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Discuss The Dead by James Joyce

"The Dead" is the final short story in the 1914 collection Dubliners by James Joyce. It is often considered the best of Joyce's shorter works.

The story centers on Gabriel Conroy on the night of the annual dance and dinner in the first week of January 1904, perhaps the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6). "The Dead" develops toward a moment of painful self-awareness; described as an epiphany. The narrative generally concentrates on Gabriel's insecurities, his social awkwardness, and the defensive way he copes with his discomfort. The story culminates at the point when Gabriel discovers that, through years of marriage, there was much he never knew of his wife's past. The last pages of this story contain some of the most moving language you will encounter in English. Joyce makes a sad, profound statement about love, life and death and asks the question of how well do we really know those people closest to us.

"It is one of those rare stories that, when you finish it, you call up those people you love and those who love literature to make sure they have read it too." (from one of the reviews).

Like many important artistic works of the early twentieth century (the paintings of Joyce's contemporary Wassily Kandinsky, for instance, or Louis Armstrong's music), Dubliners appears deceptively simple and direct at first, especially compared with James Joyce's later works of fiction: A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake. It is certainly his most accessible book.

It was in Dubliners that Joyce developed his storytelling muscles, honing the nuts-and-bolts craftsmanship that would make the high modern art of A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake viable. In Dubliners, he does not yet employ the techniques of mimetic narrative (characteristic of A Portrait) or stream-of-consciousness (Ulysses), but he paves the way here for those technical breakthroughs.

Mainly, Joyce worked and played in Dubliners at plotting and characterization, description and dialogue, and (especially) point of view (the technical term for who is telling a story, to whom, and with what limitations).

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  • Jack M.

    We had a disagreement in the meeting. I said the epiphany was depressing but few agreed. Thinking about it, I can agree with them. The epiphany does not deliver the emotions that I think Gabriel must have felt. In order for such an end to be depressing for the reader, Joyce would have have had to change the entire first half of the story, just as a Sartre or Camus might have done. The epiphany seems to contradict what the early part of the story presents: even though we all die, life is a joy, our lives are more important than our deaths even though we never fully comprehend who we are or who those closest to us are. The importance of our lives is revealed in our deaths, the loss others feel when we depart.

    1 · February 28, 2013

  • Jack M.

    We really should have discussed why the story begins before Gabriel arrives. A very unusually and therefore must be a very significant aspect of Joyce's intentions. Makes it obvious that
    Gabriel was important to a lot of people, thus making his dreary epiphany less than a convincing revelation. We all die, but our lives are significant. No man is an island, certainly not one covered with snow.

    1 · February 28, 2013

    • bonnie n.

      Thanks for sharing this theory! I can see the parallels - and the deparature from the mass structurally at the end of the story .... with the epiphany... has its own parallels in liturgy.

      February 28, 2013

    • Fred S.

      Nice, John!

      February 28, 2013

  • Tania

    And we didn't even touch on so many things like Joyce's use of prolepsis (that Romeo and Juliette painting on the wall, for instance...). Thank you for such a great response and wonderful conversation. We'll do it again.

    February 27, 2013

  • Erica L.

    I think the singer was humbled by the fact that he was "in bad voice" and not perfect -- but Aunt Julia apparently sang very well if that's relevant. I also think the group was great.

    February 27, 2013

  • Fred S.

    Good point, Jack! I couldn't tell either. By the end he seemed to take such a detached point of view toward his wife and her obvious love for this young man who loved her when she was young. The ending seemed hopeful. Gabriel had an epiphany - that love transcends death and lives as long as one of them is still alive. Was that the group consensus?

    February 27, 2013

  • Fred S.

    Stop discussing! I feel terrible for having missed it. Yes, wanted to discuss the snow imagery with you all to get your views. ARGGGH.

    Also, did anyone talk about the use of the formal "Mr. Bartell d'Arcy" until 3/4 of the way through, after which Joyce called him Mr. d'Arcy"? What did that signify? Was he becoming a less formal prick? Did he get humanized? What was the key moment when he stopped being so prickly?

    February 27, 2013

    • bonnie n.

      I'll need to read it again, but could it have been when he sang?

      February 27, 2013

    • John T.

      My knee jerk reaction would be that D'Arcy was just a device to work in the song...... but since you raised the question, maybe he's one more addition to the long list of people whom Gabriel simply doesn't understand or find any bond of humanity, until his epiphany

      February 27, 2013

  • Jack M.

    What an incredibly stimulating meeting. The diversity of view points was most illuminating and a real stimulus to much further thought. I was up at 5 rethinking the different perspectives. The most thought provoking challenge was the different perspective on whether the ending was depressing or not. That difference enriched my reading considerably.

    1 · February 27, 2013

  • Alice S.

    Very lively; lots of different reader responses. I began to see "snow" as the cold that descends when you encounter the Other, a part of self you can't assimilate.

    February 27, 2013

  • bonnie n.

    a lively, many-faceted discussion, graciously led by Tania

    February 26, 2013

  • John T.

    Did the location change?

    February 26, 2013

    • Tania

      So sorry, John, that you did not find us - we were in the "library room" of Bethesda La Madeleine as announced until 8:30 pm.

      February 26, 2013

  • John T.

    My battery is 90% dead and I suspect the location has changed or the event is cancelled due to the truly icky cold driving rain. Will wait a few more minutes, make another circuit of this restaurant before going home. :-(

    February 26, 2013

    • bonnie n.

      we missed you - the location was the downtown Bethesda La Madeleine, next to the Bethesda metro. sorry you couldn't join us!

      February 26, 2013

    • John T.

      Ahhhh shit! Bethesda would have been? easier to get to too :-(.

      February 26, 2013

  • Fred S.

    "One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age."
    James Joyce. Dubliners (Kindle Locations[masked]). Beautiful, as only sadness brings.

    February 26, 2013

    • bonnie n.

      Devastating. Overwhelmingly sad. Snow all over Ireland.

      1 · February 26, 2013

  • Fred S.

    Looking forward to seeing this group again.

    February 22, 2013

    • bonnie n.

      There may be a crowd, so I'll try to arrive early! Will be good to see you again. You did yeoman's work last time.... and Sasha should be here this time.

      February 24, 2013

    • Fred S.

      hey Bonnie! It sure was fun. Hope tomorrow equals last meeting's in terms of collective group intelligence and literary awareness. Hope to see you again tomorrow.

      February 26, 2013

  • Tania

    Ladies and gentlemen,
    since we have such a nice big group I thought you might feel inclined to consider bringing a name tag with you from some other function to facilitate the conversation... Just a thought.

    February 25, 2013

  • Missie G.

    I may arrive late but if I do not make this one I will the next

    February 24, 2013

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