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The Dubliners: Not Just Another Pretty Face

1949 words - 8 pages

The Dubliners is a series of short stories by James Joyce first published in 1914. They form a picture of Irish middle class life in Dublin in the early years of the 20th century. The last book, The Dead, is considered to be the finest of the entire series. In this story we have the protagonist, Gabriel Conroy. He “is insecure, egotistical and demonstrates in his awkward attempts at communion, an often-profound misunderstanding of his companions (Free 282).” He is also the “favourite nephew”(Joyce 558) of the Morkan sisters who invited he and his wife Gretta to the annual Christmas dinner. Gabriel does what most good nephews do which is to be pleasant company and perform the typical male gendered tasks, such as carving the goose. Most of the male interaction Gabriel encounters in the story is usually cordial, confident, and calm. However, when it comes to interaction with the women such as Lily, Miss. Ivors and Gretta, he often becomes confounded, sometimes to the point of being downright rude. These bits and pieces of painful conversation between these three women slowly deflate Gabriel's delicate ego throughout the evening and cause him to become exceedingly insecure about himself to the point of self realization of how chauvinistic he has been. In The Dead, Joyce wants to break the gender barrier of a male dominated culture by using Gabriel and his interaction with Lily, Miss. Ivors and Gretta as a way of showing us that these women are not just a pretty face, but intelligent, thought provoking women capable of deeper thoughts and feelings.
In the beginning paragraphs of The Dead, The Morkan sisters are impatiently awaiting the arrival of their most beloved nephew, Gabriel, and his wife Gretta. When they finally arrive at the house for the annual Christmas party, the Morkan sisters immediately come to greet him with great enthusiasm. Readers immediately begin to picture Gabriel as an egotistical person of interest held with high esteem and service to as what a well known Hollywood movie star of today would receive. As Gretta is whisked away by the loving aunts, Gabriel proceeds to the pantry with the housemaid Lily to hang the overcoat. As Lily helps Gabriel with his overcoat, Gabriel’s chauvinistic memories of Lily were of her as a small child doing what the female gender is supposed to do which was to “sit on the lowest step nursing a rag doll (Joyce 557).” This is where Gabriel, trying to be polite, smiles and glances at her, evaluating her appearance with a male predetory view. He notices her slim womanly figure and pretty looks. “She was a slim; growing girl, pale in complexion and with hay-coloured hair (Joyce 557).” Now admiring the woman she has become, starts asking various questions which tend to ruffle Lily’s feathers and that starts a chain reaction of feminist assertion against Gabriel for the evening. For example, Gabriel asks about Lily’s schooling. Which back at the turn of the century most women did not go to...

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