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The Dead – Gabriel’s Character Essay, Research Paper

Detailed character development is one of the most difficult yet essential aspects in a short story. In James Joyce s The Dead, however, there is clear, detailed yet succinct maturity found in Gabriel, the piece s main character. Much of this development is seen in symbolism resourcefully placed throughout the composition.

Joyce begins by giving us a glimpse of Gabriel s self-deception. The initial impression given to the reader is one where he is seen as self-centered and egotistical.

He arrives late to the dinner party, and blames it on his wife. He does not know how old Lily is and does not care; he speaks with her just to make conversation. He then lessens his discomfort by giving Lily a coin, claiming it is due to Christmas spirit. He feels secure knowing that he is more educated than his peers, and often flaunts this in his speech and actions. This is particularly evident when Joyce writes, “He was undecided about the lines from Robert Browning for he feared that they would be above the heads of his readers.”

This lack of self-awareness is what causes the eventual change in Gabriel. He feels shame for his family, their social class and their country. When confronted, he even admits to his distaste for Ireland. He feels impatience at Gretta s detachment from him as the evening progresses, and his insensitivity is expressed even further with the annoyance he shows toward her mood. This false identity begins to shatter when he finds out from Gretta that he was not her first love.

When he looks out the window at the snow, it symbolizes his new awareness. He puts himself in Gretta s shoes and the amount of grief she is going through dawns on him. This is the beginning of his epiphany. Gabriel grasps that he can never touch the place in her heart that young Michael Furey, who died for her, did. He begins to awaken, and also realizes that although he is more educated and more esteemed than his family, he lacks true love, which everyone else in his family has and offers. Joyce writes, Generous tears filled Gabriel s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew such a feeling must be love.

Gabriel even verifies this metamorphosis in character by promising to continue to live in Ireland instead of moving out of the country, which he had planned to do earlier. Despite his dislike for Ireland, he stays to please his wife.

The title of The Dead symbolizes the destruction and death of Gabriel s narcissistic character. However, Joyce also paints a picture of the birth of Gabriel s new awareness for himself and for others. Joyce challenges the reader to question his or her own character, and in the concise pages of this piece conveys Gabriel s character as a role model for change in the mentality of all.


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