Never once does he, or his friend, mention the person we expect him to discuss, the founder of Christianity, until at the end the friend asks if Pontius Pilate happens to remember someone of the name of Jesus, from Nazareth, and the veteran administrator replies, “Jesus? I cannot call him to mind.” The story is overshadowed by the person whom Pilate does not recall; without him the story would not exist. That Joyce at the age of twenty-five and -six should have written this story ought not to seem odd. He cannot wait to be alone with her, to touch her, make love. EXCERPT FROM Dubliners– by James Joyce – “The Dead”. He was in a dark part of the hall gazing up the staircase.
Young writers reach their greatest eloquence in dwelling upon the horror of middle age and what follows it. It is Gabriel’s tragedy that they have actually never been further apart than in that moment when he sees her at the top of the stairs. A woman was standing near the top of the first flight, in the shadow also.
But beyond this proclivity which he shared with others, Joyce had a special reason for writing the story of ‘The Dead’ in 19. It brings a feeling of cold and paralysis to the scene. Someone is playing the piano in an upper room and it has caught her attention. He could not see her face but he could see the terracotta and salmonpink panels of her skirt which the shadow made appear black and white. She was leaning on the banisters, listening to something.
In his own mind he had thoroughly justified his flight from Ireland; but he had not decided the question of where he would fly to. Snow is falling – “newspapers say snow is general all over Ireland”. Gabriel looks up the stairs and sees his wife standing there, in silhouette. Gabriel is suddenly struck by the vision of his wife. Watch, too, how Gabriel – an intellectual, a book-reviewer, turns his wife into an inanimate object – he immediately begins to see her as a work of art – and wishes he could paint her – capture her. Gabriel was surprised at her stillness and strained his ear to listen also.
“The Dead” is where you know, okay – this Joyce fellow is somethin’ ELSE.
The fact that he was so young when he wrote the thing is astonishing in and of itself – and that’s another part of “The Dead” that interests me: where Joyce was at in his development when he wrote it. He wanted to rub his fellow countrymen’s noses in it. It’s like he draws back the veil over his own heart, and love pours out of it.It seemed that the rural folk had been lost in the shuffle, the rural folk still spoke Irish – they were untouched by British oppression, there was something that still survived out there in the west that those in Dublin have lost. Irish language schools started popping up, and people started traveling out to the Aran Islands, and Galway, etc. Synge – the playwright – took Yeats’s advice to “go west, young man” – and lived out on the Aran Islands (wrote a wonderful memoir about it too) – and from that experience of the untouched peasantry of Ireland – began to write his plays that would make his name. He, for the first time, feels his own isolation from his fellow man. In the last 3 or 4 paragraphs of the story, Gabriel – by realizing his own alone-ness, his own failures as a man – joins the human race for the first time. There may be other sources in France’s works, but a possible one is ‘The Procurator of Judaea’.So people like Yeats and Synge wrote about the west. In it Pontius Pilate reminisces with a friend about the days when he was procurator in Judaea, and describes the events of his time with Roman reason, calm, and elegance.He carves the goose gallantly, he dances with Miss Ivors – he works hard on his speech that he wants to give at the party … We don’t get the sense that something is MISSING in Gabriel Conroy – until the end. For me, that last paragraph feels like a swoon – with its uncanny repetition of words (“falling”) – it takes on the tone of a prayer, a mantra.Then we realize that what he was missing was consciousness. The story of his wife’s failed love back in Galway (same story as Nora’s) – has launched him into life. Ellmann writes in his biography of Joyce: In its lyrical, melancholy acceptance of all that life and death offer, ‘The Dead’ is a linchpin in Joyce’s work.I have not reproduced its ingenuous insularity and its hospitality. suggests ‘in another sense’ (where the hell does he get the meaningless phrases he uses) I am sure I should find again what you call the Holy Ghost sitting in the ink-bottle and the perverse devil of my literary conscience sitting on the hump of my pen.The latter ‘virtue’ so far as I can see does not exist elsewhere in Europe. And after all Two Gallants – with the Sunday crowds and the harp in Kildare Street and Lenehan – is an Irish landscape.The west represents rural life, the east is the rush and bustle of Dublin. like no matter what he says she will never accept it. The point was to get the hell OUT so you could have a chance. Gabriel sees himself as continental – he takes pride in that – which is what Miss Ivors senses, and sets about to pierce through that pride) Despite the fact that his wife is actually FROM the “west” of Ireland – they have never gone back to visit Galway together. Gabriel sees his own pomposity, and silliness – and avoids looking at himself in the mirror, for shame. This was in one sense an answer to his university friends who mocked his remark that death is the most beautiful form of life by saying that absence is the highest form of presence. What binds ‘Ivy Day’ to ‘The Dead’ is that in both stories the central agitation derives from a character who never appears, who is dead, absence.At the time of Joyce’s writing of the story, the Irish Revival was in full swing – and the Irish began to look “west” to see who they really were. She leaves the party early – and says goodbye to the crowd in Irish … Gabriel just has no interest in ‘seeing’ the countryside, and having some Irish Renaissance experience out there. But by the end of the story, what has happened to Gabriel is nothing short of a complete transformation. He realizes that his tenderness and lust towards his wife, through the end of the party – was misguided. He then launches us up – up – into the atmosphere – and Gabriel looks down on all. Joyce wrote Stanislaus that Anatole France had given the idea for both stories.“The Dead” can also be seen (since it is the last story) as the launching pad into the novels.Joyce wrote 3 novels: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake – and while Dubliners is marvelous, it doesn’t prepare you at all for the ground-breaking quality of the novels – except for “The Dead”.