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Timed Writing Exam (40 Min.)
In the following passage from the short story "The Dead," James Joyce presents an insight into the character of Gabriel. Write a well-organized essay in which you discuss various aspects of Gabriel's character that Joyce reveals to the reader and to Gabriel himself. Refer to such techniques and devices as imagery, point of view, motif, diction, and syntax.
By James Joyce
She was fast asleep.
Gabriel, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments unresentfully on her tangled hair and half-open mouth, listening to her deep-drawn breath. So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He watched her while she slept, as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife. His curious eyes rested long upon her face and on her hair: and, as he thought of what she must have been then, in that time of her first girlish beauty, a strange, friendly pity for her entered his soul. He did not like to say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful, but he knew that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death.
Perhaps she had not told him all the story. His eyes moved to the chair over which she had thrown some of her clothes. A petticoat string dangled to the floor. One boot stood upright, its limp upper fallen down: the fellow of it lay upon its side. He wondered at his riot of emotions of an hour before. From what had it proceeded? From his aunt's supper, from his own foolish speech, from the wine and dancing, the merry-making when saying good-night in the hall, the pleasure of the walk along the river in the snow. Poor Aunt Julia! She, too, would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse. He had caught that haggard look upon her face for a moment when she was singing Arrayed for the Bridal. Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting in that same drawing-room, dressed in black, his silk hat on his knees. The blinds would be drawn down and Aunt Kate would be sitting beside him, crying and blowing her nose and telling him how Julia had died. He would cast about in his mind for some words that might console her, and would find only lame and useless ones. Yes, yes: that would happen very soon.
Adapted from: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/39900/an_analysis_of_james_joyces_short_story.html?cat=38
At first glance, James Joyce’s The Dead appears to be a story about the annual Christmas party thrown by the Morkan sisters and their niece, Mary Jane. It goes into detail about several of the guests in attendance and describes the wonderful evening they all had, including singing, dancing, and a feast fit for a king. But when examining the story more closely, it becomes evident that there is more to this account then just that on the surface. The Dead is a story about love, lost loves, and the inability to forget those who have been loved and lost.
Although one might think the Morkans are at the center of the story, hosting their yearly get together, The Dead actually revolves around Gabriel and Gretta Conroy. At the beginning of the party, Gabriel and Gretta appear to be a very happy couple, laughing and joking about goloshes. Gabriel loves Gretta very much; his love is clearly shown when he rents a hotel room for the two of them following the party. Gabriel worried that if they traveled home directly after the party Gretta might become ill from the extreme cold weather. He loves her deeply and is more concerned with her health than getting home and back to his children quickly. Throughout the dinner Gretta reciprocates the love, until something suddenly changes her attitude for the night.
As the party was winding down, Gabriel was looking forward to a romantic night with his wife. While preparing to leave, he noticed her leaning on the banister, transfixed by a song Mr. D’Arcy was singing in the adjacent room. The song, The Lass of Aughrim, destroyed Gretta’s happy-go-lucky attitude and left her in a solemn state. Gabriel notices a change in his wife’s behavior, but he isn’t able to figure out what the problem is. Gabriel is certain that there is something is bothering his wife as they are settling into their hotel room. He pressures her to tell him what is on her mind. She finally reveals to him that the song Mr. D’Arcy sung upset her, because it reminded her of a boy from her past, Michael Furey. He was Gretta’s first love, and had died for her when he was only seventeen years old. It’s clear from her hysterical sobbing that Gretta has still not come to terms with losing her first love.
During his dinner table speech, Gabriel declares that although people may have sad memories from the past, you must get over them and live for today and for the future. He says:
There are always in gatherings such as this sadder thoughts that will recur to our minds: thoughts of the past, of youth, of changes, of absent faces that we miss here to-night. Our path through life is strewn with many such sad memories: and were we to brood upon them always we could not find the heart to go on bravely with our work among the living. We have all of us living duties and living affections which claim, and rightly claim, our strenuous endeavours.
Gretta’s reaction later that evening to her memories of Michael proves Gabriel wrong. Gabriel finally realizes that you can never forget lost loves, and this upsets him. He realizes he was not Gretta’s first love and she will always hold the memories of another man within her heart. He is also made aware that he has never felt true, deep love; the kind of love that Gretta saw in Michael’s eyes when he was willing to die for her. He knows that he has never experienced love like this, and his life now seems empty without it.
Gabriel also realizes that he doesn’t know his wife well at all, having been married to her for years and never hearing the story of Michael Furey before. He has been selfish and self centered his whole life, only caring about himself. This behavior can be seen in the beginning of the story, when Gabriel upsets Lily with his question about an upcoming marriage. Gabriel doesn’t think twice before speaking about whether or not his words might hurt Lily. He ends up offending her and he doesn’t even know what he has done wrong. This selfishness carried over to his own marriage. In the years that he has been with Gretta, Gabriel never even thought to ask her about any past loves. Then he seems surprised to find out she had been involved with a boy before meeting him. Gabriel should take other people into account and not just focus on himself. He now realizes this—but it took the dead Michael Furey to teach him this lesson.
If one thing is to be realized from this short story, it should be that love is hard to come by. When two people are truly, madly, and deeply in love, they must embrace it while they still have the opportunity. If the opportunity if passed up, it might be lost forever. And even if a replacement is found, the first true love will never be forgotten.
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