The Awakening of Gabriel Conroy
Like the stories in Dubliners that lead up to it, "The Dead" dramatizes a moment of self-realization. The story portrays the gradual awakening of Gabriel Conroy, whose vision of his wife, Gretta, at the end of the story is at once a frustrating disappointment and a touching movement toward understanding and love. Robert Adams voices the view of more than one critic when he writes of "The Dead" that this "greatest of the stories in Dubliners stands apart from the rest, being warmer in tonality, richer in the writing, and more intimate in its subject matter" (83). Florence Walzl agrees when she writes that "'The Dead' is markedly different from the earlier stories. . . .It is not only a longer, more fully developed narrative, but it presents a more kindly view of Ireland" (428).
In one sense the "dead" of the title are all those who have lived and died, those who have gone before the festive inhabitants of Dublin who celebrate the Christmas season, Gabriel Conroy and Gretta among them.
In another sense the dead are all those who, though alive and breathing, have lost their naturalness, their spontaneity, and most importantly, their passion. Gabriel, one of these, has lost touch with his past and with traditional Irish values. He looks instead toward continental Europe, toward the future, and toward change for an escape from the outmoded and restrictive attitudes of the past (Ellmann 395).
We glimpse Gabriel arriving at the party as a man coming in from the dark, here the symbolic darkness of Gabriel's ignorance (Walzl 433). Gabriel appears to be something of a generous gentleman, as he slips a coin into the hand of the servant Lily. With this gesture of holiday good will, Gabriel attempts to buy...