the dead paper - Gabriel: What Weve Got Here is a Failure...

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Gabriel: “What We’ve Got Here is a Failure to Communicate” Jonathan Lee English 124 In James Joyce’s “The Dead”, the first impression of a joyful holiday gathering of well off friends and family gives the wrong impression about a group of people that are living a routine of unfulfilling lives. As “The Dead” begins with friendly conversations and merry dance and music, the story quickly brings about awkward moments and various characters with disappointing lives such as Julia’s wasted voice in the church choir. Gabriel is commonly loved by most of the other characters in the story, as the archetype of a product of posh way of life: a man whose high class and amicability are merely a façade of a man desperately holding onto his insecurities. Norris also points out that “Gabriel Conroy’s party can be said to have been troubled by the unexpected challenges of three women, who confront his complacencies in order of increasing intimacy, as servant, colleague, and wife.” (195) Joyce uses Gabriel’s three major confrontations with Lily, Molly Ivers, and his wife to construct Gabriel’s failure to communicate in the story. These conflicts lead to a stronger desire for a repetition of his comfortable, elegant lifestyle, emphasized through unrelenting fantasies given through images of the snow and windows and through his own tangible yearnings for routine. Throughout the story Gabriel expresses his own need for routine through his actions during the party and through the party itself, one that has gone on “for years and years” (21). Usually something so repetitive would end up losing its value, but rather they cherish the predictable components of the party. Gabriel is seen as the most popular guest of this annual dance, something that has become a well-oiled machine of a tradition as “it was always a great affair, the Misses Morkan’s annual dance” (21). Gabriel relishes his role as the head of the dinner table where he “felt quite at ease…and liked nothing better than to find himself at the head of a well-laden table” (38). As the aunts want Gabriel to cut the goose, he is described as coming into the scene “with sudden animation” (38). The majority of his annual speech is giving praise to the aunts and “the tradition of
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genuine warm-hearted courteous Irish hospitality” (43). Even after Gabriel’s drawn-out elegant speech, he gives another anecdote of “the never-to-be-forgotten Johnny” (46), a horse that aimlessly walks around the statue of King Billy. Gabriel’s story of the horse may be symbolic of his own circular path that he takes every year. As the other guests seem to have also known this story aside from Mr. Browne, it could be inferred that Gabriel has told this story many times over, which is reinforced by the fact that other characters such as Aunt Kate chip into the story as she reminds Gabriel that “only the mill was there” (47). As Johnny continues to be content with his walk round
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the dead paper - Gabriel: What Weve Got Here is a Failure...

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