Focusing on ‘ The Dead ‘ Good morning, today I will be talking about the story ‘ The Dead’ found in the book ‘ The Dubliners’ . In ‘ The Dead’ , there are recurring reference of snow , and I will be focusing on the significance and symbolism of the snow in the story. First off, we can already see the importance of snow even right at the beginning, at the title of the story. As we all know, snow only appears during winter, and winter, in the literature world, is the season of death, where everything is motionless and lifeless.
This reinforces the idea of death and puts forward the negative tone in the story. In ‘ The Dead’ there are many references of snow , the imagery of snow keeps appearing, it starts off with only a small patch (quote), till it slowly spreads and in the end , it became so big that it ends with ‘ snow covering the whole of Ireland’. I think that the accumulation of snow has several symbolism and several meanings.
The small patch of snow at the beginning represents the inner doubts and misunderstanding that Gabriel has always had for his wife , Gretta. Because it’s during the Christmas dinner time, after the meal did Gabriel find out about his wife Gretta’s past, about Gretta’s old love for Michael Furey. Although that man, Michael Furey’s dead already, his image insides Gretta, is still of this young energetic man, fiery and passionate. Say if Michael’s still alive , Gabriel might react differently. However, in the story, Michael Furey’s dead, and Gabriel cannot compete for the love of Gretta with a dead man, so actually there’s nothing he can do.
There are many signs of his negative feelings shown towards Michael Furey , like (blue tag) and probably jealousy, along with hatred and anger, (blue tag ) , towards his wife, he cannot really express it, because there’s no point in bringing up the topic of a dead person, and as shown previously, he always thinks that he’s of better kind, like during the speech during dinner, he thinks that his speech is so good that no one will understand, so he never really expresses himself fully, hence as all these feelings accumulate, like the snow accumulating.
And also, as the Furey represents fire and passion, he’s dead, and after his discovery, Gabriel kept thinking about him, references such as ‘ the snow falling on Furey’s tomb’, snow, the representation of lifelessness, death and being very dismal accumulates even more in Gabriel.
As we know that snow in the story started off wit only a small patch, it gradually grows till towards the end of the story, it covers the whole of Ireland, it implies that the feeling, the jealousy, his revelation about the fact that his wife’s still in love with a dead man, becomes so overwhelming that it builds up more and more, until it becomes so overwhelming that it covers the whole of his heart, just like it covers the whole of Ireland, a huge outburst of emitons, where he cannot escape from it anymore, the heaviness and cold feeling that he felt all long became really conscious to him, and it covers the whole of him, pulling him down.
And also, we know that Gabriel and Gretta never did share a very close relationship, it seems like he has always misinterpreted her essence all through the marriage, and even if they did share a close relationship before, it has definitely died down, like the snow cooling and freezing everything, it started small, like he still has his doubts and he knows that something’s wrong, but then as the party goes on, especially after his realization of Michael Furey, it seems like the snow has accumulated, there’s more snow in between he and his wife, separating them, as though Gabriel’s having this feeling of how disconnected he and his wife are.
And also, snow is white and soft, so it might as well represent how hopeless and helpless Gabriel felt as well, his inner turmoil and frustration. I think that snow, is cold , it is also a symbol of paralysis, of Gabriel’s numbness, like it freezes him to the point that he’s cold and numb.
Like in the book, he’s always kind of disconnected and aliened from the group, he never really blended in, he prefers to walk alone along the river side and the park, he disagrees with most of the Irish in the party, saying that he prefers English rule more than Irish rule and during the party, when everyone is going for the dessert, he goes for celery instead.
He never did really enjoy the party, during the party he feels really not confident about his speech ,he has social awkwardness and discomfort, and he disagrees with a lot of people, he supports English rule and adores English culture whereas everyone is supporting Irish nationalism, he wears golooshes, something only popular in England but no in Ireland, and he talks about how he’s sick of Ireland. at’s why I think the snow , with its cooling effect symbolizes a paralysis, not only in his relationship with his wife, where it’s become a freezing point of no moving forward, but also a freezing point inside him, where he becomes alienated from the group, disconnected and numb to other things and other people that are going on around him, because he only focuses on himself, as though he only has a frozen connection with other people .
Also, the snow is also an intermingling between life and death, say in the end of the story, it says’ snow falling on where Michael Furey’s buried. ’ So the living is on top of the snow, whereas the dead is under the snow.
In the story, the separation between the living and the dead is only a layer of snow, and it is important, because on the last page, Gabriel revelation , his epiphany clarifies the connection between life and death ,where he realizes that although Michael Furey’s dead, his image is always alife and energetic , like a fire flame, forever burning, whereas he, ironically is the one alife, yet feeling dead and lifeless all along, and that he the living person disconnected with everyone and everything around him, is connected to the dead person, Furey , because they both share something common, which is they both love Gretta .
But then I think there’s also another interpretation of the snow covering the whole of Ireland, apart from his sorrow and numbness, I think it’s also a representation of him releasing all his emotions, all his emotions that are bottled up inside, like he’s finally letting them out and he’s having a new perspective on the outlook of life. He kept his emotions to himself at first only, the snow was only on his jacket, and then it spreads.
Like snow has a cleansing effect, it also gives people a soothing sort of feeling, so probably when Gabriel has his enlightenment, his revelation , he’s starting to accept the fact that Gretta still likes Furey , and he begins to look at Gretta ‘ unresentfully’ and he cries’ generous tears’ , he starts commune with the souls and cherish the dead, starting to accept and connect with those who passed away, most probably Furey, but also starts connecting to the living, like his attitude begins to change towards his wife, as he realizes his own emotional blindness, he realizes how small he actually is.
It means that he’s not the only one that’s feeling alone sometimes, the snow doesn’t only fall on him, if he lets go of his feelings, the whole of Ireland shares his feeling too. And if we think beyond the winter season , snow melts and spring comes , the water gives nutrition to new life, so perhaps like he’ll be able to get over his feeling of being small and his sense of insecurity and just let everything go.
Snow can also symbolize that no matter how dismal everything seems with snow caging on the whole of Ireland on the whole of Gabriel’s heart, once the snow melts, life can still proceed, once the snow melts, along with the passing of time. And once the snow melts, he can really connect with the dead and also the living people, bringing new hope and light to the story.
And also, as I’ve mentioned before snow gives people a sort of cleansing feeling, just like the cleansing of Gabriel’s mind , he begins to dwell on his own revelation without suppressing it, and contemplates about being a human being, with the connection with the dead and also the meaning of life.
And also, based on history, this story is written when Irish nationalism is at the peak, so probably the accumulation of the snow shows the rising Irish nationalism, where the Irish are searching for national identity, where the Irish wants to get away from English rule ,the snow is like a new generation growing, as shown in the lines pg 204, a new generation…..
Speaking of Irish history, this book’s published around 1914, and during that period of time , there was heavy snow that caused a potato famine in Ireland, not only killing all the potatoes and crops, it also killed a lot of people, so maybe that’s why snow is included in this story, to show that although snow may seem pretty and pure in some people’s eyes, they can also seem deadly in the Irish’s eyes. So this is the end of my presentation, thankyou for listening and feel free to ask any questions.