The Theme of Death in "The Dead" Essay

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Although a scene of a funeral home might come to mind when a reader first hears a short story aptly named “The Dead,” the tale actually takes place in the festive setting of a winter dance at the home of the two aunts of the main character, Gabriel Conroy. James Joyce’s short story “The Dead” has a literal title, because its main concept is death – both physical death and spiritual death.
Gabriel Conroy and his wife, Gretta Conroy, attend a party held by Gabriel’s aunts, Kate Morkan and Julia Morkan. The mood of the party is intentionally festive. It’s an annual event – “the Misses Morkan’s annual dance” (1227). But parts of the evening turn out to be quite nostalgic. The nostalgia comes from certain guests attending the party who are
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After Gabriel’s speech, the door is open and the freezing outside air is being let into the room. Because of the cool air, Kate demands that the door be closed because “Mrs. Malins will get her death of cold.” (1241). Although surely Mrs. Malins is in danger of catching cold, the phrase “death of cold” is an intentional exaggeration to bring the reader’s mind back to the concept of death. “A ghostly light” is also present in the hotel room where the Conroys are staying (1245).
The environment in which the characters interact is also saturated with death symbolism. Gabriel sees two works of art in the house. The first piece of art on the wall is a picture of Romeo and Juliet, who are two international symbols for death. The second piece of art on the wall that Gabriel sees is of Edward IV’s two sons, who were killed. The reader at the time that this story was published would have probably understood the story of Edward IV’s two sons, thus again bringing his or her mind back around to the concept of death. There is also a photograph of Gabriel’s deceased mother on display in the house (1232). But images of death are not the only things in the environment to reinforce the theme. Mr. D’Arcy sings the song The Lass of Aughrim, which is about a girl who commits suicide, an obvious story of death (1243).
The story also represents spiritual death. The spiritual death is not as prevalent in the story as the…