The Strange Friendly Pity of “The Dead”
In “The Geometry of Meaning in Dubliners: A Euclidian Approach,” Thomas Jackson Rice argues that “unlike Duffy or the boy of ‘Araby,’ Gabriel [Conroy] appears to progress toward a genuine act of communication and an uncontaminated moment of vision in the conclusion of his story” and “this progress is accompanied by an escape from egoism and a new acuity of perception” (46). This comparison of Duffy to Gabriel is not surprising since critics have frequently tied these two Dubliners together, arguing that they demonstrate a progression in Joyce’s characters’ attitudes towards others.1 Whereas Duffy’s narcissism prevents him from properly grieving for Emily Sinico, Gabriel is thought to develop an awareness of Gretta’s otherness that is both dialogic and transformative at the conclusion of “The Dead,” replacing his self-absorption with an acceptance of difference that is encapsulated by “generous tears” and the “snow [that] was general all over Ireland” (D 224; 225). However, while Gabriel’s concluding thoughts about Gretta are certainly more affectionate than Duffy’s rejection of Mrs Sinico, this comparison is insufficient to conclude that he experiences a productive, loving epiphany. When we read his thoughts and actions throughout “The Dead” with respect to Buber, we see Joyce confirm the futility of attempts to replace a stagnant romantic present with projections of an idealized past, and Gabriel’s epiphany thus becomes the final evidence in Dubliners of the inability of narcissism to shield individuals from the mundanities of everyday Dublin.