This longer short story is a rich feast through which one may taste the world of Joyce. Nothing – NOTHING – in Joyce is casual. Each image, reference, description carries symbolic resonance. Career Joyce scholars may try to align all the references – but I like W. Tindall’s attitude: “The text is not a system of mathematical equations but a flexible relationship of possibilities. . .” Bearing this in mind, we will dig at some of these references to give a sense of the richness in the writing.
Pay attention to the title even as it sits in contrast with the opening scene of the story itself – how is the image of death and the Dead brought up throughout the work? This story also holds to Joyce’s fascination with epiphanies – that moment of sudden and intense illumination when a profound truth is, or may be, revealed. Joyce describes the epiphany as ‘the most delicate and evanescent of moments’ that offer ‘a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in memorable phase of the mind itself’. For Joyce, these moments did not occur at the height of the heroic or dramatic gesture, but in the ordinary acts of life. What are the moments in ‘The Dead’ that fit this description? More importantly, what is revealed?