Essay on Vision and Reflection in James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’

Vision and Reflection in James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’


It often occurs that many artistic pieces of writing encompass the portrayal of characters and their roles in the story or the theme content of the work. Through the application of such techniques as conversations and action representations of the nature and temperaments of the cast, there is a possibility of pressing forward the actual argument of the book and story entirely (Hooper 21). In Joyce’s book, ‘’The Dead,’’ the author is not left behind in this quest, thereby making it more perceivable by the readers and the whole audience formation (Joyce 34). However, the understanding of the concept of double sense of vision is the avenue towards understanding the superficial meanings and also the hidden meanings of the story while maintaining a keen reflection upon the events in ‘The Dead.’ Through the process of portraying dramatic irony, the reader knows what the characters themselves are unable to see or know; analyzing their character and individual perceptions; forming a personal opinion of the scene, characters involved and overall, has a point of view on the whole sequence of events in the story (Joyce 87).

The Perception and Understanding among the Characters

Considering that we view it from the quick and scheming reader’s perspective, we would literally come to the conclusion that the only person in the story who superficially and deeply looks at the situations and issues that are presented before him is Gabriel (Hooper 45). However, through this interaction with other characters in the story, it is possible to not only conclude on other people’s thoughts about him and what he says, but also the other character traits and perceptions. For instance, at the arrival at the party of epiphany, Gabriel and his wife, Gretta are accorded a warm welcome by the ever busy Lily (Joyce 12). When removing his coat, Gabriel is portrayed as dwelling on the personal affairs of the house cleaner by asking her about her love life. She considers this an offence and does not ultimately like the conversation. She therefore, walks away in discomfort. It is apparently noticeable that Gabriel does not make an effort to apologize but offers a generous holiday tip and proceeds to the party where he is involved in more conversations and events of the party (Klein 173).

His conversation with Miss Ivors is brought out as one of the most difficult parts of the night to Gabriel. This is because Miss Ivors accuses him of being a West Briton or non-Irish because of the kind of articles that he writes for the conservative news establishments. With this confrontation, it is clear that Daniel takes offense and feels strongly agitated as seen in his outbursts claiming how tired he is of being an Irish. Well, it is important to see how Miss Ivors challenges him to prove against the claim by visiting the Aran Isles. To this point, she was sure he would decline. Therefore, Miss Ivors’ perception of Gabriel is that he is not a loyal citizen among the Irish population and cannot prove otherwise (Joyce 87).

Gabriel’s wife, Gretta emerges as more reflective in the right of epiphany. She literally shows the demeanor of someone who has just reflected upon herself and has realized a lot from the kind of music that she listens to at the party. Standing transfixed and filled with thoughts about the staircase, she portrays the character of a nostalgic woman who wishes the wheels of time could be turned back so that she can be able to be with her first love. This results into the feeling of irritation brought about by the events of the night for Gabriel, when he realizes that he has no authority over his wife; having not been the first man in her life. They both have an epiphany (Klein 201). Many of the characters in the story are portrayed as people or rather individuals trying to reflect on things that they see.

One of the characters with this experience is Gabriel. The text in this case has not provided the readers with a sense that Gabriel is among the people who are at the center of every conversation and has a history of misjudging women. However, on this particular night of the party, he feels, seemingly for the first time, as if the women he meets speak a different language from his, or at least they speak a code with words he is familiar with but with different meanings. Therefore, it can be deduced that he reflects on what he sees with the women he interacts with at the party. His consistent failure to communicate peacefully with the women at the party apparently makes him to think that everyone speaks a language that he does not like. A reflection points out his inadequacies, driving him to form a basis for perspectives that came out as stereotypic towards women.

As a result of this, he develops an uneasy relationship with throughout the party. His reflection makes him to respond stupidly to Lily’s questions. His reflection about his possible audience drives him towards questioning his ability before them. He began reflecting on how the culture of his possible audience is different from his, and what the audience will think of the sayings and words that he would apply in his speech. Gabriel is forced to re-examine his speech and observes the movement of men and women during the party. How the men indelicately clack their heels and shuffle their soles remind him of their grades and the disparity that exists between his cultures and theirs. He then tries to think that he would be a little bit ridiculous by quoting words of poetry to his audience, which they would not be able to understand. Therefore, Gabriel observes the people around him, reflects and concludes on the existing gap between him and his friends. In this case, the irony is that the reader is able to easily deduce that, instead of laying focus on his presentation, he is more concerned with its perception. In some way, instead of believing in himself and his capabilities, he questions the ability of others to realize the poetic element in his speech (Klein 20).

The fact that past love life of Gretta is mentioned in the story as a flashback, it indicates the author’s intention to allow not only the characters in the story, but also the reader to have a better understanding and reflect about the traits of the man and his wife as well as relate the current events of the story to certain events in their past lives. It is also through the reference to the articles written by Gabriel that the true nature of his loyalty is tested. The irony is that Gabriel claims he is loyal to the citizens while he angrily bursts out when asked to prove it. The use of critical, inductive and deductive processes of reflection are agitated by the piece of writing to ensure proper understanding of the characters based on the situations that are presented before them (Summers 106).

The application of double sense of vision is also an important aspect in reflection and vision in this scenario. It simply refers to the literal fact of seeing something and having a deep understanding of it. This process is critical in assisting people to understand their own ability to see what is presented to them (Summers 32). With regards to this, Vision does not only refer to looking at things and making a conclusion about them. Thus, not only does Gabriel visualize people and reflect about them but other people also do the same and make reflections about his thoughts and plans. For instance, when in the party, Gabriel meets Miss Molly Ivors whom he spends some time with. The visualization of Miss Molly about Gabriel is that he is a big personality in society and respects him. However, she reflects how a respectable man like Gabriel would be a columnist in the ‘Daily Express’ and earn as little as fifteen shillings. Gabriel gives her a bad response that annoys her, making her to leave the party before dinner is served.


The process of vision and reflection plays a pivotal role in enabling people to understand their own abilities and also about others. In this story, several characters have conclusions about others based on what and how they visualize them to be. For example, through visualization, the likes of Miss Ivors, Lily, Kste, Julia and Malins among others hold Gabriel in high regards as a respectable man in society. Besides, visualization helps people in reflecting on invisible aspects like love, loyalty or pain. These are elements that unless people are conscious in visualization, will; not be able to feel or even experience the feelings of others (Summers 33). All these stylistic devices and the sequences of thought expressed by the author mainly include deductive methods that make the use of allusion to be ironical, flashbacks, hyperboles and cause-effect based scenarios clearly lead the reader towards reflective and visualization perspectives of the story.



Hooper, Brad. The Short Story Readers’ Advisory: A Guide to the Best. Chicago [u.a.: American Library Assoc, 2000. Print.

Joyce, James. The Dead. Claremont, CA: Coyote Canyon Press, 2008. Print.

Klein, Thorsten. An Analysis of the Short Story ‘the Dead’ by James Joyce. München: GRIN Verlag GmbH, 2007. Internet resource.

Summers, David. Vision, Reflection, and Desire in Western Painting. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007, p 32. Print