The Dead: Gabriel’s narcissism
The Dead starts off with silent night full of flurries. But while outside is blanketed in snow, indoors, a party is taking place. While this party is an annual event, it has it’s own routine that is followed. However, the only things that has changed this particular time around are the main characters, Gabriel and his wife Gretta and the events that unfold at the party play a major role in the interactions between this married couple. The party has a lot of drinking and dancing, some old friends catching up and making small talk. all of the events of the party lead to the explosive ending, where Gretta tearfully reveals at their hotel that she has been thinking about a former lover ever since hearing a familiar song at the party, leaving Gabriel feeling aghast as he did not notice his wife’s emotional state, following with other mixes of emotions. Gabriel did not realize that his wife had been entranced with a memory of a former lover ever since she had heard that song in the drawing room at the party. Gabriel is too narcissistic to realize that his wife is in a state of emotional distress.
There are many reasons to support that Gabriel is in a state of narcissism. The first shows in his interaction with the housemaid, Lilly. Upon arrival, she takes his coat and they make a bit of small talk. All seems well until Gabriel asks if Lilly is of age to be married, and Lilly snaps back that men only want “what they can get out of you” (Joyce, p. 2) Instead of trying to make amends to the situation by talking to Lilly, Gabriel awkwardly hands her a holiday tip, hoping that will smooth things over. It doesn’t quite do the trick, but he exits the conversation anyway and enters the party to begin dancing. After the encounter with Lilly, he thinks a quite a bit about their conversation, and how “his whole speech was a mistake from first to last, an utter failure” (Joyce, p.2). In this scene, Gabriel has an internal monologue going, where he recognizes that the conversation did not go well, or there was at least some sort of misunderstanding on some level. There is the fact that he hoped a monetary compensation would help smooth over his obvious clumsiness in the conversation. The ability that he is so easily and readily able to do that shows a display of class and wealth, which displays his ego, a trait of narcissism. However, instead of going back to Lilly to make amends, he goes on with the party as per usual.
But this is not to say that Gabriel is all too wrapped up in his internal thoughts or throwing around his wealth. He is aware of what is happening around him. For example, after the interaction with Lilly and his thoughts about how horribly the conversation went, he went on to have a conversation with his wife. This conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Freddy Malins, a party guest who always seems to arrive drunk. Gabriel saw to it that Freddy sobers up enough to partake in the evening’s festivities. That includes getting him to a separate room in the house so he doesn’t make a scene where everyone is dancing along. This action isn’t one of someone who is self-absorbed or obsessed with appearances. This is an act of kindness, and while some may not want anything to do with someone who is always drunk, Gabriel goes out of his way to ensure the party goes smoothly. And although that may be true that Gabriel did see to it that Freddy was not a nucience to any of the party attendees, he didn’t stay with him the entire time, but instead enlisted the help of Mr. Browne, another party goer, and left Freddy with him. After leaving Freddy with Mr. Browne, Gabriel went back to the party and did not return to Mr. Browne or Freddy.
While an external act of kindness is exempt from Gabriel’s consistent inner monologue, other things are not. For example, at the end of the party, Gretta and Gabriel decide to take a cab rather then walk to their hotel. Before this, however, Gretta is seemingly mesmerized by a song being sung in the drawing room. Even after the song ends, she is still distracted. Throughout the entire cab ride to Dublin, she is silent and thoughtful, lost in the memory of her former lover and how he died waiting in the cold for her. Gabriel notices that his wife is preoccupied, perhaps even emotionally distressed, but does not attempt to talk to her. That is because like his wife, he too, is lost in his own world. Similar to hers, there are themes of love, but with undertones of desires for his wife. Gabriel’s thoughts are shown explicitly in a quote that is written when they arrive at the hotel, where Gabriel feels that “they had escaped their lives and duties, escaped from home and friends and run away together with wild and radiant hearts into a new adventure” (Joyce 18). George L. Lucente dissects this quote in his article Encounters and Subtexts in ‘The Dead’: A Note on Joyce’s Narrative Technique. Lucente acklonwegdes that Gabriel longs for an escape and he also brings up that Gabriel notices Gretta’s strange mood and the events that unfold afterwards. But Lucente says that instead of thinking about his wife and how this memory must be effecting her, Gabriel’s thoughts align the prospect of “losing”. In this prospect, Gabriel is not showing concern for Gretta who has just recounted a sordid tale of her past boyfriend and has fallen asleep crying, but absorbed in his thoughts about winning and losing control over her.
Additionally, there is there scene in the bedroom of the hotel, where Gretta is telling the story of her former lover to Gabriel. Brian Cosgrove described and dissected Gabriel’s reaction in his article Male Sexuality and Female Rejection: Persistent irony in Joyce’s ‘The Dead’. When Gabriel first realizes that Gretta is in distress, he asks her what is wrong, and she bursts into tears, sayiong the song reminded her of someone important, a past lover. This discovery that Gretta has had a past lover has Gabriel reeling, but also makes him feel self-conscious. Then Gretta begins to recount the tale of how Michael Furey died for her. Cosgrove does state this. He also states that there is a way that Gabriel can pull himself out of this state of inwardness. But that opportunity quickly disappears when Gretta goes into more details about Michael and the history they have. And even when listening to Gretta tell her story, a key part of her past and who she is, Cosgrove describes how Gabriel sees himself in the mirror and observes himself as someone ridiculous (p.7).
And perhaps that is what led to the self-consciousness during the Gabriel’s speech at the party. After the conversation with Lilly, and helping Freddy Malins, Gabriel finds himself dancing with Miss Ivors, a colleague of his. While dancing, she presses him about taking a trip, but he declines saying that he has already planned a cycling trip. During this conversation, she uncovered his pen name as a writer for a newspaper, and accused him of disliking his own country for not wanting to take the trip and planning a cycling trip instead. After his dance with Miss Ivors, a song is sung by Julia, one of the three hostesses, the other two being Gabriel’s aunts. Everyone eats, and Gabriel delivers a speech that garners a round of applause and a toast to three hostesses.
Prior to the speech, Gabriel already had an encounter with Lily that would make him more self-conscious then he already is. In addition to that, he also had Miss Ivors, a friend and colleague, just discover he is a ghost writer and press him about what she deemed lack of interest in his country. But this speech, an outward action, could also free himself from the lonely monologue Gabriel can’t seem to part from, by giving him confidence, by being involved with the party attendees listening in on his speech. Just as Cosgrove mentioned how being with his wife would distract Gabriel from his self-consciousness. And on the outside, it seemed as though Gabriel could be a little less involved in himself, as he proclaimed he wouldn’t dwell on the past but move forward ( Joyce 13). The speech’s content consists of future generations, with an appreciation for events that have happened in the past. It doesn’t sound like someone who is self-conscious or narcissistic, yet Gabriel reverts right back to thinking singularly in the following scenes.
The following scene at the hotel, where Gretta tells Gabriel what has been on her mind, shows Gabriel’s narcissism the most. During the telling of the story, Gabriel gets angry when he realizes that he in fact is not Gretta’s first love, and that she had loved before him. Instead of moving to comfort his wife, Gabriel has feelings of anger, then starts to compare himself to Micheal Furey, and dimishes his own self-image (Joyce 20). And to credit Gabriel, he did notice that his wife was in a different emotional state, from the time she heard the song at the party all the way back to the hotel. But he only used it to his own advantage, to fuel his own imagination. In his own imagination, he created a place where both he and his wife could both escape. While Gabriel uses his thoughts for processing, he also uses it in this instance as an escape from reality. In this escape, Gabriel controls everything as these are all thoughts in his mind. It’s a fantasy world, and escape, which he has total control over and input from anyone or anything else doesn’t matter.
In the very last scene where Gretta is asleep, and Gabriel is still awake, he is thinking of Michael Furey and how is he is laying underneath the snow buried in a grave. But then his thoughts once again turn inwards to himself, and he starts dissecting his love with Gretta. Here he’s not comparing himself to Michael, but comparing the feeling of love he felt for his wife earlier, To the feeling of love Gretta must have felt for her former lover (Joyce 22). Gabriel is still showing signs of self-consciousness and narcissism, up until the last page, the only difference is that it’s on a deeper level.
Gabriel almost seems to have a selective attention when it concerns things happening around him. One example is when he and his wife is travelling to their hotel from the party in their cab. He did notice that his wife’s demeanor changed. However, he failed to notice anything beyond that. He didn’t notice that she was in distress because he too wrapped up in his desire for his wife. Not only that, but he created an escape from the real world, an escape from reality, one where he and his wife can escape. And while that escape that he created does include his wife, he didn’t ask for her input. He also based his imaginative escape from what appeared to be surface characteristics from a glance from his wife. When Gabriel first saw that she was so lost in thought, he became fascinated by his with his wife’s change of mood, then thought back to their love of when they first met. He then continued from there with his inner monologue.
When Gretta first begins to show signs of being bothered, and it appears to Gabriel that Gretta doesn’t follow with what he has planned, one of Gabriel’s first emotions are anger. He is angry, because he, in that moment realizes that he lost control of the situation, and it is going a completely different route then he wanted to. And that made Gabriel angry. The fact that Gabriel lost control of the outcome of the situation and was angry means that he needs that to feed his self-esteem. Not to mention, it’s more than a little narcissistic to be angry that your partner won’t align to what you have planned in your mind.
Gabriel has showned many signs of narcissim and self consciousness and even fewer signs of modesty, and if too wrapped up in these two traits to notice that his wife is in emtional dsitress. He showcases this in many ways during the party, and reaches its height afterwards, at the hotel with his wife.
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