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 Post subject: Creative Analysis. :)
PostPosted: 07 Jan 2009, 06:10 
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I used to love analyzing literature, and this is probably the best I ever did.

The Dead in Joyce: Literal and Metaphorical Corpses in The Dead

James Joyce, perhaps the greatest writer of prose in the English language, was on a progressive quest. He sought to move from the world of real objects and concrete plots to a world of nothing but symbols and images, with the only reference point for what he wrote being the words themselves. While The Dead was written long before this goal was realized, even at this early stage there is little if anything that is nor of symbolic value. The Dead, despite all the images of a celebration and conflict, is about exactly what the title infers. The dead, the dying, both literally and metaphorically, populate every corner of this piece of short fiction. Whether the death comes from old age, from loss, or simply from not living, even the most cursory examinations of many of the characters in The Dead reveals the true tragedy in the death of Michael Furey, the great irony that "he did not wish to live." The irony being that, of all the important characters, perhaps only he and Gretta had ever truly lived.

Aunt Kate and Aunt Julia strike the immediate image of the jolly, still lively, old women who bustle around, trying to live what remaining life they have to the fullest. In the mold of this image, they fit nicely, but in the realization of it they fail. Rather than taking truly active roles in the world around them, doing things that they always wanted but never had time to until now, their entire lives seem to rotate around Gabriel Conroy, their nephew, and their annual Christmas season party. Practically all their actions concern Gabriel, such as their worried vigil at the top of the stairs before he arrives, or are with him. Those few times they stray from Gabriel they concern themselves with creating the image of a smoothly-running, enjoyable party with themselves as the perfect hostesses, such as showing concern for the ever-inebriated Freddy Malins - not out of concern for his safety, but out of fear he will ruin the party. The only sign of any real life one draws from them is when Aunt Julia sings Arrayed for the Bridal, when "a little colour" struggles into her face as a response to the applause. Of the two aunts, however, it is clear that Julia is far closer to literal death despite her ability to fend off complete metaphorical death, and this thought comes as part of the redemption of Gabriel from his metaphorical death. For the aunts themselves, however, redemption may no longer be an option. They are too far gone down the slippery slope of a meaningless existence to ever truly return to the realm of the living.

Gretta Conroy, the wife of Gabriel, did once live a complete life. She knew love of a simpler type than that expected by Gabriel, went for walks in the country, and listened to songs, all with Michael Furey, the specter who haunts the last pages of The Dead. Michael Furey was the young man in Galway, where Gretta grew up, who had a strong clear voice, who came down with consumption, and when he heard that Gretta was leaving Galway, came to see her in the cold rain to say that, without her, "he did not want to live." The song he always sang to her, The Lass of Aughrim, foreshadowed her fate: "O, the rain falls on my heavy babe lies cold." Now, taken out of the simple country living of Galway, Gretta is dying. Her being is slowly having the life wrung from it by the oversophisticated Gabriel. Soon, she will be little more than a shell, with the fire which we only see twice, in her reaction to hearing Miss Ivors' plan to visit Galway in the summer and in her retelling of the story of Michael Furey, buried "where his people came from," forever extinguished. For Gretta, there is still hope of a resurrection, if she can return to Galway, where her people are from, and draw strength from the familiarity, the roots she has laid there. The decision on whether to return to Galway or not, however, lies completely with Gabriel.

Perhaps further gone into the world of metaphorical death than any other, but also the only one with his redemption made a reality, Gabriel constitutes an interesting figure. He is concerned with image and appearance, distancing himself as much as possible from his Irish heritage, yet offended when called a "West Briton" by Miss Ivors. Rather than draw inspiration from his heritage, he sees it as a burden on having a more continental style. Gabriel vacations in Germany, France, or Belgium while knowing little of his own land. Overcautious, he wears galoshes so as to keep his feet from getting wet, eats celery rather than taking part in dessert with the rest of the partygoers, and even plans out how how he will seduce his wife in the evening. He worries that his speech will be too intellectual for the audience to which it is addressed, but fails to actually say anything of meaning in it. He drinks in moderation, eats in moderation, even seems to love in moderation. Nothing rouses any real emotion in him until the specter of Michael Furey rises from his wife's memory and with it fury and jealousy rise within Gabriel. Furious that his wife could have ever loved another, furious that she can still be touched by his memory, jealous of the purity of the emotion that she and Michael shared, perhaps jealous of Michael for being willing to die for Gretta, something Gabriel knows he could never bring himself to do, and, ultimately, helpless under the weight of expectation that Gretta had for love after Michael's death. Michael's specter, along with Gabriel's sudden realization that soon he will be reaching for empty words of comfort for others at Aunt Julia's funeral, redeem Gabriel. He sees that, physically, we are all always dying, and it is "better [to] pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age." Many tears flow from Gabriel's eyes and, for a second, he thinks he may see the ghost of Michael Furey standing beneath a tree. The snow taps against the window just as the gravel Michael Furey threw did the night he caught his death in the cold, and Gabriel looks out the window and knows that the time has come to start his "journey westward," perhaps towards Ireland, specifically Galway, probably towards new experiences and passions, and definitely boldly into death. The snow that covers the hotel where Gabriel and Gretta are staying also covers the graveyard where Michael Furey is buried, perhaps, finally, laying him to rest after performing one last act of love for Gretta

"His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead." Joyce brings one to this point through The Dead, forces one to confront the reality that we are "all becoming shades," and reminds one of the important things in life. The Dead brings the reality of life into perspective, its inconstancy, its fragility, and reminds the reader to make the most of his time in this mortal coil, that the "descent of their last end" is unavoidable, falling like the snow in Ireland "upon all the living and the dead."

Copyright 1999

You laugh because I'm different. I laugh because...well, you're not laughing now, are you?

PostPosted: 07 Feb 2018, 08:04 

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