with ‘Ivy day in the Committee room’, is completed.
However, Joyce felt that he had been too hasty, maybe ungrateful, to judge his own city and people.
Though he had escaped Dublin, choosing a voluntary exile, he carried along his birthplace, which
shaped so much of his conscience and production as a writer. He felt indebted and he knew he had
to render his city justice, though in his peculiarly ambiguous way. In September 1906 in Rome, he
wrote to his brother Stanislaus:
I have not reproduced its ingenuous insularity and its hospitality, the latter ‘virtue’ so far as
I can see does not exist elsewhere.
However, Gabriel Conroy refers to the party guests as ‘victims’ of his aunt’s hospitality and, as
the insightful analysis of Norris points out, Gabriel fails to successfully communicate with three
female characters at the party, obliquely mirroring the ‘three Graces’ of the Dublin musical world
(notably Gabriel’s aunts and Mary Jane). The three unsuccessful encounters in question are with
Lily (his social inferior), Miss Ivors (an educated woman, his equal), and his wife (his love), leaving
the protagonist bitterly disappointed and representing his failure to connect with the external world.
In particular, Gabriel’s ungratefulness towards his people is seen by Miss Ivors, the personification
of Irish Nationalism, as a betrayal of his country. As in classical mythology, retaliation is in order
for our hero: Gabriel will pay for his hubris by experiencing loss and grief, when his wife Gretta
confesses him she was in love with another man.
Gabriel’s attitude portrays the conflictual feelings Joyce has for his own country. During the party
he is constantly described as looking out of the window, drawing circles in mid-air; he is also
attracted to the solitude and cold of the city buried in the snow, as he longs to escape the hospitality
his aunts inflict upon him. He strictly judges his reality according to his parameters of a
‘hyper-educated’, continental and filo-British man, thus constantly making, through free indirect
speech, comments on people around him and reflecting on himself, too.
This behaviour strictly links him to ‘A painful case’, where the main character only visits his
relatives for duty, such as attending funerals. Gabriel is surrounded by people, but his diminishing
attitude towards his origins and ancestors makes him a partial outcast, more of a stranger than a
Anyway, Gabriel’s inner solitude is not, as it is for Mr. Duffy, ‘incurable’: a possibility to recover
the lost harmony with his wife, people, and country is still open through music, and specifically
through the act of listening .
It would seem strange to suggest that music is a positive force in ‘The Dead’, as opposed to the
disruptive force of water, that drowns everything in its path. More so if we consider Joyce’s critique
to music, which unfolds on three levels: ‘an anatomy of musical value, a critique of the production
and circulation of musical works, and the adaptation of compositional tropes for the development of
his own writing technique’, reflecting on ‘the portrayal of musician, paramusicians and musical
events (in all his works)’.
A critique of musical institutions is particularly evident in ‘A Mother’ and ‘The Dead’, where two
female characters of great musical talent, Miss Kearny and Aunt Julia, are prevented from making a
For the genesis of ‘The Dead’ and the background of the short story, which strongly echoes Joyce’s
autobiographical episodes, especially in relation with his wife Nora Barnacle, and faithfully portrays many of his
relatives and acquaintances, see: R. Ellman, ‘The Background of the Dead’, in James Joyce: Dubliners and A Portrait
of the Artist as a Young Man , pp. 172-187. Joyce’s letter is quoted at p. 175.
J. Joyce, ‘The Dead’, p. 285.
M. Norris, ‘The Politics of Gender and Art in ‘The Dead’’, in Suspicious Readings of Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’, pp.
See J. V. Kelleher, ‘Irish History and Mythology in James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’’, in The Review of Politics , vol.
27, n. 3, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 1965), pp. 414-433.
A. Nestrovski, ‘Joyce’s Critique of Music’, in Perspectives of New Music , vol. 29, n. 1 (1991), pp. 6-47.