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 assumption that he is wearing a kind of mask throughout the course of events. But at the very end, after the confession of his beloved wife, Gabriel's life is radically changed and, most importantly, his masks fall.
The scene with Lily (p.2009) in the very beginning of the story shows us already quite a lot about Gabriel: He appears good-humoured, talkative and behaves very kind to her. In this situation we find one of his many character traits: Gabriel is presented to us as a quite talkative, decent and cheerful 'small talk partner'. This aspect of his character, that accompanies us on many pages, is quite strong. Some scenes, three of them are mentioned here, can be uncovered as good examples of his kind way to spread a cheerful atmosphere: "He felt quite at ease now for he was an expert carver and liked nothing better than to find himself at the head of a well-laden table." (p.2020) This description of his attitude at the dinner table shows us very good that Gabriel is able to entertain people if necessary and to appear self-confidently and independently. Another even more obvious example is his well prepared speech about hospitality and friends after dinner which is rewarded with "a burst into applause and laughter..." (p.2025). 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...