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Prompt: Is James Joyce’s The Dead a Lamentation of death or a celebration of life?

While reading the short story “The Dead,” it was apparent that the story shifted from celebration to lamentation. This shift is most clearly seen with the changes in Gabriel’s attitude throughout the course of the story. It seems as if things are too good to be true in Gabriel’s life and thus future events can only hold pain, and sorrow.

As the story begins the scene is set as everyone, friends and family, are arriving at a party thrown by Miss Kate, Miss Julia, and Mary Jane. When Gabriel arrives at the house he is full of jokes, and happiness directed at his wife. “but they forget that my wife here takes three mortal hours to dress herself.” It is very clear that Gabriel is in a kidding mood and in good spirits. Not only is Gabriel the only one in celebration, but as the party continues, it is apparent that the entire band of party go-ers are in a celebratory mood. The party is full of dancing, laughter, and surprises, which help to show how light-hearted happy mood at the beginning of the story. “Let us toast them all three together. Let us drink to their health, wealth, long life, happiness and prosperity and may they long continue to hold the proud and self-won position which they hold in their profession and the position of honor and affection which they hold in our hearts.” As this quote shows Gabriel, and the party go-ers are in great jubilation, celebrating with toasts towards family. However this care-free mood doesn’t last long, as the main character Gabriel slowly realizes his life is about to come crashing down on him.

As the book comes closer and closer to the end, the tone shifts from celebration to one of lamentation focused around Gabriel. “His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world.” With the story nearing the end Gabriel is confronted with the fact that Gretta’s love for him was never very genuine. Without her love he felt lost and without direction, and his world began to change from a bright colorful one, to that of dismal darkness. As Gretta and Gabriel meet at the hotel after the party Gabriel begins to sense that something is causing Gretta to be distant from him. He later sees that all the time they have spent together she has had thoughts of someone else. “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.” His worst fears at this very point have been realized, and thinking about a world without Gretta’s constant love Gabriel’s soul will wither. “His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast host of the dead.” It is apparent that Gabriel’s mood has shifted from celebration to lamentation, as well as the tone of the story.

In conclusion “The Dead,” is both a story of celebration and of lamentation. As many stories do this one started off full of joy, but ended in sorrow and despair. There would be no happy ending for Gabriel as his night slowly changed for celebration, to lamentation as he finds that his wife’s love deeply rooted with a man that lies dead.

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