In James Joyce’s “The Dead,” every scene contributes to what Andrew E. Cox in Modern Literature: An Introduction and Survey describes as “the themes and patterns of the work as a whole” (8). This is especially prevalent when the protagonist, Gabriel Conroy, gives a speech during dinner in the presence of family and friends at an annual gathering. In the speech, Gabriel’s words become a reflection of Ireland’s frozen state of mind, where irony and hypocrisy is displayed in both Ireland and in Gabriel; therefore, this speech links to the core idea of Joyce’s work: the idleness of Ireland, and its inability to act. Ultimately, it is Gabriel’s climatic speech that becomes the bridge to the main idea of “The Dead,” where Ireland is essentially “dead.”
In the beginning of the speech, Gabriel exhibits irony when he says “our country [Ireland] has no tradition which it does so much honour […] as that of its hospitality,” (2523). This is ironic because he uses “our” when he refers to Ireland; however, he is not completely loyal to Ireland because he writes for an English newspaper, and is labelled a “West Briton” by Miss Ivors, another guest at the dinner. Furthermore, this “hospitality” is ironic in contrast to the time period in which this story was published. At the time, England was in control of Ireland and Ireland did not act in defence. By praising themselves to be hospitable while the English are controlling them displays their lack of control and deprivation of leadership. As a result, this contributes to the core idea of Ireland’s frozen state.
As the speech continues, Gabriel politely thanks his three aunts for their hospitality; however, when he proclaims “as long as this one roof shelters the good ladies foresaid – and I wish from my heart it may do so for many and many a long year to come,” it indirectly suggests the idleness of the Irish, especially those attending the party (2523). It does so by stating ‘many’ twice, implying a cycle of inaction by the Irish, and the continue wait for self-control of their own country. Moreover, the attendees are reflections of Ireland’s problems. For example, Freddy Malins, the “comedian” at the party is redundant and lacks originality in his jokes. As the speech progresses, it unravels more irony and exemplifies the sad state of Ireland even further.
Towards the end of Gabriel’s speech, he demonstrates hypocrisy by stating “cherish in our hearts the memory of those dead,” (2523). He is hypocritical because later on in the story, when Gretta, his wife, reveals a fond memory of her and a boy, he is outraged and he “began to glow angrily in his veins” (2532). He does not align his emotions with his words, and ultimately fails to respect Gretta when she has this sentimental flashback. Consequently, this displays a hypocritical Gabriel, revealing the further problems of the Irish.
James Joyce’s “The Dead” contains a significant scene, where Gabriel, the central character, indirectly associates the problems of Ireland in his speech. This speech, as Andrew E. Cox describes, “is linked to the themes” of “The Dead,” where the story demonstrates Ireland in motionless shambles. Through the context of the speech, Gabriel’s words depict the irony and hypocrisy of the Irish which enables the English to dominate Ireland. It is this mentality that caused Ireland to remain in their frozen state of mind.
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