This extract from ‘The Dead’ completes not only the longest, and often seen as most important story in Dubliners, but also satisfies the primary theme of the collection: paralysis and the constant desire for escape. In concurrence with the final epiphany of Gabriel Conroy, this end passage provides a feeling of achievement and advance, previously unseen in the book. The extract includes both sentiments confirming the failure and struggle of most Dubliners, but also contains an undeniably more hopeful aspect: the resolve to move on, to escape the confines of Dublin.
Contrary to the other stories, rather than escape east to Europe in pursuit of wealth and opportunity, Gabriel determines to travel west into the heart of Ireland to rediscover his own identity which he feels ‘fading out into a grey impalpable world’. This signifies the state to which Dublin has been reduced and also Gabriel’s perception of his own life. In accordance with the rest of the collection this passage is open to different interpretations.
It can be seen as a turning point, an ending to the apparently interminable confinement essentially witnessed in every main character: in Eveline, Farrington and many others. Another point of view sees this ending as a confirmation of the failure of all Dubliners, emphatic of the futility of their lives. The setting of ‘The Dead’ supports both these opinions, notably through the numerous references to the snow: ‘the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling… upon all the living and the dead.
The snow creates a sense of unity between all Irish, past and present- Gabriel and Michael Furey- covering Ireland and all its troubles, denoting a new start for Gabriel, filling him with hope. The chiastic arrangements: ‘falling faintly… faintly falling’; ‘falling softly… softly falling’, give the impression that Gabriel is reflecting upon his own life, and dwelling on his shortcomings. The placement of the word ‘softly’ gives the passage a soothing nature, and the constantly falling snow echoes the optimism expressed within these lines.
The alliteration emphasises the downwards motion of the snow, not as something uplifting and hope inspiring, but to further establish the notion of failure for the Dubliners. The other language techniques evident in this extract enhance the melancholy outlook depicted by Gabriel, and through them significant emotions are expressed succinctly. The repetition enforces the negative feelings experienced by Gabriel due to his epiphany: the word ‘shade’ highlights the way he sees his life; it is paling into insignificance as are the lives of the other Dubliners.
Alliteration of the letter ‘s’ towards the end of the passage, ‘soul swooned slowly’, emphasises the sombre nature of Gabriel’s temperament, and this phrase particularly draws attention to life and death being unified under the cover of snow. Just as ‘The Dead’ marks the end of the book, death marks the end of life, and is a significant theme in this extract of Dubliners: the death is not only of the passing from life, but also the death of the soul, and of the will to live. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead… he solid world itself… was dissolving and dwindling.
Gabriel begins to lose sight of his sense of being; he has become disillusioned by thoughts of his wasted life. He feels isolated by the realisation that his life has been squandered; his existence seems ‘dead’, and it hardly pains him to ‘think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in life. ‘ Although Gabriel does not resent Michael Furey, knowledge of him instigates thoughts of failure and dejection, and highlights what he lacks, thus the language of the passage denotes his frame of mind.
The descriptive words used in these paragraphs symbolise the resignation Gabriel experiences, ‘pity’, ‘dangled’, ‘limp’, echoing the view he has of his life. ‘The Dead’ is narrated in the third person, and so the sentiments expressed are not exclusively those of the main character, Gabriel Conroy. However, a common style of Joyce is to convey the individual’s thoughts or feelings not through dialogue but through narration, resulting in the reader viewing occurrences objectively as though perceived by one directly involved.
Gabriel looks at Gretta ‘as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife’: his perspective is changing and expressed in this style the reader can empathise more with Gabriel than were his thoughts told by an impersonal narrator. The fact that ‘The Dead’ is placed at the end of public life means that Gabriel feels no need to express false sentiments: he shows honesty both in the harsh thoughts about his own life and in his desire to escape the country of which he is ‘sick’.
There appears to be the implication in this passage that for some Dubliners, epitomized here by Aunt Julia, escape from their paralysis is unlikely, even impossible, certainly if they choose to remain in Dublin. Gabriel holds little hope for the Dubliners, he sees the dark room, with the ‘blinds drawn down’ in mourning, blocking the windows, a common symbol of escape, and can find only lame and useless’ words to console his remaining aunt.
However, ‘The Dead’ as an entire story takes a far more positive stance than others in the collection, and its ending is no exception. While Gabriel feels his elderly relatives are confined to a dismal end, he recognises as a result of his previous epiphany, that ‘the time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. ‘
Gabriel seeks a simple life; he is not blinded by the attraction of wealth, but endeavours to live a life of happiness and accomplishment, ‘better pass boldly into that other world. ‘ Gabriel seems determined to make something of the remainder of his life, and is struck poignantly as he realises that he has never experienced love: ‘tears gather thickly in his eyes’ and darkness pervades, obscuring his vision. Gabriel does not let the absence of this vital sense deter his resolve, and though ‘his own identity was fading’ decides to venture on a journey of self discovery and revival.
This absence of vision is common throughout Dubliners, and explains their repeated failure to escape. In ‘Clay’ Joe’s vision is also blurred due to the pity he feels towards Maria. She will die as described in the extract: ‘fade and wither dismally with age. ‘ As an ending to Dubliners this passage from ‘The Dead’ creates a sense of ambiguity; it combines the primary themes of the book with a suitable sense of finality: consolidating the idea of entrapment, whilst also suggesting a progression away from the restrictive nature of Dublin.
Joyce uses setting and language to enforce the dismal nature of Dublin in the early twentieth century, and through narrative style the personal thoughts of Gabriel are clearly expressed. This final extract clarifies for the reader the mortality of all humans, and leaves them with either an impression of anticipation and hope or of an overpowering paralysis occupying Dublin.