Dubliners

by: James Joyce

Gabriel Conroy, “The Dead”

Gabriel is the last protagonist of Dubliners, and he embodies many of the traits introduced and explored in characters from earlier stories, including short temper, acute class consciousness, social awkwardness, and frustrated love. Gabriel has many faces. To his aging aunts, he is a loving family man, bringing his cheerful presence to the party and performing typically masculine duties such as carving the goose. With other female characters, such as Miss Ivors, Lily the housemaid, and his wife, Gretta, he is less able to forge a connection, and his attempts often become awkward, and even offensive. With Miss Ivors, he stumbles defensively through a conversation about his plans to go on a cycling tour, and he offends Lily when he teases her about having a boyfriend. Gretta inspires fondness and tenderness in him, but he primarily feels mastery over her. Such qualities do not make Gabriel sympathetic, but rather make him an example of a man whose inner life struggles to keep pace with and adjust to the world around him. The Morkans’ party exposes Gabriel as a social performer. He carefully reviews his thoughts and words, and he flounders in situations where he cannot predict another person’s feelings. Gabriel’s unease with unbridled feeling is palpable, but he must face his discomfort throughout the story. He illustrates the tense intersection of social isolation and personal confrontation.

Gabriel has one moment of spontaneous, honest speech, rare in “The Dead” as well as in Dubliners as a whole. When he dances with Miss Ivors, she interrogates him about his plans to travel in countries other than Ireland and asks him why he won’t stay in Ireland and learn more about his own country. Instead of replying with niceties, Gabriel responds, “I’m sick of my own country, sick of it!” He is the sole character in Dubliners to voice his unhappiness with life in Ireland. While each story implicitly or explicitly connects the characters’ hardships to Dublin, Gabriel pronounces his sentiment clearly and without remorse. This purgative exclamation highlights the symbolism of Gabriel’s name, which he shares with the angel who informed Mary that she would be the mother of Christ in biblical history. Gabriel delivers his own message not only to Miss Ivors but also to himself and to the readers of “The Dead.” He is the unusual character in Dubliners who dwells on his own revelation without suppressing or rejecting it, and who can place himself in a greater perspective. In the final scene of the story, when he intensely contemplates the meaning of his life, Gabriel has a vision not only of his own tedious life but of his role as a human.