By Anastasia Loverdou and Andreas Panaretos[presented at a student workshop in the context of the module “Modernist Fiction” taught at the English Department of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens]
INTRODUCTION & SUMMARY
James Joyce was born on February 2, 1882, in Dublin, Ireland, and died on January 13, 1941. At the age of 22, he left Dublin for Croatia, then Trieste, Rome, Paris, and other European cities. In 1909, he visited Dublin twice in order to publish the Dubliners a 15 short-stories collection the last of which is “The Dead,” the story discussed in this essay.
In this short story Gabriel and his wife Gretta attend a party hosted by Gabriel’s aunts. During the party Gabriel is being judged for his “British” ways; wearing galoshes, not being interested in visiting Irish lands of cultural significance, and generally not adhering to nationalistic ideologies, popular in Ireland. As the party progresses it is clear that he is getting more and more impatient to escape with the company of his wife to the hotel room he has booked for them. Nevertheless, his expectations of a romantic escape are crushed when Greta shares with him a past memory of a boy named Michael Furey in her homeland who, as she believes, had died brokenhearted out of love for her. The story ends with Gabriel looking out of the window at the snow falling all over Ireland.
The hotel space is significant to the story and the characters’ epiphanies. The Joycean epiphanies are significantly distinct from the usual moments of self-awareness found in literary works of the nineteenth century. His novelty centers around the fact that the epiphanic moments can be interpreted in more than one way and can occur in the sphere of the ordinary; more specifically, Gabriel, the protagonist of the story is confronted with certain truths conjured by the effect of the hotel–which, according to some critics, is the hotel in the picture above. That is to say, it is interesting to explore how the hotel epiphanies lead Gabriel, and even the readers, to re-evaluate their views and ideas concerning their relationship with others (interpersonal), their relationships with themselves (intrapersonal), and the Irish identity.
The hotel room awakens feelings of alienation in both characters. These feelings are associated with their relationship but also with their own identity. For Gabriel, the atmosphere of the party was partly unpleasant as members kept pressuring him to re-evaluate his ideologies concerning Irish nationalism, in a way leading him further away from it. This leads him to build great expectations for his night at the hotel and view it as a place of escape and eroticism. There he would be able to get away from the party formalities and from society’s expectations.
It is noteworthy to view the hotel room as a place associated with sexual activity. The reasoning behind this lies in the anonymity of the hotel room combined with it being between private and public. Specifically, the hotel space is far removed from domestic life, but it cannot be considered public either. That is to say, it belongs to a zone of its own, where the moral boundaries are fluid and allow for more daring actions and exploration of sexual desires.
However, Gabriel’s heightened sexual expectations are utterly crushed by his wife who explores the space of the hotel and its fluid morals in a different way. This liminality as well as the darkness and ghostliness of the hotel prompts Gretta to invoke a ghost from her past. Michael Furey, a figure that Gretta seems to have romanticized and connected with passionate love comes between the couple. Contrary to his own expectations, Gabriel finds himself drifting further away from his wife. The reader could also notice here that the paradox of the hotel, meaning its liminality (not public, not private, familiar and unfamiliar), is adopted by the couple who do get to know each other better, and yet this seems to further isolate them instead of bringing them closer.
In a way, the protagonist is led to “a room of impossibility” as he realizes that not only is he somewhat estranged from the members of the party but also from his wife. There is another man between them, and more than that a man who is also strongly connected with elements of the Irish culture which Gabriel considered with disdain. The final image finds Gabriel looking through the window as if trying to find a different exit, but in the falling snow, he sees a reflection of his isolation and more than that an alienated Irish nation.
As in all of Joyce’s Dubliners short stories, the issue of Irish identity and Irish Nationalism emerges in “The Dead.” At the beginning of the story, Gabriel is characterized as a “West Briton” as he seems to avoid considering his relationship with Irish history, culture, and folklore. On the contrary, he seems more interested in the British and Western European lifestyle judging from his preferred ways to spend his holidays and his clothes (wearing galoshes).
Arriving at the hotel, Gabriel holds certain expectations regarding his and Gretta’s time to be spent there. He is portrayed as impatient and he hopes that the hotel space will protect him from old-fashioned ideas related to Irish identity, as the hotel was believed to be a key point of British Imperialism and Colonialism. During the 1900s, the hotel was regarded as a transitory space, in which members of the British Empire would reside and feel distinguished by the culture and lifestyle of the non-British. In other words, the hotel was an ephemeral stop for those who used to dive into a lifestyle of mobility within and across cities, who in this case is Gabriel (for example he talks about traveling around Belgium).
Before entering the hotel room, Gabriel thinks of Gretta as his only family member who conforms to his strict and opposing views on the Irish identity and culture. However, this idea is quickly demolished as the presence of Michael Furey in Gretta’s consciousness reminds him of the persistence of Ireland’s romanticized distant roots for those reluctant to engage with the Nationalist cause. And this very accusation was frequently leveled against Joyce’s lifestyle and works, despite the fact that he was not a supporter of British Imperialism.
Conclusively, the hotel in Joyce’s “The Dead” seems to be closely linked to the Joycean epiphanies. While it is not explicitly described as a key point of the story, the hotel room triggers certain revelations of truths, which ultimately raise questions about Irish identity and Nationalism. The hotel, in Gabriel’s mind, is a place of eroticism and of liberation of his desires and ideas. However, it quickly acquires a role that defies almost all of Gabriel’s expectations and implicitly restructures his and Gretta’s intrapersonal and interpersonal relations.
Anastasia Loverdou is a final-year undergraduate student of English Language and Literature at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. Her interest in Irish literature began through one of her favorite writers, Oscar Wilde, and his short story collection “The Happy Prince and Other Tales”. She is also interested in Visual Arts, especially drawing and animation, which she studies as a minor at the American College of Greece.
Andreas Panaretos is a final-year undergraduate student of English Language and Literature at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. During the past few years, he has become significantly interested in Irish literature and especially James Joyce, whose Dubliners short stories and writing style were the main focus of a lecture provided by Dr. James Little at Mazaryk University which Andreas attended as an Erasmus student in the Czech Republic. Andreas is also interested in music as he took piano lessons for 8 years and is a Music Theory Professional Certificate holder since 2018.