The Dead convey a sense of epiphany

How does the final passage of The Dead convey a sense of epiphany?

“Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the decent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” (pp. 255-256)

James Joyce provides a poignant denouement in his text ‘The Dead’, culminating the consistent use of the symbol of snow and deeply descriptive language in the final passage to illuminate mortality, and the relationship between life and death. A reoccurring fixture throughout the text, snow is utilised to develop larger representations regarding human nature, relationships and the inevitability of death. Complimented by poetic and descriptive language, Joyce facilitates the reveal of Gabriel Conroy’s personal epiphany in the closing stages of the story. In this essay, I will argue that the final passage of ‘The Dead’ cleverly incorporates its setting to provide a deeper understanding of Gabriel’s realisation that, like the falling of snow in the winter is an inevitable phenomenon, so is death.

The unveiling of Gabriel Conroy’s epiphany in the final moments of James Joyce’s The Dead can only be experienced through a comprehensive understanding of the text’s entirety. While the epiphany emerges as the product of a revelation about his wife’s enduring love for a boy from her youth, the culmination of a series of interactions observed throughout the night ultimately act as precedents to Gabriel’s revelation. Despite being initially portrayed as the story’s hero, with Gabriel shown to be the most anticipated guest by the hosts, the text gradually reveals Gabriel’s insecurities through conversations with a variety of guests. Exposing Gabriel’s obsession with appearance and social conventions, the dialogue between Gabriel and Lily, a housemaid, and Miss Ivors, a young radical, highlights Gabriel’s self-doubt and vulnerability. For example, Gabriel’s exchange with Miss Ivors reflects Gabriel’s inability to engage in uncomfortable or demanding discussions that would effectively deconstruct Gabriel’s safe and secure understandings of himself and the world that surrounds him. However, it is not until the confrontation with his wife, Gretta, that Gabriel’s flaws are consciously acknowledged in the text, rather than subtly hinted at. Encompassed by jealously upon thinking that his wife is in love with another, living, man, Gabriel becomes visibly infuriated. Coldly asking if Gretta was in love with this man, Michael Furey, Gabriel’s resentment and suspicion surfaced as the central emotions in this scene. It is in the aftermath of this gradual revelation of Gabriel’s flaws, insecurities and superficial nature that the text is able to explore Gabriel’s change in attitude and explore the epiphany in the final passage of The Dead.

A sense of paralysis is constructed in the closing statements of The Dead, with Gabriel’s distressing realisation complimented by the poetic and deeply descriptive scene assembled by Joyce. Depicting Gabriel’s view of a snow-covered graveyard from the hotel window, Joyce utilises a series of adverbs and adjectives to enable the reader to understand Gabriel’s feelings of hopelessness and sense of futility. Through the employment of descriptive language, such as ‘barren’, ‘faintly’, ‘dark’, ‘mutinous’, ‘lonely’ and ‘crooked’, Joyce establishes a bleak and desolate scene. As a result, Joyce allows the reader an unprecedented access into Gabriel’s psyche at the climactic moment. Comparing the empty environment to Gabriel in the aftermath of Gretta’s confession, Joyce grants an understanding of Gabriel’s new perceptions on the futility of life, and the inevitability of death. Closing with “the snow falling faintly… like the decent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead”, Gabriel’s identification of the close relationship that life and death share is finally revealed.

Joyce’s consistent deployment of snow throughout The Dead operates as a unifying force between the characters and the setting, with the symbolic use ultimately facilitating the revelation of Gabriel’s personal epiphany. Snow, in addition to other manifestations of winter such as frost and the cold air, is a constant and recurring theme that can be observed as inconsequential, or a meaningless detail to the setting of the story. However, it can be deemed that the text’s consistent referencing of snow has a greater meaning, granting the reader a greater understanding and insight into Gabriel’s shift in attitude and ultimate epiphany. Snow pervades everything throughout the short story, with several characters directly impeded by snow. For example, the pervasive nature of snow and the cold is exhibited by the line “Mrs Malins will get her death of cold” (p. 211) when commenting on the icy air attempting to penetrate the house. In the final scene, a heavy snowfall blankets the entirety of Ireland. Using the falling snow to ease the scene from Dublin to the desolate graveyard in the west of Ireland “where Michael Furey lay buried” (p. 256), Joyce uses snow to unite the those still living, and those who, like Michael Furey, have passed away. Joyce furthers this connection, with the author describing Gabriel’s soul swooning as the snow fell faintly “…upon all the living and the dead” indicating that the polarity between death and life is not as stark as once perceived. This delicately constructed imagery conveyed in the final passage of the text demonstrated how ‘The Dead’ associates the setting of the story with Gabriel’s realisation regarding the fragility of life. Furthermore, this passage reveals to Gabriel that being a member of the living requires more than a superficial respect of social conventions, but a passion and vigour in life that has been lost to Gabriel for many years.

Cleverly crafting the final passage of his short-story ‘The Dead’, James Joyce culminates the consistent use of symbolic references to develop a deeply introspective denouement. Facilitating the revelation of Gabriel Conroy’s personal epiphany following a confrontation with his wife Gretta, Joyce masks the most critical features of the story until the end, enabling a process of realisation for the reader. Fostering the revelation of Gabriel’s deeply seeded insecurities, as well as the deep connection between life and death, Joyce employs the symbolic nature of snow and deeply poetic language to express this epiphany.









Works Cited

Joyce, J., 1954. The Dead. Dubliners. London: Cape, pp.199-256.