James Joyce’s story “The Dead” has a tremendous impact on the readers, especially those who are familiar with the political situation in Ireland at the time about which Joyce wrote the final story in Dubliners. In exploring the meaning of James Joyce’s long short-story,”The Dead”, there are many critical approaches to take. Each approach gives readers a lens, a set of guidelines through which to examine and express ideas of the meaning of “The Dead. ” Joyce himself said that the idea of paralysis was his intended them of all the stories in The Dublinersof which “The Dead” is the final story.
Of all critical approaches, reader-response works best for me. This approach examines the images, symbols,point-of-view, characterization and setting of “The Dead” in such a way asto reveal the theme of paralysis that Joyce intended. The two characters that appeal to me are, Gabriel and his wife Gretta who are invited every year to a family gathering by Gabriels two aunts on New Years eve. Gabriel,who is a university professor, does not want to be identified with Ireland.
He wants to be identified as a citizen of the world. His arrogance is revealed in his interaction with others. A primary example would be the way he treats his wife Gretta as an object. As Peter J. Rabinowitz informs one that in reader response criticism the “activity of reading always alters the text at hand. Unless we are limiting ourselves to reading in the sense of uninflected recitation, reading is never a passive activity to which the reader contributes nothing. In the reader-response criticism, reading is a text in which individual experiences bear on the subject. Every individual interprets the text differently due to one having different experiences that determine the interpretation of the text. (138) The images reflect Gabriels ego in a sense, at the same for his marital relationship, and at the end death, which may not be physical but spiritual.
Gabriel who is tallish and stout symbolizes authority and also wants to be perfect for all times. He has a mental block, which makes him believe that he is more superior and different than others are. He’s builta screen around himself, which stops him from identifying himself with the”Common Man. ” The “polished lenses and the bright gilt rims of the glasses which screened his delicate and restless eyes. “(23,24).
This image perhaps tells us that the glasses are the screen that partition his vision from the vision of others. Joyce’s intended theme of paralysis is exemplified in the symbolization of snow. In the story, snow has a major role as it symbolizes the political situation at the same time where everything was cold and dead due to the political uncertainty at the time. Snow also plays a major role as it interprets the reader to be on the alert, as things at the end are not going to be as smooth as Gabriel had predicted. This is seen in the shift of mood when after the party had concluded, Gabriel and his wife are heading towards the hotel and he’s in a very romantic mood and looking forward to a night of romance. On the way, snow suggests that things are not going to be so smooth.
“The morning was still dark. A dark yellow light brooded over the houses and the river; and the sky seemed to be descending. It was slushy underfoot; and only streaks and patches of snow lay on the roofs, on parapets of the quay and on the area railings”(51). The snow at the end of the story takes a different form. As when Gabriel realizes that his wife Gretta has really been thinking about someone else while he thought that all her thought’s would be about him,especially at the moment where he is in a romantic state of mind.
His world comes hurdling down when Gretta informs him that she has been thinking about her life when she was an adolescent and had a seventeen year old boy who was madly in love with her. Despite the fact that he was suffering from tuberculosis, he waited in the rain just to have a glimpse of her. This aggravated his condition and eventually, he died. “I think he died for me.
” “A vague terror seized Gabriel at this answer as if, atthat hour when he had hoped to triumph, some impalpable and vindictive being was coming against him, gathering forces against him in it’s vague world” (57). At this moment Gabriel realizes .