Richard Ellmann, in his biography of Joyce, devotes an entire chapter to “The Dead” – and the background thereof, how all of these different strands came together to make Joyce write it the way he did.
Joyce said, much later in life, that every woman in his stories was Nora – he didn’t know any other women, basically – and could only write about her.
“The Dead” can also be seen (since it is the last story) as the launching pad into the novels.
Joyce wrote 3 novels: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake – and while Dubliners is marvelous, it doesn’t prepare you at all for the ground-breaking quality of the novels – except for “The Dead”.
I have not been just to its beauty: for it is more beautiful naturally in my opinion than what I have seen of England, Switzerland, France, Austria, or Italy. Another element of “The Dead” is Joyce’s relationship to his wife, Nora.
Nora was a Galway girl (just like Mrs Conroy in “The Dead”) – and had had a love affair back in her youth – where a young man stood outside her window in the rain, and then died of pneumonia later.Never once does he, or his friend, mention the person we expect him to discuss, the founder of Christianity, until at the end the friend asks if Pontius Pilate happens to remember someone of the name of Jesus, from Nazareth, and the veteran administrator replies, “Jesus? I cannot call him to mind.” The story is overshadowed by the person whom Pilate does not recall; without him the story would not exist. That Joyce at the age of twenty-five and -six should have written this story ought not to seem odd. He cannot wait to be alone with her, to touch her, make love. EXCERPT FROM Dubliners– by James Joyce – “The Dead”. He was in a dark part of the hall gazing up the staircase.Young writers reach their greatest eloquence in dwelling upon the horror of middle age and what follows it. It is Gabriel’s tragedy that they have actually never been further apart than in that moment when he sees her at the top of the stairs. A woman was standing near the top of the first flight, in the shadow also.Joyce knew about this event – and it always kind of haunted him, because it somehow made it seem like he, Joyce, was indistinct to Nora.It made him jealous to think that Nora could still be moved by what had happened in her past, with another man.One of the other things going on in this story – which may be a bit too local for American readers (or anyone not Irish, I suppose): the feeling of west vs. Internally, he is now “visiting” his country – for the very first time.) Joyce places a character at the party – a Miss Ivors. She chides Conroy for publishing his book reviews in a non-Irish magazine. She couldn’t disagree more, and calls him a “West Briton”. She asks him if he wants to come out to Aran with a group of friends … Miss Ivors is basically saying, I am more Irish than any of you … Joyce had contempt for such provincial issues – and felt that Irish people’s dedication to their own country was just another way to keep themselves down. In “The Dead” he presents all of those issues – it’s all there – Gabriel feels a bit superior to the rest of the party, and wonders if he should re-word his speech so that everyone will ‘get’ it. The final purport of the story, the mutual dependency of living and dead, is something that he meditated a good deal from his early youth.east in that country, which still exists, on some level, today. he says no, he prefers to vacation “on the continent”. “What – your own country isn’t good enough for you? Gabriel has a hard time dealing with her – he feels attacked and humiliated … The point was not to go west, and romanticize their own peasantry – who lived in poverty – and spoke a dead language … He chooses a Robert Browning quote to start it all off and questions this choice. (Notice that he doesn’t choose an Irish poet to start things off. He had expressed it first in his essay on Mangan in 1902, when he spoke already of the union in the great memory of death along with life; even then he had begun to learn like Gabriel that we are all Romes, our new edifices reared beside, and even joined with, ancient monuments. The interrelationship of dead and living is the theme of the first story in Dubliners [excerpt here] as well as of the last; but an even closer parallel to ‘The Dead’ is the story, ‘Ivy Day in the Committee Room’ [excerpt here].Daily Book Excerpt: Adult fiction: Dubliners – by James Joyce – excerpt from the final story in the collection: “The Dead”.Still from John Huston’s film adaptation of “The Dead“, the snow is general all over Ireland The story never loses its power.James and Nora were in Rome for about 6 months – in 1906, 1907 ..and Joyce’s experience of Rome – with its ancient ruins abutting up against modern buildings – also became another strand that would make up “The Dead” – how one can be dead at the same time that one is alive.