Gabriel , a University teacher and writer, and Gretta Conroy go to the annual Christmas party given by Gabriel’s aunts Julia and Kate Morkan. There’s a lot of eating, drinking, dancing and laughing at the party and Gabriel meets several friends. Among the people Gabriel meets there’s Miss Ivors, a nationalist who accuses him to be a “West Briton”. From this moment, Gabriel changes his mood and the party becomes a failure for him, even if he delivers a very successful speech after dinner. Just before leaving, Gabriel sees Gretta listening to an old Irish song someone is playing on the piano, obviously enchanted by it. When they arrive at their hotel, Gabriel’s sexual desire is frustrated by Gretta, who tells him the song has reminded her of Michael Furey, a boy who was in love with her when she was seventeen and who died for her love. After having told her story and cried over it, Gretta falls asleep, while Gabriel, looking out of the window at the snow falling down, experiences his epiphany, which will probably bring him to leave Ireland with his wife.
•Gabriel Conroy can be clearly identified with Joyce himself. He’s an intellectual and he’s sick of Ireland and the Irish, as he openly states in his conversation with Miss Ivors. He experiences his epiphany when he realizes the people at the party are really dead, while the dead Michael Furey is still alive and when he becomes aware of the superficiality of his relationship with his wife. He’s the only round character of the Dubliners, who will probably leave Ireland.
•Gretta is Gabriel’s wife; she’s never told her husband the story of her first love, but she seems to love him anyway.
•Gabriel’s aunts are ordinary women, kind and caring, absolutely unaware of the complexity of Gabriel’s personality; anyway they love him.
•Miss Ivors is a bit of a caricature of the Irish nationalist women: self-assured, arrogant, ignorant too.
A main feature of characters in The Dead is that we see them from Gabriel’s point of view, so we share his knowledge and perception of them. No other clue is given about their personalities.
•The narrator is third person, unobtrusive. The story is told from Gabriel’s point of view.
•The setting is Dublin, but the story is mainly set indoors, first at aunt Julia and Kate’s house, then at the hotel, with the exception of the ride to the hotel by carriage. As we share Gabriel’s point of view, we also experience his changing feelings: the party turning from warm to suffocating, the relief of the ride by carriage, the anonymity of the hotel room.
•Paralysis: the paralysis of life in Dublin is symbolized by the repetitiveness of Christmas party rituals and closeness of Irish nationalists’ minds, embodied by Miss Ivors. Gabriel is paralyzed by his duties as a public man, a nephew, a husband.
•Epiphany: Gabriel experiences his epiphany when he realizes the people at the party are spiritually dead, while the dead Michael Furey is still alive, as he had the courage to die for love, going against social rules. He becomes aware of the superficiality of his relationship with his wife, he thought to know very well, and plans to escape.
•Escape: Gabriel is the only character of the Dubliners whose escape is not said to fail. Given his obvious identification with Joyce, we may think he’ll take the writer’s same journey towards Europe. Anyway, Joyce’s narrative is resignedly ambiguous on this point.
The snow: it may be the symbol of death, covering Ireland like a shroud, or the symbol of purification and rebirth.
The “journey westward”: according to Irish folklore, the journey westward is a journey towards death (west as the place where the sun sets), but taking into consideration Joyce’s openly acknowledged debt to Dante, it may be the counterpart of Dante’s journey, which starts westward.