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.
Torn between two extreme options—unhappy domesticity or a dramatic escape to Argentina for marriage—Eveline has no possibility of a moderately content life. Her dilemma does not illustrate indecisiveness but rather the lack of options for someone in her position. On the docks, when she must make a choice once and for all, Eveline remembers her promise to her mother to keep the family together. So close to escape, Eveline revises her view of her life at home, remembering the small kindnesses: her father’s caring for her when she was sick, a family picnic before her mother died. These memories overshadow the reality of her abusive father and deadening job, and her sudden certainty comes as an epiphany—she must remain with what is familiar. When faced with the clear choice between happiness and unhappiness, Eveline chooses unhappiness, which frightens her less than her intense emotions for Frank. Eveline’s nagging sense of family duty stems from her fear of love and an unknown life abroad, and her decision to stay in Dublin renders her as just another figure in the crowd of Dubliners watching lovers and friends depart the city.
Eveline holds an important place in the overall narrative of Dubliners. Her story is the first in the collection that uses third-person narration, the first in the collection to focus on a female protagonist, and the only one in the collection that takes a character’s name as the title. Eveline is also the first central adult character. For all of these reasons, she marks a crucial transition in the collection: Eveline in many ways is just another Dubliner, but she also broadens the perspective of Dubliners. Her story, rather than being limited by the first-person narration of earlier stories, suggests something about the hardships and limitations of women in early twentieth-century Dublin in general. Eveline’s tortured decision about her life also sets a tone of restraint and fear that resonates in many of the later stories. Other female characters in Dubliners explore different harsh conditions of life in Dublin, but Eveline, in facing and rejecting a life-altering decision, remains the most tragic.
One of the darkest characters in Dubliners, Farrington rebels violently against his dull, routine life. He experiences paralyzing, mechanical repetition day after day as a copy clerk, and his mind-numbing tasks and uncompromising boss cause rage to simmer inside him. After the day in question in “Counterparts,” the rage becomes so explosive that Farrington unleashes it on the most innocent figure in his world, one of his children. The root of Farrington’s problem is his inability to realize the maddening circularity that defines his days. Farrington has no boundaries between the different parts of his world: his work life mimics his social life and his family life. No one part of his life can serve as an escape from any other part because each element has the potential to enrage him. Farrington consistently makes life worse for himself, not better. He slips away from work as he pleases, insults his boss, and matter-of-factly pawns his watch to buy alcohol. Though each small rebellion makes him momentarily happy, the displaced rage simply reappears someplace else, usually exacerbated by his actions. This lack of mindfulness about the consequences of his actions spills over into Farrington’s anger, over which he appears to have little or no control.
Farrington’s explosive violence sets him apart from some of the other characters in Dubliners, who oftenaccept routine and boredom as facts of life and do little to upset the balance of familiarity and calm they’ve established. Mr. Duffy in “A Painful Case,” for example, identifies so fully with his routines that he cannot upset them even for the chance of love. Eveline, too, chooses her familiar routines instead of leaping into the unknown, even though those routines are far inferior to the possibilities before her. Farrington’s insensitivity to the people around him also casts him as the opposite of Eveline, whose concern for what others will think of her overrides her own desires. As the brutal bully of Dubliners, Farrington shows what can happen when a life consists primarily of mindless repetition: sooner or later violence will surface, and those who witness or are subject to the violence may themselves act violently in the future.
The “Araby” narrator’s experience of love moves him from placid youth to elation to frustrated loneliness as he explores the threshold between childhood and adulthood. Like the narrator of “An Encounter,” he yearns to experience new places and things, but he is also like Eveline and other adult characters who grapple with the conflict between everyday life and the promise of love. He wants to see himself as an adult, so he dismisses his distracting schoolwork as “child’s play” and expresses his intense emotions in dramatic, romantic gestures. However, his inability to actively pursue what he desires traps him in a child’s world. His dilemma suggests the hope of youth stymied by the unavoidable realities of Dublin life. The “Araby” narrator is the last of the first-person narrators in Dubliners, all of whom are young boys.