Literary Yard

Search for meaning

Accomplice to the Subject in Joyce’s Dubliners

By: Patrick Peters


James Joyce represents a microcosm of Irish life in the short story collection Dubliners. In a sequence of portraits, he recreates the native experience of Dublin as lived by a segment of its populace. Joyce gives the reader a slice of realism, augmented by the perspectives of the characters. In his examples of Dublin life, he further offers an account of human experience and its universal nuances. Joyce channels the subject as arbiter of meaning, raising perception as the lens of reality. From the specific insights of his characters he illumines subjectivity within the modern story. Experiential representation binds narration to the swings of consciousness, opening the realm of ambiguity and destabilizing truth. Furthermore, Joyce uses an intersubjective lens to locate meaning acrossfluctuations of individualexperience. His stories emphasize uncertain relations between characters and the consequences of tenuous communication. Culminating in a work that feeds interpretation,Dubliners gives shape to the myriad challenges of interpersonal engagement.

            Joyce’s final piece, “The Dead,” gathers the overarching themes of life, growth, and death into a concentrated picture. Through the eyes of Gabriel Conroy, the story pushes past the insights of epiphany toward a more thoughtful ending. The significance of this final portraitlies in Gabriel’s proximity to others, and in particular to his wife, Gretta. As interiority drives the story, the focal point of his perspectiveframes interaction among characters. Gabriel’s experience revealsthe unstable nature of intersubjectivity –– the mode of being that links persons in dialogue. In Joyce’s delivery, relationships between subjects show both connection and dissociation within the realm of interpersonal politics. Subjective gaps complicate communication, obstructing the ethics of engagement. For Gabriel, disclosure of Gretta’s past exposes interpersonal estrangement and the assumptions of shared knowledge. Adopting a new orientation to the world, he discovers a bridgeable distance between his interiority and Gretta’s. The limits of his perception paradoxically broaden his understanding and open thetext topossibilities of reconciliation. As in Joyce’s other stories, the subject in “The Dead” operates on a variegated platform of knowing and discovery. This representation challenges narrative closure and opens potential modes of intersubjectivity.

            Joyce’s emphasis on the subject brings his storyline into an atmosphere of everyday, mundane living. To capture what his characters think and feel, he channels each story through a small window of time that minimizes plot for the substance of experience. The mechanics of subjectivity place the individual within the centrality of a particular moment. Not unlike stream of consciousness writing, the characters emerge through glimpses of close interiority. Gabriel, for one, supports the story through a series of mental snapshots that directly relay his observations. Sara Danius writes that Joyce’sliterature expresses the immediacy of consciousness and not a totalizing perspective. Commenting on Joyce’s artistic objective, Danius states, “He sought to reproduce things as they occur, when they are occurring, well before they can even congeal into something like an event” (1011). In Gabriel’s case, subjectivity serves as the underlying means of narrative progression. A close proximity to his psychology positions the reader at an equally limited vantage, allowing for perspective to radically shift. In “The Dead,” Gabriel’s experiences dictate the emotive trajectory of the story and help form his positioning toward others.While hisperspective dominates, third-person narrationsituates his mind within an intersubjective frame of reference. As part of Joyce’s use of epiphany, the story renders contrasting moods as the essence of social engagement.

            Direct treatment of perception comes initially through Gabriel’s clumsy entry into his aunts’ Christmas party. His self-consciousness exposes an anxious and insecure public image. After an awkward run-in with Lily, the caretaker’s daughter, his psychic tension only increases. The evening progressesand he becomes more self-critical, imbuing the narrative with internal reactions and conjecture. He speculates on his preparation for a coming dinner speech, assuming the guests will fail to understand him and that his oratory itself will also falter. In the dance preceding the dreaded dinner, his anxiety increases as he interacts with the outspoken Miss Ivors. Her accusation that Gabriel has English sympathies elicits a sharp self-awareness: “He continued blinking his eyes and trying to smile and murmured lamely that he saw nothing political in writing reviews of books” (188). Even as Ivors confesses her jab was made in jest, Gabriel interprets the situation through the frameof his condescending social perceptions. He blushes when questioned about his Irish identity, and struggles with her suggestion that he embodies a West Briton. He considers his reaction to her perceived hostility, lamenting the situation in which he feels a target: “Perhaps he ought not to have answered her like that. But she had no right to call him a West Briton before people, even in joke. She had tried to make him ridiculous before people, heckling him and staring at him with her rabbit’s eyes” (191). In the moments preceding the dinner Gabriel finds himself in a position of severe uncertainty. Heworries with futility for his reputation, assuming his social position will alienate everyone. His limited perspective importantly shapes the narrative, creating an image formed by constant feedback between subject and reality. This experiential unfolding, while slow at first, gradually fuels the tensions of communication and predicates the uncertainty of intersubjectivity.

            Gabriel’s difficulties underscore purposeful treatment of experience as unstable. Joyce deliberately places Gabriel’s interiority at odds with surrounding circumstances to indicate the gap between self and other. Gabriel occupies the narrative spaceand stands as a primary perspective for the reader. Melissa Free notes how internal guesswork sets up obstacles for ethics and engagement between characters. In view of harsh scholarly treatment of Gabriel, which fixates on his condescension and insensitivity, Free writes that, “critics have failed to take into account the frequency with which the story’s narration enables psychological proximity to him or to notice that several of the story’s other characters are also challenged by the demands of communication” (279). Lending more sympathy to Gabriel’s condition, Free argues that the Joycean narrative inevitably distancesindependent subjects from one another. The fact that Gabriel is the primary subjective lens for the reader both alienates him and removes others from his reach of empathy. The implied task, then, is to recognize the value in subjective representation: “The psychic propinquity that is the driving force of Joyce’s immaculately staged ethics of reading functions, finally, as an invitation to intimacy” (Free 296). In reconsideration of Gabriel’s centrality, a closeness to his shifting thoughts is necessary for representing the instability of his social engagement.His perspective is not uniform, and as such it moves the dynamic of engagement along a more fluid discourse. The narrative depends on experiential snapshots, for in the realm of intersubjectivity connections both form and fracture.

            After carving the goose, Gabrielretires to the head of the tableat the behest of his pleading guests. The dinner conversation ensues without him, until the moment when the party turns to his expected speech. A call for silence re-focuses the spotlight as he apprehensively sizes up the room: “Gabriel leaned his ten trembling fingers on the table cloth and smiled nervously at the company. Meeting a row of upturned faces he raised his eyes to the chandelier” (203). In his oration, he discusses the topic of hospitality and his concern for a less personable Ireland. The cultural connotations of his speech reflect the tensions of a social plane in which genuine connections seem tenuous. He describes the deprivation of fellowship and its consequences: “But we are living in a sceptical and, if I may use the phrase, a thought-tormented age: and sometimes I fear that this new generation, educated or hyper educated as it is, will lack those qualities of humanity, of hospitality, of kindly humor which belonged to an older day” (204). Gabriel’s impression upon his audience proves adequate in light of his performance. For all his anxious anticipation he is able to move his aunts to tears and laughter, and his finished speechassuages his social anxiety. The guests sing and cheer in follow of tradition, and the evening turns toward the private realm of engagement. When the party finally winds down and the attendants begin to leave, Gabriel finds a new challenge in the task of interpersonal connection.

            The more personal reach of interiority emerges in the moments shared when Gabriel and Gretta are alone. As Gabriel rides with her to their hotel his internal desires surface. In the vestibule, he sees Gretta on the stairs and takes immediate absorption in her image. While the guests prepare to leave, Gabriel considers his wife with curiosity. A piece of music is playing that captures Gretta, and she pauses some distance from Gabriel. He can merely watch her: “He stood in the gloom of the hall, trying to catch the air that the voice was singing and gazing up at his wife. There was a grace and mystery in her attitude as if she were a symbol of something” (211). Relaxed at the prospect of leaving the party, Gabriel’s emotions shift and his imagination sparks to life. Gretta’s figure inspires him, and he wants to connect with her on some level of intimacy. In the interim, however, all he can manage is a projection of his desire. He presumes Gretta feels the same excitement, and unwittingly he casts her mood as reflective of his own. Joyce tracks Gabriel’s imagination, writing, “If he were a painter he would paint her in that attitude. Her blue felt hat would show off the bronze of her hair against the darkness and the dark panels of her skirt would show off the light ones” (211). Lost in a sort of reverie, Gabriel is unaware of his wife’s actual interior state. Her striking image signifies a false message, which he takes as a true sign of mutuality. In the trajectory of their engagement, Gabriel asserts his own reality from a very egoistical and manipulative reading of events.

            A parallel of limited consciousness is found in Joyce’s early story “Eveline.” The close following of Eveline’s character reveals an experiential sequence that isolates subjectivityin the tension of indecision. Joyce tracks Eveline’s deliberations as she awaits her chance to leave Ireland with a young man. The short piece emphasizes the conflict between experience and the internal guesswork that guides her actions. On her prospect of emigrating, Joyce writes, “She tried to weigh each side of the question. In her home anyway she had shelter and food; she had those whom she had known all her life about her” (30). Eveline is caught between the apparent security of Ireland and the appeal of leaving domestic stagnation. Paul Stasi indicates that Eveline’s awareness of historical circumstance dictates the ambivalence of her perspective. He writes, “Eveline’s apprehension of history –– that of her childhood and of the changes of contemporary Dublin –– is seen to be partial, situated, determined by her own subjective experiences” (Stasi 47). Stasi’s analysis illumines the precarious intersection thatEveline occupies. She treats Frank as a messiah, someone who offers deliverance from family and country: “People knew they were courting and, when he sang about the lass that loves a sailor, she always felt pleasantly confused” (32). Eveline commits to leaving, yet her decision rests on a faulty sense of purpose. She imagines her condition as necessarily bound to exile, and this leads her down an assumed path of right reason. Her assumption corroborates Gabriel’s anticipation, inthat personal desire impedes a clearer view of reality. She idealizes escape, even though the prospect of freedom stems from psychological impulse. Between both Eveline and Gabriel, projections of subjectivity foment desire while creating a misapprehension of the world.

            In“The Dead,” Gabriel’sperceptions move forward with anticipation only to suddenly freeze in the striking moment of epiphany. His distance from Gretta, though not yet realized, paints an ironic picture as he envisions their night alone together. His excitement manifests in a state of near delirium. Walking with Gretta, “The blood went bounding along his veins, and the thoughts went rioting through his brain, proud, joyful, tender, valorous” (214). His memory ignites, pulling up past experiences and fond recollections. In this mood, however, Gabriel refrains from acting on his rapturous thoughts. He keeps his understanding of the evening to himself, even as he wishes to pull Gretta into the same feeling. His restraint, however, only raises his faulty anticipation. When they return to the hotel, Gabriel encounters the first gap of communication. Gretta’s body language puzzles him, for he expects reciprocation of hisexcitement: “He was trembling now with annoyance. Why did she seem so abstracted? He did not know how he could begin. Was she annoyed, too, about something?” (218). Reaching out to her, he finally senses his distance andthe mistake of his recent assumptions. Gretta is on a far different wavelength, and from disclosure of her private thoughts comes a challenge to Gabriel’s empathy. The revelation of her secluded memory illumines his own subjective faults.

            When Gretta reveals the cause of her mysterious attitude, Gabriel facesa past reality never encountered before. Michael Furey, the romantic interest of Gretta’s young adulthood, is resurrected by the power of private memory. Gabriel is stunned by his wife’s divulgence, coming to grips with its force upon the present moment. Joyce conveys the realization: “While he had been full of memories of their secret life together, full of tenderness and joy and desire, she had been comparing him in her mind with another. A shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him” (221). The import of this moment in the story is a disruption of subjectivity. The narrative space widens, assimilating Gretta’s interiority into the primary lens of Gabriel’s viewpoint. Nouri Gana aptly describes the gravity of epiphany as it shapes Gabriel’s mind and the broader narrative score. Gana writes, “the story unfolds a revelation within a revelation: the revelation of Michael Furey’s enduring presence in Gretta’s consciousness spills over into a revelation of Gretta’s otherness in Gabriel’s consciousness” (165). Significance multiplies as two subjectivities collide. The epiphanic moment is very much a collision, for Gabriel perceives the condition of Gretta’s mood in a startling awareness of past reality. His sense of self immediately alters, and a dissonance invades his being: “He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting as a penny boy for his aunts, a nervous well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealising his own clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror” (221). His world suddenly finds an unfamiliar dimension, exposing the boundaries of a limited subjectivity. As his awareness widens, his presumably stable relationship with Gretta unsettles in the upset of personal confidence.

            In “Eveline,” Joyce replicates the act of discovery in the terrifying moment of possible exile. As Eveline approaches her ship for escape, she confronts the impossibility of making a decision. While her epiphany is more paralyzing than Gabriel’s, she apprehendsin the grip of insight the consequences of leaving home. Frank leads her to the quay, affirming the desire to emigrate, but her mind reels with confusion at the prospect of freedom. Joyce describes her emotion: “She felt her cheek pale and cold and, out of a maze of distress, she prayed to God to direct her, to show her what was her duty” (33). Eveline’s agonizing moment of indecision simultaneously constricts agency while opening avenues of action. The urgency of the situation reflects her internal misdirection, which tears her between variegated modes of being. David Ben-Merre, in examination of interpretive pluralism, shows how Eveline’s illusion of choice manifests in the possibility of multiple endings. Hewrites that, “There is also the irony, of course, in the critical comfort of multiple readings, where the reader-as-hermeneutic-agent is positioned in Eveline’s predicament without being compelled –– as Eveline is –– to make a choice” (Ben-Merre 459). Ben-Merre argues that Eveline occupies concurrent modes of escape and paralysis. Her uncertain agency signifies the ambiguity of her fate. This textual ambivalence sustains the complexity of her experience and underscores psychological fallibility. The errors of subjectivity come to the fore as she oscillates within an indeterminate mode of agency.

            In the moment of her arresting insight, Eveline comes to a false sense of resolution. Her indecision illumines the inseparable link between identity and action as she stands at the juncture of duty (to home) and desire (to emigrate). Near the dock, she encounters thefatalism of dubious agency. She knows action must be taken, but the direction of any decision overwhelms her. As Frank calls,“All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her” (34). Joyce keeps the narrative obscure by emphasizing the limits of consciousness. Eveline perceives the unsure condition of her fate, what lies beyond psychic apprehension, and she can only speculate as to where her choices will lead. Joyce writes, “No! No! No! It was impossible. Her hands clutched the iron in frenzy. Amid the seas she sent a cry of anguish” (34). The illusion of choice throws her into desperation. One mode of being trumps the other, and still Eveline cannot determine what she ought to pursue. In this sense, the story reveals her isolation as a subjective agent. Frank offers her apparent escape, and yet she freezes: “Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition” (34). In the uncertain arena of interpersonal ethics, she can only resist rather than commit. To opt for one avenue over its opposite negates part of her identity. While Eveline can empathize with Frank and the hope of exile, she cannot shed the intrinsic pull of home.

            The level of explicit drama varies between their stories, yet Eveline and Gabriel both inhabit a space of epistemic susceptibility. Personal experiences buttress the limits of knowledge, positioning the subject in an uncertain and vulnerable perspective. Eveline’s case shows the mediation of narrative through a faulty subjectivity. The biases of perception color her world and create a particular reality that comes undone at the moment of epiphany. For Gabriel, intersubjectivity lends awareness and greater sensitivity to experiences beyond his own, situating his consciousness closer to another. Gretta exposes her grief, bringing him into confidence. In realization of her past, his continuity of perspective fragments and opens to the possibilities of a separate view. Gerald L. Bruns remarks that Gabriel desiresreciprocation from Gretta, and yet she offers something surprisingly different: “Gabriel expects to see himself reflected in his wife’s eyes or housed in her memory, but instead he finds Michael Furey there, a more memorable and romantic version of what he had hoped himself to be” (Bruns 574). Michael Furey splinters Gabriel’s uniform self image, disrupting an egoistical perspective. When Gretta says Furey died for her sake, he feels the swell of an irrational panic: “A vague terror seized Gabriel at this answer as if, at that hour when he had hoped to triumph, some impalpable and vindictive being was coming against him, gathering forces against him in its vague world” (221). Gretta goes on to explain the circumstances of Furey’s death, and still Gabriel struggles with his unsettled perspective. The disjuncture between his mind and Gretta’s upsets a presumed sense of shared psychic space. His attempt to create a common feeling evidently fails as the past enlightens a very palpable estrangement in the present.

            The significance of newfound history for Gabriel is the exposure of an assumed intersubjectivity. Until the realization of Gretta’s profound grief, he assumes that control of the situation resides in his hands. Yet, the tension of mutuality emerges in Gretta’s tone: “Her voice was veiled and sad. Gabriel, feeling now how vain it would be to try to lead her whither he had purposed, caressed one of her hands . . .” (221). As Gretta brings him into private thought,he finally feels a tinge of his insensitive behavior. Gretta has been caught in the grip of a distressing memory, and his foolish excitement now betrays a misguided consciousness. Jim LeBlanc indicates the interpersonal consequence of Gabriel’s realization, writing that it reveals subjective limits. Gretta’s memory is inviolate, and Gabriel can only access what she decides to render. LeBlanc writes, “Although Gabriel longs ‘to be master of her strange mood’ (D 217), he cannot get into his wife’s head, cannot dictate what she thinks” (33). Gabriel processes what he can gather, but he does not tread into inaccessible psychic space. For intersubjectivity, his realization marks the boundaries of any relationship and exposes the fault of desired manipulation. As LeBlanc notes: “This realization –– that Gretta is someone distinct from the imaginary other that the subject internalizes as the object of his or her own freely directed desire –– rattles the emotional assumptions underpinning the question Gabriel posed earlier . . .” (33). Where he once thought he could subtly influence Gretta, Gabriel suddenly sees the distance that stalls interpersonal manipulation. Mutuality governs agreement between subjects, and no amount of control can force the gap of subjectivity. Jarred by the weight of estrangement, Gabriel curbs his egoism for the sake of sympathetic contact.

            The bridge for closing interpersonal distance takes initial form in Gabriel’s open response to Gretta. His projection of personal feeling ebbs as he listens to her story. His reaction importantly tends to a broken intersubjectivity, even though it does not yet create a full reconciliation. The greater significance is how Gabriel decentralizes his own identity in an act of reciprocation. LeBlanc writes that Gabriel undergoes a further form of epiphany, in which the centrality of his perspective abates. He is not necessarily comfortable with such relinquishment, for he must concede control: “Gabriel feels trapped within this second realization, since he does not function well in a world where there are other freely conscious beings, others who bestow on him an identity, though not necessarily the one that he aims to project” (LeBlanc 34). Through apprehension of Gretta’s interiority, Gabriel suppresses his self image and relaxes the rigidity of his perspective in an attempt at empathy. He cannot inhabit Gretta’s mental space, but he still might orient his sympathies toward her. Joyce writes, “He did not question her again for he felt that she would tell him of herself. Her hand was warm and moist: it did not respond to his touch but he continued to caress it just as he had caressed her first letter to him that spring morning” (222). A shift in attitude reveals Gabriel’s urge to understand what has previously been overlooked. As Gretta shares the entirety of her past experience, Gabriel tries to receive her memory in earnest. The task of interconnection changes the mutual dynamic of their relationship, inviting chances for reconciliation.

            Joyce renders a comparable circumstance to Gabriel’sin the earlier story “A Painful Case.”Solitary banker James Duffy, who befriends an Emily Sinico, discovers his own alienation and the irreparable nature of a severed relationship. Duffy learns of Sinico’s death four years after breaking ties with her. In his discovery, he recognizes the impermanence of life and the unsettling prospect of personal isolation.Of course, Duffy’s solitude is prevenient, and not until Sinico passes does he apprehend his disassociation from life. A decision to end the brief friendship with Sinico profoundly bothers him as he considers her in retrospect: “Now that she was gone he understood how lonely her life must have been, sitting night after night alone in that room. His life would be lonely too until he, too, died, ceased to exist, became a memory – if anyone remembered him” (112). Not particularly sensitive to the disjunction of self and other, Duffy suddenly feels solitude like an immense burden. Francis O’Gorman considers the psychological impact of Duffy’s realization as he remembers Sinico and her attempted intimacy in times past. His sudden estrangement emerges from a palpable sense of loss. O’Gorman writes that memories of unfulfilled affection instill an emptiness in Duffy: “Whatever Mrs. Sinico is –– a ghost, a figure of the mind, a resurrected body –– she does not immediately go away . . . Against this presence, Joyce builds the emotional force of the story’s close from absence” (448). Once comfortable in solitude, Duffy perceives the consequences of his detachment. His dismissal of Sinico crosses the lapsed years and distressingly enters his consciousness. While reflections on the dead enlighten him, his ultimate realization of his missed opportunity casts a shadow of regret over his being.

            In a similar way, the remainder of “The Dead” conveys Gabriel’s introspection and the import of newfound knowledge. His reflection is disquieting, and yet he entertains the possibilities of unturned history. The story recedes into his solitude as soon as Gretta finishes her account of events. Gabriel, recognizing the gravity of her story, does not press her: “She stopped, choking with sobs, and, overcome by emotion, flung herself face downward on the bed, sobbing in the quilt. Gabriel held her hand for a moment longer, irresolutely, and then, shy of intruding on her grief, let it fall gently and walked quietly to the window” (223). As Grettadrifts into sleep, he explores the implications of the past. While his previous suppositions were altogether false, Gabriel considers their relationship beyond the scope of the present evening. Gretta’s youth merges into an entirely new perspective of their shared history. Capturing Gabriel’s thoughts, Joyce writes, “So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life” (223).The impact of epiphany is such that Gabriel feels his selfhood diminished. Yet, recovering from the jolt of Gretta’s story, he apprehends the consequence of the mutuality she lost in her youth. Gretta blames herself for Furey’s death, and Gabriel senses her guilt as a symptom of failed responsibility. The issue of blame, an evident fabrication of Gretta’s conscience, inspires Gabriel to consider his actual shortcomings. The task of interpersonal connection, as he gathers, has eluded him in a life with Gretta. He realizes that present urgency demands empathetic recourse.

            In continuation of its parallel with “The Dead,” Duffy’s story also retrieves the past in a more significant way. Duffy comes to grips with his own fault in dismissing Sinico and finds his treatment of her a critical mistake. Where before,he prided himself in remaining aloof to her affection, he presently chides himself for such apathy. He feels that her life was in his hands and his failure to act ordained her death. Walking through the city in reflection, he thinks: “One human being had seemed to love him and he had denied her life and happiness: he sentenced her to ignominy, a death of shame” (113). Duffy accepts culpability, revealing apprehension of a radically new understanding of the past. As he reads of Sinico’s death in the newspaper, his personal storyline adjusts to the severity of events. His most fundamental realization encompasses the indignity of his callousness and the ramifications of a life spent alone. In painful exposé of Duffy’s seemingly lost world, Joyce writes: “At moments he seemed to feel her voice touch his ear, her hand touch his. He stood still to listen. Why had he withheld life from her? Why had he sentenced her to death? He felt his moral nature falling to pieces” (113). Duffy’s appreciation for Sinico finally emerges as the reality of his extant solitude bears down. He assumes that he has “been outcast from life’s feast” and that any significant human connection is out of reach. In comparison to Gretta, Duffy encounters a void of interconnection that preempts any experience of mutuality. He has permanently lost someone, and that particular chance for friendship vanishes. In parallel to Gabriel, however, he still faces the opportunity for redemption and a transcendence of existential isolation.

            Joyce importantly illustrates a certain insularity of human experience. To convey the experience of limited subjectivity, he crafts frustrating gaps between persons that seemingly accentuate isolation. His characters cannot assume any totalizing perspective, and this reality contains interpersonal knowledge to the lens of individual perception. Self-referential orientation chiefly shapes all understanding between people.Critically, tensions of communication exist within the all too important stateof difference that defines subjectivity.For Gabriel and Duffy, the consequences of difference are twofold: they find boththe isolating limits of observation and the power for perspective to amplify meaning. In Gabriel’s position there is a sense of disconnection with Gretta, and yet his insights inform new potential for their relationship. Momentary detachment allows him to consider Gretta’s proximity and the nature of interpersonal distance. He tries to imagine Gretta in her youth, for example, and the prospect of time reveals a startling picture: “His curious eyes rested long upon her face and on her hair: and, as he thought of what she must have been then, in that time of her first girlish beauty, a strange friendly pity for her entered his soul” (223). Gretta is evidently a different person from her days with Furey. Yet, until she reveals her previous character, the past remains hidden from prying eyes. To Gabriel this seems to broaden the gulf between them. He realizes how Gretta holds a realm of experience beyond his reach, and that the personal value she ascribes to such experience is her own. He assumes a self-deprecating posture as his romanticization of their past pales in comparison to Furey’s significance. Joyce writes that Gabriel “did not like to say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful but he knew that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death” (223). Gabriel quells his agitation over a frustrated romanticism, but his thoughts move him to examine obstacles to intersubjectivity. Naturally, he turns to life’s impermanence and weighs the chance of reconnecting with a very distant Gretta.

            LeBlanc critically recognizes the place of history within subjective imagination. Memory illuminates unrealized aspects of the past while also alluding to future expectations. For Gabriel, reflection and anticipation coexist. As LeBlanc indicates, Gabriel’s self image shifts within epiphany, disrupting the continuity of his perspective. On the transformative power of the past, he writes, “Gabriel’s fear is double-edged since, in addition to his bitter realization that there are events in his wife’s life in which he can never fully share, he must also face the realization that his own life will pass completely beyond the scope of his own existential freedom at the instant of his own demise” (LeBlanc 34). With Michael Furey hovering in his mind, Gabriel turns to the thought of life quickly fading and the waning opportunity to reconcile interpersonal estrangement. Family immediately comes to mind, as Aunt Julia’s condition reminds him of future contingencies: “Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting in that same drawing-room, dressed in black, his silk hat on his knees. The blinds would be drawn down and Aunt Kate would be sitting beside him, crying and blowing her nose and telling him how Julia had died” (224). Moving the story toward its end, Gabriel ruminates on the possibilities for empathy. He wonders what measure of comfort he could offer Aunt Kate: “He would cast about in his mind for some words that might console her, and would find only lame and useless ones” (224). A certain pallor affects the storyline as Gabriel meditates. His realization of personal finitude sends the text into a seeming death spiral. Indeed, the narrative ends in a somber mood and even with a sense of paralysis. Yet, Gabriel’s outlook suggests more than just paralytic closure. While not explicit, his intercession between past and future lends an image of potentiality.

            The final picture Gabriel offers the reader is obscure. The story ends in his eyes, which cast a vague sentiment of expectation beyond the formal stopping point of the text. Melancholy permeates, but somehow he sustains the optimism of new life. Joyce writes, “The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. 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” (224).Briefly, Gabriel considers Furey and his lasting effect on Gretta. The burden to replicate such a connection suddenly imposes itself on the moment. Paul K. Saint-Amour writes that Gabriel’s isolation in the final scene ties to a paralyzed agency. In the morbidity of his thought, Gabriel appears resigned and already passed the point of conscious living: “Gabriel, by contrast, appears willing to go straight to his grave as if it were a bed; lying down next to Gretta he has been as good as laid out, acquainted with the fact that he is a shade in the making” (Saint-Amour 107). Confrontation with death suspends movement, but does not totally paralyze. While Gabriel is despondent, his existential brooding is not fully bound to necessary nihilism. The wax and wane of the ending narrative suggests both death and a renewal of life, for the possibility of new engagement transcends the limitability of text.

            Gabriel’s initial reactiontothe past is somewhat discouraging. As he thinks of Furey’s enduring image doubt invades his mind. His feelings toward Gretta seem inadequate and hope for empathy fades fast. Capturing the emotional swell of his solicitude, Joyce writes that, “Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself toward any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love” (224). As memory plays into present consciousness, Gabriel imagines how his being might escape him, diffusing into obscurity.Distinctions of life and death merge as Gabriel apprehends some metaphysical realm of cohabitation: “The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead” (224). At this point in the storyline, the imagery concentrates within the hazy scope of Gabriel’s imagination. Importantly, his visions move the story into textual ambiguity. Joyce indicates Gabriel’s transitional awareness of the dead, writing that, “He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling” (224). In this final picture, Joyce narrows the lens of narrative perspective while opening textual possibilities. The thematic significance of the last scene reveals paralysis and potentiality, positing Gabriel’s perception as a blending of ethical modes of being.

            The same image of subjective dissolution frames the ending of “A Painful Case.” In a similar sense, Duffy encounters the dead and carries the narrative to a point of ambiguous closure. His estrangement from the world is clear, yet the lasting image of darkness conceals his personal conflict and any indication of resolution. Sinico’s presence fades as Duffy retreats to the edge of Dublin and into his own insular being. Joyce writes, “He began to doubt the reality of what memory told him . . . He could not feel her near him in the darkness nor her voice touch his ear. He waited for some minutes listening. He could hear nothing: the night was perfectly silent” (113). Feeling the world might reach out to him, Duffy stands resolute. But the absence of Sinico, his one genuine connection to life, only emphasizes his isolation. As Gabriel faces the challenge of empathy, so Duffy recognizes his distance from other people. Christopher M. De Vault marks the weight of this realization, writing that Duffy slips into his selfsame attitude only to encounter an existential solitude. De Vault writes: “Not only does this tactic cement his ‘soul’s incurable loneliness’ that Duffy had previously lamented, but the dying out of Mrs. Sinico’s name simultaneously kills off whatever compassionate feelings were generated by his meditations on her death” (89). A self-absorbing paralysis takes hold, seemingly anchoringDuffy to permanent withdrawal from life. In resonance of Joyce’s theme, stagnation of agency calcifies the story’s conclusion. Yet the illusion of certainty, which finds resistance in an ambivalent endpoint, counters the paralytic prognosis. As the very end of Gabriel’s narrative suggests, the finality of any story exists beyond the closing sentence.

            Joyce’s lyrical ending to “The Dead” provides the poetic imagery of a multifaceted conclusion. Gabriel looks to the snowfall outside and senses the dissolution of life and death, the realization of some universal reality. The anomaly of heavy snow in Ireland situates the narrative in a perplexing picture of simultaneity. Gabriel’s perspective dissolves outward into a seeming uniform world, and yet the story does not end with withdrawal from his consciousness. Saint-Amour denotes the impact of the ending image, writing that,“the final paragraph of ‘The Dead’ describes the loss of distinctions –– the blurring of localities by a universalizing snowfall, the merging of ‘all’ the living and the dead –– in language that is nonetheless distinctly written” (108). The ambiguity of Joyce’s prose offers immobility and hopeful promise. As Saint-Amour remarks, the enigmatic language evokes answers to a plurality of questions. Gabriel’s perspective alludes to murky matters of politics, ethics, and culture (Saint-Amour 108). For the sake of his subjective uncertainty, Gabriel’s lasting impression offers the reader an image of vague and uncertain reconciliation: “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead” (225). The amalgamated picture posits both a dearth of hope and the optimism of inspired agency. Where Gabriel takes the narrative is not conclusive, nor is it bound to his actions. The point of departure from his subjectivity ends the story, and yet it carries a sense of conclusion toward unpaginated horizons.

            Gabriel’s visionimportantly stipulates a new ethic of engagement without guarantee. The structure of his experience necessarily resists forthright meaning, as Joyce does not write for the sake of hermeneutical satisfaction. Gabriel’s perception at the close of the story seemingly narrows and widens in a multi-representational effect. Whether he connects with Gretta, or finds life in Ireland’s static condition, transcends the text. In Gana’s estimation, subjective deferment emphasizes the paralysis of Joyce’s ending: “Indeed, the conclusion of Joyce’s story, in which everything, including ‘the living and the dead,’ is blanketed by snow expresses an unfathomable sadness not because of a proximity of the end, but because of its continual receding” (176). Apprehension of finality eludes both reader and subject. But rather than suggesting despair, escaping conclusions foster potential for newly realized empathy on Gabriel’s part. The not-yet sensation of open narrative propels the story into the realm of a more fruitful futurity, in which Gabriel can know Gretta on her terms and not what he assumes. The idea of potential follows just as Saint-Amour concludes, writing that, “The openness of ‘The Dead’ makes it colder, too, by holding out the possibility that no future political form will arrive. Yet where else but in the cold would one look to receive what one has not already welcomed?” (112). The dissolution of perspective in the end contains agency, and yet also harbors alternative modes of engagement that crucially support intersubjectivity. Gabriel’s experience is not necessarily isolated but transported, for he leaves the reader in suspension between continued estrangement and fulfilled empathy. Joyce writes that, “The time had come for him to start on his journey westward” (225). The implications of this sentence suggest death or a return to Gretta’s home country, or even some other beginning. Uncertain resolution importantly sustains “The Dead,” rendering power of agency as the story’s extant potential.

            In Joyce’s broader collection, the anchoring piece brings the themes of epiphany and paralysis into a concluding passage. As a whole Dubliners ends on a wistful note, alluding to a reality that steeps the characters in the mire of unsure agency. Gabriel and Gretta give representation to the ethics of precipitous engagement. In reflection of Joyce’s use of intersubjectivity, their interaction underscores the tensions of mutuality and communication. The notion of closure, however, transcends their narrative and further complicates a coherent picture for the wider body of stories. In resonance of subjective uncertainty, Gabriel and Gretta’s estrangement speaks to interpersonal gaps that fracture and disrupt private meaning. The lack of a mollifying grand narrative scatters significance between them and, with greater importance, appeals to the ambiguities of general human engagement. Condensing universal notions of miscommunication to a single profile, “The Dead” separates distinct subjects and posits the bridge of connection as real, yet uncreated. Joyce refrains from fully mending dissociated relations, leaving his characters on unsure footing. This treatment of intersubjective dialogue ultimately resists uniformity and stability. Distance between persons narrows and widens on a continuum of engagement. For the reader, Joyce represents the realities of basic human existence in cultural commentary that goes beyond specific portraits. To identify with Gretta and Gabriel is to adopt their perspectives, but it is also to see how their positions inform a universal theme of interpersonal experience. Interiority guides the particular and yet extrapolates in expression of an all-encompassing phenomenon. Joyce acutely renders the subject as knowing neither truth nor outcome, but sensing the ever-changing nature of engagement with others.


Works Cited

Ben-Merre, David. “Eveline Ever After.”James Joyce Quarterly 49.3 (2012): 455-471. ProjectMUSE. Web. 23 Jan. 2016.

Bruns, Gerald L. “What’s in a Mirror: James Joyce’s Phenomenology of Perception.” JamesJoyce Quarterly 49.3-4 (2012): 573-588. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 15 Jan2016.

Danius, Sara. “Joyce’s Scissors: Modernism and the Dissolution of the Event.”New LiteraryHistory: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation 39.4 (2008): 989-1016. MLAInternational Bibliography. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.

DeVault, Christopher M. “Love and Socialism in Joyce’s ‘A Painful Case’: A Buberian Reading.”College Literature 37.2 (2010): 78-102. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.

Free, Melissa. “”Who is G. C.?”: Misprizing Gabriel Conroy in Joyce’s “The Dead”.”Joyce Studies Annual 2009.1 (2009): 277-303. Project MUSE. Web. 23 Jan. 2016.

Gana, Nouri. “The Poetics of Mourning: The Tropologic of Prosopopoeia in Joyce’s ‘The Dead.”American Imago 60.2 (2003): 159-178. Project Muse. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.

Joyce, James. Dubliners. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. Print.

LeBlanc, Jim. “‘The Dead’ Just Won’t Stay Dead.”James Joyce Quarterly 48.1 (2010): 27-39. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 23 Jan. 2016.

O’Gorman, Francis. “What Is Haunting Dubliners?”James Joyce Quarterly 48.3 (2011): 445-456.Project MUSE. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.

Saint-Amour, Paul K. “”Christmas Yet To Come”: Hospitality, Futurity, the “Carol”, and “The Dead” .”Representations 98.1 (Spring 2007): 93-117. JSTOR. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.

Stasi, Paul. “Joycean Constellations: “Eveline” and the Critique of Naturalist Totality.”James Joyce Quarterly 46.1 (2008): 39-53. Project MUSE. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.


Leave a Reply

Related Posts