Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Ordinary Dead

“Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. 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. 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.”

I chose this passage for two different reasons, both of which are things I consider to be at once quite ordinary but also unique.

Gabriel is confronted by the fact that his wife Gretta was once very in love with another man. After she falls asleep, he realizes that he has never loved a woman the way Gretta loved Michael Furey. What I consider to be ordinary here in the idea of being blinded by your own emotions. In my opinion, I believe that everyone at some point in their life has a sudden epiphany (the way many of Joyce’s characters seem to in “Dubliners”) that their emotions are not what they had originally thought them to be. Speaking as a young woman, I have believed myself to be in love multiple times before only to realize later that I wasn’t. Love isn’t the only emotion that fools you. I believe that happiness, anger and multiple other feelings can manipulate and trick you. Denial and the power of suggestion are powerful motivators. Yet, regardless of how ordinary it is to be tricked by your emotions, no one will ever be tricked exactly in the same way that another person is tricked thus making it a unique experience.

The other and more compelling reason that I chose this passage is due to Gabriel’s contemplation of the dead and death. It takes Gretta’s story about Michael and his death to really push Gabriel to his contemplation of death. We’ve talked about this before in class but to me, death is at once the most ordinary and unique thing that happens to us. Death happens every day, every where, all the time and we have absolutely no control over it except to possibly put it off for a few extra years by eating well and exercising. However, even though death is everywhere and we will all inevitably experience it, it is profoundly different for each person. In this sense, when I say experience death I mean experience it in a way that is somewhat removed from us i.e. the death of a loved one. That experience of death is not the experience of death but it is the only way we experience it while we are alive. Even though death is the ultimate end of our lives, we will never be able to fully experience it because once we do-- hey we’re dead!

Also, I love this story. 


  1. Kat, I love it when you speak as a young woman.

    I think you're right -- death seems like the ultimate ungraspable, the uninterpretable at the end of the chain of uninterpretables in the story.

  2. Speaking as a grey-haired man, I wonder what kinds of meaning are associated with death and "the dead" here at the end of the story. OK, I know it's bleak, there are graveyards, etc., snow general all over Ireland. I get that. But the representative of the dead is Michael Furey, this romantic evocation of passion and music and strong feeling. What does it mean that Gabriel is somehow in communion with the spirits of the dead? And what relation does that have to the ordinary life of the story?

    Kat, I bet you read "The Dead" with Dan Ryder... I remember Mollie writing a "Frankliners" story for that class. ..

  3. Well, I believe I was told to read "The Dead" for Dan Ryder but I don't think I really did anything more than skim it. Whoops! I did write my "Frankliners" story though! I don't think it was very good...I read (re-read?) all of "Dubliners" this past summer at the insistence of Ian Davis actually.

    I like your point about Gabriel's contemplation of death being brought about by the story of Michael and the romantic tie of that. I think death has an interestingly romantic tinge to it in the human sphere. In that same vein that we can never touch death (not perfectly personally at least), we tend to romanticize it and when I say romanticize I mean to attribute idealistic or unreasonable expectations. Even though death is the ultimate ordinary thing (we all will ultimately experience it, no one is exempt), we build it up and almost put it on a pedestal of importance.