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 the 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 Dubliners
of 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 as
to 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 identifies 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 determines 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
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 built
a 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 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.
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
This aggravated his condition and eventually he died. “I think
he died for me.” “A vague terror seized Gabriel at this answer as if, at
that 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 .