combining first person voices with third person narrative will be examined. The essay will also detail how the story’s structure, through means of symbolism, naturalism, irony and word play embodies themes such as paralysis and gnomon.

The narrative technique

Unlike the first three stories in Joyce’s Dubliners, which are written in the first person, The Dead and all other stories are told from the third person point of view but from no one fixed perspective.

The subtle way Joyce exploits the use of free indirect speech creates the effect for the reader of ‘hearing’ first person voices within a third person narrative allowing character’s to be exposed. This narrative technique is exemplified in the story’s opening paragraphs:

Lily…was literally run off her feet….

and she had to scamper along the bare hallway to let in another guest. (1993:122)

The narrative is at once specific to grab the reader’s attention and focalised through Lily then proceeds to shift backwards and forwards through the focalisation and free indirect speech of the Morkan’s and Mary Jane’s with that of a more general and transitional narrator. The use of this narrative form, the constant changes in perspective and opinion, leads the reader to question the cosy depiction of events and invites them to ‘read’ between the lines of what is actually being told. It is here that Joyce’s narrative technique embraces a recurrent theme of Dubliners, gnomon, for Joyce leaves the reader to interpret for themselves what is missing from these accounts. He chooses to reveal by implication and silence, by standing back from direct comment or criticism of his characters, creating tension within the text through the implied use of multiple layers and meanings. In the deceptively simple story Clay the narrative voice is designed to mislead the reader.

Irony as a prominent aspect of narrative style

The Dead cleverly moves between a disinterested commentary and a much closer identification with the idiom, style and vocabulary of the main characters, creating ironic effects. Joyce’s use of irony is a prominent aspect of his narrative style. In Clay, the irony is unstable for the reader is never quite sure who the ironic target is – is it Maria or the reader themselves? This is because Joyce never maintains a fixed perspective from which to judge his characters. It could be argued that this is exactly his point, life has no fixed perspectives, it is not clearly defined. The way in which Joyce combines irony with sympathy for the characters and the situations they find themselves in adds to the realism of his narrative. In addition to the general technique of realism Joyce employs word play involving puns and ambiguity mixed with a strong element of symbolism. He does not strain for symbols and allusions, rather finds them in natural phrases and objects. The common expressions ‘three mortal hours’ (1993:123), ‘must be perished alive’ (1993:123) and ‘get her death of cold’ (1993:143) carry with them overtones of life and death appropriate to this story.

Many themes and symbols from earlier stories are brought together in The Dead. Take for example the final moment of revelation for the young protagonist in Araby:

Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger. (1993:21)

Gabriel is often referred to as ‘call[ing] out from the dark’ (1993:123) or being ‘in a dark part…gazing up’ (1993:146), the implication being, as with so many of Joyce’s characters, that Gabriel’s life is in the dark, emotionally and spiritually. Just as the unnamed protagonist in Araby only sees himself for what he is at the end of the story so it is with Gabriel who only ‘caught sight of himself in full length’ (1993:152) after Gretta’s confession to him. The reference to the eyes is also note worthy. The word figures prominently in The Dead. The reader is told Gabriel’s eyes are ‘delicate and restless’ (1993:124) and that his aunt’s are ‘slow [which] gave her the appearance of a woman who did not know where she was or where she was going.’ (1993:125). Contrast this to Miss Ivors who the reader is told has ‘prominent brown eyes’ (1993:130) or the dead Micheal Furey who had ‘big, dark eyes!’ (1993:153). Joyce clearly draws attention to the meaning of the eyes for the characters in a story about what it means to be dead and to be alive and creates distinct divisions in appearance between the eyes that have ‘seen’ life and those who are deadened to it.

‘Paralysed’ by words and ‘dead’ to action

Throughout the story Gabriel comes under accusations of being ‘paralysed’ by words and ‘dead’ to action. It begins with Lily rebuke: ‘The men that is now is only palaver…’ (1993:124). Gabriel is wounded perhaps because he recognises that the words could directly apply to him and continues in the confrontational scene with Miss Ivors. Gabriel, as the title implies, is dead or paralysed in many respects; emotionally to his wife, politically to his nationalist identity, culturally to his language and in his self-understanding. His attempts to free himself from the paralysis, which Joyce contends has consumed Dublin, have failed, just like the boys in An Encounter and Eveline herself for ironically just like his grandfather’s horse Johnny, Gabriel too paces ’round and round’ (1993:145) in circles going no-where, unaware of how ‘muffled’ his emotional and spiritual life has become.

The use and repetition of symbols throughout Dubliners is also significant to the structure of the whole text. The similarity of words, symbols and phrases from previous stories figure prominently in The Dead. ‘Gazing up at the lighted windows’ (1993:141) is perhaps an intentional echo of a phrase in the opening sentence of The Sisters, where the death of the first story becomes unified with the death and possible hope of the last. When Gretta is described as “looking out of the window and seemed tired” (1993:141) the reader is immediately drawn back to the opening paragraph of Eveline where “her head was leaned against the window…She was tired.” (1993:22) for in both stories it is the respect themes of death and paralysis that have stifled the prospects of everlasting love.

The increasingly complexity of the symbols used in The Dead could be argued to convey the ambiguity of interpretations that Joyce wanted to achieve. The propletic use of snow as a symbol starts from the beginning of the story where ‘a light fringe of snow lay like a cape’ (1993:123) and develops to the final paragraph where ‘snow was general all over Ireland’ (1993:156). Does snow represent the death and paralysis that Joyce felt was ‘all over’ Dublin? It could be argued that as the snow falls “upon all the living and the dead” (1993:156), that this is the culmination of the physical, emotional and spiritual paralysis, which has been the focus of this and all other of his stories in Dubliners. However, it could also be argued that as Gabriel’s epiphany is the realisation that self understanding and regeneration lies in the renewal of life that can come from ‘his journey westward’ (1993:156) and that the snow is falling there too perhaps the snow becomes the symbol for hope, uniting and restoring the decline and decay of Dublin life.


To conclude the multi level approach in The Dead is the culmination of a style, structure evident throughout Dubliner’s. Themes such as paralysis, emotional and spiritual death are finally offered a sense of hope in that The Dead maybe offering a solution to the paralysis of will which affects Dublin. Joyce’s use of non-fixed perspectives, irony, realism and symbolism makes considerable demands on the reader, but the implied narrative and the shifts of its perspective maintain interest for the reader and create tension within the text.

Cite this essay

“The Dead” story. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-dead-new-essay

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