"The Dead" By James Joyce Essay

1298 words - 5 pages

When The Spirit Dies, You Are Left With NothingIn James Joyce's "The Dead," a group of people is gathered at the Misses Morkan's annual Christmas season dance. The reader is introduced to a variety of party attendees, all of which seem like perfectly ordinary, everyday people doing normal, everyday activities. However, peeling back the surface layer that is the everyday reveals a much more atypical situation. The title of this story, "The Dead," lays down the foundation for a gruesome undertone. The characters and everything surrounding them appears to be dead or dying, either by withering away from old age, something from within being taken, or the imagery of death repeatedly mentioned. "Dark phrases" (Anspaugh 1) such as "three mortal hours" and "perished alive" (Broadview 90) are used and "have led [many] to suggest that the Morkan's party is a dance of the dead" (Anspaugh 1). This is a party filled with lifelessness.The Misses Morkans, otherwise referred to as Kate, Julia, and Mary Jane, live in the upper part of a "dark gaunt house on Usher's Island" (Broadview 89). Every year, Mary Jane, the niece of Kate and Julia, played the organ in a church and gave lessons to younger pupils. Every year, Kate "gave music lessons to beginners on the old square piano in the back room." Every year, Julia sang soprano in the Adam and Eve's church choir. And every year, the three women hosted a holiday dance with the same dances and conversation and dinner menu and toasts. Every year, they did the same thing. It is as if the Morkan women were set in some type of trap; one that didn't allow them to live. It was as if they were stuck in this mundane, dead lifestyle; Julia with grey hair and grey "[dark] shadows" on "her large flaccid face," Kate with her face full of "puckers and creases like a shriveled apple, and her hair" with its "lost ripe nut color," (91) and Mary Jane, who is far younger than her two aunts, was orphaned when she was little and by taking up residence with her aunts, adopted their mundane, dead lifestyle.The most anticipated party guest, Gabriel Conroy, is surrounded by a controversy of images of death. Gabriel's sense of masculinity and control is slowly being killed by the women around him. When he arrives at the party, he attempts to flirt with the caretaker's daughter Lily, but she responds "with great bitterness," causing Gabriel to "[colour] as if he … had made a mistake" (90). Later on in the evening, he gets into a heated discussion one of the party guests, Miss Ivors, about his writing. He then occupies himself with the party and is unable to meet Miss Ivors eyes, for she has insulted him and his work and undoubtedly damaged his ego. "But when they [meet] in the long chain" during one of the dances, "he was surprised to feel his hand firmly pressed" by Miss Ivors who "looked at him quizzically." This time, the woman is flirting with Gabriel, only to slightly arouse him and then immediately knock him down with an insult...

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