Reader Response to Joyce's The Dead
James Joyce's story "The Dead" has a tremendous impact on the
readers, especially those who are familiar with the political situation in
Ireland at the time about which the Joyce wrote the final story in
Dubliners. In exploring the meaning of James Joyce's long short-story,
"The Dead", there are many critical approaches to take. Each approach
gives readers a lens, a set of guidelines through which to examine and
express ideas of the meaning of "The Dead." Joyce himself said that the
idea of paralysis was the intended theme of all the stories in The Dubliners
of which "The Dead" is the final story.
Of all critical approaches, reader
response works best for me. This approach examines the images, symbols,
point-of-view, characterization and setting of "The Dead" in such a way as
to reveal the theme of paralysis that Joyce intended. The two characters
that appeal to me are, Gabriel and his wife Gretta who are invited every
year to a family gathering by Gabriels two aunts on New Years eve. Gabriel,
who is a university professor, does not want to be identified with Ireland.
He wants to be identifies as a citizen of the world. His arrogance is
revealed in his interaction with others. A
primary example would be the way he treats his wife Gretta as an object.
As Peter J. Rabinowitz informs one that in reader response
criticism the "...activity of reading always alters the text at hand. Unless
we are limiting ourselves to reading in the sense of uninflected recitation,
reading is never a passive activity to which the reader contributes nothing.
In the reader response criticism, reading is a text in which individual
experiences bear on the subject. Every individual interprets the text
differently due to one having different experiences that determines the
interpretation of the text. (138)
The images reflect Gabriels ego in a sense, at the same for his
marital relationship, and at the end death, which may not be physical but
spiritual. Gabriel who is tallish and stout symbolizes authority and also
wants to be perfect for all times. He has a mental block, which makes him
believe that he is more superior and different than others are. He's built
a screen around himself, which stops him from identifying himself with the
"Common Man." The "...polished lenses and the bright gilt rims of the
glasses which screened his delicate and restless eyes...."(23,24). This
image perhaps tells us that the glasses are the screen that partition his
vision from the vision of others.
Joyce's intended theme of paralysis is exemplified in the
symbolization of snow. In the story, snow has a major role as it
symbolizes the political situation at the same time where everything was
cold and dead due to...