Inaugurated at the beginning and carried throughout is a sense that some implicit reality in "The Dead" is being read against-- by Gabriel, of course, but also by the reader, who is sort of helplessly dragged along by an inconspicuous but intentional narrator. I have always felt that the first two or three lines of the story are sexually misleading-- a young girl is tirelessly helping men men undress in a little, hidden pantry? I think the narrator is playing with us here-- but in such a way that we are relatively helpless in the matter, until we read further on. In a sense, Gabriel is similarly helpless to his own misreadings of the world. This is made evident in his false construction of his wife while she listens to the piano (211)-- perhaps false is not the right word here, but it is distinctly off; he is as helplessly blind to her here, as he constructs his imaginary painting of her, as he is when he imagines her to be as lustful and impassioned as himself in the hotel room. This seems to be characteristic of Gabriel-- to be not quite aligned with the reality of the story (a reality that, it should be noted, we are not quite aligned with, either, as I assert the narrator is constantly playing with us).
I was vaguely reminded of Wittgenstein's "the limits of our world are the limits of our language" as I read Gabriel's speech. It appears to be an almost ritualistic gathering of phrases and words that had been scattered throughout the beginning of the story: he admonishes the "new generation" as he did Miss Ivors on the dance floor; he borrows the word "thought-tormented" from his review on Browning ; "...will not willingly let die," the endnote tell us, is taken from Milton; the Three Graces are, of course, taken from mythology, but also from the preview of his speech we are offered earlier; and I'm sure there are many more instances I'm missing. Similary, the story itself seems to be a gathering of pieces: actual, geographic locations in Dublin, certain biblical names, and Irish slang. I think this points to the layered and collective nature of humanity; those gathered experiences that differentiate us also serve to set us into our own seperate realities which never quite align, an idea which we saw in Emerson's "Experience" and which we see here with Gabriel and Gretta.
But there is a hopefulness at the end-- well, perhaps not a hopefulness, but I don't know how else to describe it-- as the snow falls uniformly, covering everything over in whiteness, turning everything into a "grey impalpable world." This, of course, counteracts what I said in the previous paragraph; this points toward something which is universal, which is common to all, living and (fascinatingly) dead. I don't know what this is, or that it can be talked about ("whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent," and all that). Anyway, it's brilliant. That's all I have to say.