The Dead

James Joyce - The Dead

The Author

James Joyce was born in Rathgar, a suburb in the south of Dublin, on February 2, 1882. He was the first of ten children. His parents were John Stanislaus Joyce, an improvident rate collector, and Mary Jane Murray. James was baptised in Roman Catholic faith at the church of St Joseph, Terenure, on February 5.
In 1887 the Joyce family moved to Bray, a seaside town fifteen miles south of Dublin. From 1888 to 1891 James studied at Clongowes Wood College, Sallins, County Kildare, a well - known Jesuit school. In 1891 the family, who had financial problems, moved first to Blackrock and then to Dublin. After a brief interlude with the Christian Brothers on North Richmond Street, Joyce finished his Jesuit education at Belvedere College. In 1898 he entered University College, Dublin, where he read French, Italian and English. In 1902, Joyce left for Paris in order to study medicine, but he soon returned to Dublin in August of 1903 because of his mother’s death. Back in Dublin James Joyce started working an the first draft of ‘Stephen Hero’. In 1904 he fell in love with Nora Barnacle, a girl from Galway who worked in a hotel. In the same year he also published the first story of the collection ‘Dubliners’. He decided to leave for Zurich together with Nora, where he taught at the Berlitz school. A year later they moved to Trieste where his son Giorgo was born on 27 July 1905.
Six months later, James Joyce sent twelve stories of ‘Dubliners’ to his publisher, who hesitated eleven years to publish these stories, because he was afraid of censorship. In 1907 Joyce published ‘Chamber Music’, a collection of poems. In the same year his daughter Lucia Anna was born.
The following years were marked by the beginning of Joyce’s eye problems. In 1914 ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ was published. Joyce’s play ‘Exiles’ was published in 1918 in London and New York. In 1920 the family Joyce moved to Paris and two years later the full text of ‘Ulysses’ was published in book form. His second collection of poems, ‘Pomes Penyeach’, was published in 1927. On 4 July 1931 James and Nora were married in London ‘for testamentary reasons’. In the same year, Joyce’s father died in Dublin.
By 1933 Joyce had become nearly blind. Two more of Joyce’s books were published in the thirties: his ‘Collected Poems’ (1936) and ‘Finnegans Wake’ (1939). In 1940 the family Joyce fled to Switzerland.
Joyce died in Zurich on 13 January 1941, of a perforated ulcer.

About the Story

‘The Dead’ is the last story of ‘Dubliners’. James Joyce wrote this story in Trieste in 1907. ‘The Dead’ was first published with the rest of the collection in 1917.
‘The Dead’ has the usual division into three parts, indicated by Joyce himself: arrival of the guests and first dances; Gabriel’s own dance with Miss Ivors, supper and speech; last song, departure, hotel scene with the revelation of Gretta’s past love.


Part 1

The story is set at the house of the Morkans where the sisters Miss Kate and Miss Julia and their niece Mary Jane have their yearly Christmas party. Everybody who knows one of the three hostesses comes each year to their dance - party.
This year the guests are worried at first because it was after ten o’clock Gabriel Conroy, the nephew of Miss Julia and Miss Kate, and his wife Gretta have still not come. When they finally arrive, everybody is very pleased because Gabriel is going to give a speech this year. Gabriel wants to give Lily, who does the housework for her aunts and her cousin, a tip, but she rejects it.
Gabriel goes up the stairs and stops outside the sitting room door in order to go through his speech again because he is not really content with it. He thinks that it might be too difficult for his audience, and he does not want to make another mistake (after offering Lily a tip).
After that he greets the other guests. At the same time, Freddy Malins who is always drunk arrives. Gabriel is told better to look after Freddy when the other people go back into the room where they can have a drink or dance. Mary Jane starts playing the piano, but Gabriel does not listen because he does not like the music.

Part 2

After Mary Jane has finished playing, Gabriel finds himself standing close to Miss Ivors as the next dance begins. She is a young woman with honest brown eyes who talks a lot. They start a conversation and Gabriel tells her that he will not be able to come to the Aran Isles because he wants to go on a bicycle tour to France or Belgium. She, however, cannot understand at all why he does not want to visit his own country, but Gabriel argues that he wants to practice the foreign languages. When the music has finished, they stop talking as well and she even calls him ‘West Briton’.
After the dance, Gabriel Conroy speaks to Freddy Mailins’ mother in order to forget the conversation with Miss Ivors. Then everybody sits down to have supper, and Gabriel takes a seat at the head of the table. After the supper Gabriel makes his speech.

Part 3

The last guests are standing at the front door. The cold morning air blows into the house. Gabriel puts his coat on and waits for his wife Gretta. He goes to the bottom of the stairs and looks up. He sees a women standing in the shadow near the top. It is his wife who is listening to a melody. Someone is playing the piano and a man is singing to the music. It is Mr Bartell D’Arcy who has not wanted to sing at first. After that, all go to the door and say goodbye to the hostesses.
Gabriel and his wife Gretta go back home to their hotel. Gretta is very thoughtful. She tells Gabriel that she keeps thinking about a person she knew a long time ago when she was living with her grandmother in a small village. His name was Michael Furey and he was her boyfriend. He died when he was only seventeen. And she believes he died for her. He was ill and he visited her because she wanted to move to Dublin. The weather was horrible, it was raining and a strong wind was blowing. He died one week later.
After this revelation he throws herself down on the bed, crying. While Gretta is asleep, Gabriel looks out of the window ,and thinks about the story she has just told him, about his earlier feelings for her, and about how strong they were. He meditates on the living and the dead.


Gabriel Conroy:
He is the main character of this story. Gabriel, ‘a stout, tallish young man with glossy black hair and glasses’, works as a university teacher in Galway - In contrast to Miss Ivors, he is not so fond of his country.
As his wife tells him that this boy, Michael Furey, died for her, he cannot deal with the situation. He feels completely alone.

Gretta Conroy:
She is Gabriel’s wife. His mother does not like her. She calls Gretta ‘a sweet girl from the country’. But she is a rather beautiful woman. At the Christmas party she remembers Michael Furey. She thinks that he died for her and loves him because of that.


‘The Dead’ is a description of a man’s realisation of his psychological paralysis.[1] This is broken down by three mistakes, one in each part of the story: (1) Lily’s refusal of a tip: Gabriel’s failure as a gentlemen, (2) Miss Ivors’ use of the abusive term ‘West Briton’: Gabriel’s failure as an Irishman, (3) Gretta’s withdrawal into the past and her revelation: Gabriel’s failure as a man, a lover and a husband.
He is then left alone (his wife is fast asleep) to mediate on the living and the dead while he is looking out of the window.
[1] HART, CLIVE: James Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’, Faber&Faber, London, 1969

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