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In Dubliners by James Joyce, how are the temporal and spacial dimensions constructed in "The Dead"? How does it influence one of the thematic issues...


The temporal structure of "The Dead" is one of stopping and starting.  When the story begins, there is very little that is linear.  The characters are introduced, but as most of the characters come into view we either get some backstory on them, or their family, or we are introduced into the middle of an argument or a happening which has its roots in the past (such as the slow elucidation of the feud between Gabriel and Molly Ivors).  Almost everything in this story is about something that has happened before, and the main character, Gabriel, dwells morbidly on what will happen in the future.

The only real revelation in this story is about something which happened in the past: the love story and tragedy of Michael Furey and Gretta.  In the last scene of the story, she tells her husband the story of the boy's death, prompted by hearing the song "The Lass of Aughrim" (which is a song about something, again, which had happened in the past).  This revelation, and Gabriel's realization that, perhaps, Gretta will never be truly his (nor as beautiful as she once was) helps Gabriel to define himself as a failure.  He seems himself as silly and sentimental, selfish and venal, partially because of something his wife tells him about something which happened long, long ago. 

Part of the point of this story is the that people are often victims of their own past, and that dwelling on what has already happened limits themselves in the present.  The fact that Joyce writes with a flexible attitude toward time (he repeatedly interrupts the action for long digressions back into time, and, in the case of Aunt Julia, predictions for the future) brings the thought of time into the reader's mind.  There is no transparency about time and the past in this story; everything about it is pointed out to the reader, so that the reader may understand that time informs everything that human beings are.

As for the spatial dimensions, everything inside the aunts' house feels cramped and old-fashioned, even while there is convivial cheer going on all around.  The lighted, warm rooms, in contrast to the snowy darkness outside, makes the characters seems a bit pathetic.  When they burst outside into the cold, venturing home or to their hotel, they seem more alive, but the rooms seem to stifle and define them more than shelter or protect them.

None of these characters, not even the most vital of them, appear to be fully in control of their lives.  They are all hampered and defined by what has happened before -- it is this realization that comes to Gabriel at the end of the story.  There is not that much difference, he comes to believe, between the living and the dead, and it appears that the past is always wih them.  Love and generosity can be felt and practiced by the living, but they are never truly free of what has come before them.  In this aspect, "The Dead" can be seen as a particularly European story, for Joyce's recognition of the burden of history is not a theme often found in American writing. 

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