Breaking the Mold

James Joyce’s short story The Dead is one of my favorite pieces of modern literature.  The hypereducated Gabriel attends a dinner with his wife Gretta in a time where Dubliners were conforming to British tradition.  He is to perform a speech, but finds it difficult to connect to his audience due to his desire to reference things beyond Irish hospitality such as “sad memories, the Three Graces, Paris and a quotation from Browining.” 

Perhaps this is what I like so much.  Gabriel is so educated that he feels disconnected  (a popular modernism theme) that it makes him feel insecure.  This “High Life”style takes him away from living in the moment thus making him the living dead.  His wife tries to bring him back by encouraging him to visit Galway (to visit his dying heritage), but he refuses saying that he’d rather keep “in touch with the languages” of France, Belgium and perhaps Germany.  Gabriel in essence believes that he must keep up with an academic lifestyle in order to fit in… Tragic, because it’s the very thing that might be killing him.

When he begins his speech he remains conflicted saying “if I may use the phrase” (alluding to his education) and references Irish hospitality in speaking of “them with pride and affection, still cherish in our hearts the memory of those dead and gone great ones whose fame the world will not willingly let die.”  Before, he didn’t want to think of celebrating the heritage.  Now, he realizes this and toasts to all three of his aunts for their great hospitality. 

From here, the mold has been broken and our Gabriel comes back down to Earth.

He sees his wife on the staircase listening to a song called The Las of Aughrim and immediately falls in love with her again.  He forgets his life of academia and remembers the days of adventure with her.  His fire for life returns, but is settled when Gretta says the song reminds her of a long lost love from her childhood – Michael Fury.  Michael visited her before she left on a trip and died from being in the cold rain.  He died to see her.

Gabriel feels that he cannot compete with this and becomes more isolated.  He goes on to say that it’s “better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”  His fire fades and he stares out the window and thinks about the falling snow on Michael’s grave.

I feel that this is a wake up call for Gabriel to come back down to earth, and stay there.  He’s being a bit hard on himself because he’s comparing his life to the teenage Michael Fury – which is full of lust and passion.  If he learns anything from this it should be to break the mold and try to throw a little more passion into his lifestyle.  That way, he can re-connect with the wonderful preservation of Irish hospitality. 

Another reason why I like this short story is that it shows how too much of the High Lifestyle can take you away from those you love.  It can isolate yourself into a world that’s distant and far away.  On top of this is the symbolism of snow and various monuments that are referenced.  It’s a great read.


The First Stop: James Joyce

The first stop in A World Full of Literature is going to be with James Joyce.  We read quite a bit of his works in my Twentieth Century British Literature course, but it was so fast paced that some things could be have been missed.  This time, I’m going to take my time through it and see what pops up. 

I think the first place we’ll start is with his short story titled The Dead.


I thought I’d share a great quote from Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.

“Education is the great engine of personal development.  It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers can become the president of a great nation.  It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”  -Nelson Mandela (pg. 168)

Writing: Keeping it Simple

Here’s something from George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language”.  Within, there were six strategies in keeping writing simple:

(i)  Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii)  Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii)  If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv)  Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v)  Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi)  Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

With these six steps, there should be no excuse in leading someone astray.  Writing is an expression to be shared with everyone.  It shouldn’t be used as an elitist tool to intimidate or mislead.  It’s a creative way to share and direct.  We just need to keep it simple.