Essay on James Joyce's The Dead - Gabriel's Search for Self

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Gabriel's Search for Self in The Dead

The study of Gabriel's character is probably one of the most important aims in James Joyce's The Dead1. What shall we think of him? Is the reader supposed to think little of Gabriel or should he/she even feel sorry for him? This insecurity already implies that the reader gets more and more aware that he/she develops ambivalent feeling towards Gabriel and that his character is presented from various perspectives. Gabriel's conduct appears to be split and seems to represent different red threads in The Dead; it leads the reader through the whole story. Those different aspects in his conduct, and also the way this multicoloured character is presented to the reader, strongly points at the
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The way the people in his social millieu like to listen to him, how he puts them at ease, how they reward his eloquence with smiles and applause, and also the smart appearance of Gabriel himself makes the reader assume that he is a very intelligent, elegant and self-confident person. A third example where we can see quite clearly how accepted and enjoyed Gabriel's presence is, is the scene where he tells the people, just before leaving, the story about Johnny. "... peals of laughter (which( followed Gabriel's imitation of the incident..." (p.2027) lead us to a similar characterization as in the examples above. But the point is that analysing only these small talk scenes in such an isolated way gives us a very narrow point of view. The assumption that our focused character is self-confident and unbound is thrown over-board as soon as we are concentrating on other aspects of his conduct.

James Joyce presents Gabriel to us, as already mentioned, from different perspectives, of which the character traits in the previous paragraph could be one. A second set of traits that I want to discuss appears even more frequent in the story. If we start our reflections again at the very beginning of the short story, the scene with Lily, we uncover another striking element of Gabriel's behaviour; He's not just kind and decent
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