The Dead (short story)

"The Dead" is the final short story in the 1914 collection Dubliners by James Joyce. The other stories in the collection are shorter, whereas at 15,952 words, "The Dead" is almost long enough to be described as a novella.

"The Dead"
AuthorJames Joyce
Genre(s)Short story
Published inDubliners
Media typePrint (hardback and paperback)
Publication date1914
Preceded by"Grace"

The story deals with themes of love and loss as well as raising questions about the nature of the Irish identity.


  • Gabriel Conroy – the main character of the story.
  • Kate Morkan and Julia Morkan – Gabriel and Mary Jane's aunts. They are elderly sisters who throw a party every year during Christmas time.
  • Mary Jane Morkan – niece of Kate and Julia Morkan.
  • Lily – the caretaker's daughter.
  • Gretta Conroy – Gabriel's wife.
  • Molly Ivors – a long-time friend of Gabriel, who is very patriotic about Ireland.
  • Mr Browne – only Protestant guest at the party.
  • Freddy Malins – an alcoholic and friend of Gabriel Conroy.
  • Mrs Malins — Freddy Malins' mother.
  • Bartell D'Arcy – a famous tenor.
  • Patrick Morkan – the deceased brother of Kate and Julia (Mary Jane's father). He famously rode a mill horse that led him in circles around the statue of King William III in Dublin.
  • Michael Furey - Gretta's young love who died after waiting outside her window in the cold.

Gabriel Conroy, Gretta Conroy, Kate and Julia Morkan, and Bartell d'Arcy are all alluded to in James Joyce's later work, Ulysses, though no character from "The Dead" makes a direct appearance in the novel.

Plot summary

The story centres on Gabriel Conroy, a professor and part-time book reviewer, and explores the relationships he has with his family and friends. Gabriel and his wife, Gretta, arrive late to an annual Christmas party hosted by his aunts, Kate and Julia Morkan, who eagerly receive him. After a somewhat awkward encounter with Lily, the caretaker's daughter, Gabriel goes upstairs and joins the rest of the party attendees. Gabriel worries about the speech he has to give, especially because it contains academic references that he fears his audience will not understand. When Freddy Malins arrives drunk, as the hosts of the party had feared, Aunt Kate asks Gabriel to make sure he is all right.

As the party moves on, Gabriel is confronted by Miss Ivors, an Irish nationalist, about his publishing a weekly literary column in the Unionist newspaper The Daily Express. She teases him as a "West Briton," that is, a supporter of English political control of Ireland. Gabriel recalls that he gets 15 shillings a week and "the books he received for review were almost more welcome than the paltry cheque". He thinks this charge is highly unfair, but fails to offer a satisfactory rejoinder. The encounter ends awkwardly, which bothers Gabriel the rest of the night. He becomes more disaffected when he tells his wife of the encounter and she expresses an interest in returning to visit her childhood home of Galway. The music and party continues, but Gabriel retreats into himself, thinking of the snow outside and his impending speech.

Dinner begins, with Gabriel seated at the head of the table. The guests discuss music and the practices of certain monks. Once the dining has died down, Gabriel thinks once more about the snow and begins his speech, praising traditional Irish hospitality, observing that "we are living in a sceptical...thought-tormented age,"[1] and referring to Aunt Kate, Aunt Julia and Mary Jane as the Three Graces. The speech ends with a toast, and the guests sing "For they are jolly gay fellows."

The party was winding down, and as the guests filter out and Gabriel prepares to leave, he finds his wife standing, apparently lost in thought, at the top of the stairs. From another room, Bartell D'Arcy singing "The Lass of Aughrim" can be heard. The Conroys left and Gabriel is excited, for it has been a long time since he and Gretta have had a night in a hotel to themselves. When they arrived at the hotel, Gabriel's aspirations of passionate lovemaking are conclusively dashed by Gretta's lack of interest. He presses her about what is bothering her, and she admits that she is "thinking about that song, The Lass of Aughrim."[2] She admits that it reminds her of someone, a young man named Michael Furey, who had courted her in her youth in Galway. He used to sing The Lass of Aughrim for her. Furey died at seventeen, early in their relationship, and she had been very much in love with him. She believes that it was his insistence on coming to meet her in the winter and the rain, while already sick, that killed him. After telling these things to Gabriel, Gretta falls asleep. At first, Gabriel is shocked and dismayed that there was something of such significance in his wife's life that he never knew about. He ponders the role of the countless dead in living people's lives, and observes that everyone he knows, himself included, will one day only be a memory. He finds in this fact a profound affirmation of life. Gabriel stands at the window, watching the snow fall, and the narrative expands past him, edging into the surreal and encompassing the entirety of Ireland. As the story ends, we are told that "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."[3]


Dan Barry of The New York Times called "The Dead" "just about the finest short story in the English language" on the centennial of Dubliners.[4] T. S. Eliot called it one of the greatest short stories ever written.[5] Joyce biographer and critic Richard Ellmann wrote, "In its lyrical, melancholy acceptance of all that life and death offer, 'The Dead' is a linchpin in Joyce's work."[6] Cornell University Joyce scholar Daniel R. Schwarz described it as "that magnificent short novel of tenderness and passion but also of disappointed love and frustrated personal and career expectations."[7]


"The Dead" was adapted as a one-act play of the same name by Hugh Leonard in 1967.[8]

In 1987 it was adapted into the film The Dead directed by John Huston, starring Anjelica Huston as Gretta Conroy and Donal McCann as Gabriel Conroy.[9]

In 1999 it was adapted into a Broadway musical by Richard Nelson and Shaun Davey, which won a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical.[10] The original production starred Christopher Walken as Gabriel Conroy.

Joyce Carol Oates's 1973 story "The Dead" makes many allusions to Joyce's story.[11]

In 2019, the story was adapted into a Bengali film named Basu Poribar starring Soumitra Chatterjee and Aparna Sen.[12]

Further reading

  • Bowen, Zach (1974). Musical Allusions in the Works of James Joyce: Early Poetry Through Ulysses. Albany: SUNY Press, pp. 11–13, 18–23. ISBN 0-87395-248-0
  • Maddox, Brenda (1988). Nora – A biography of Nora Joyce, 1988.
  • O'Dowd, Peadar, "James Joyce's 'The Dead' and its Galway Connections" in Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, Volume 51, 1999, pp. 189–193.


  1. Joyce, James (1914). Dubliners. New York: Penguin Books. p. 204. ISBN 0-14-018647-6.
  2. Joyce, James (1914). Dubliners. New York: Penguin Books. p. 219. ISBN 0-14-018647-6.
  3. Joyce, James (1914). Dubliners (Penguin Classics ed.). New York: Penguin Books. p. 225. ISBN 0-14-018647-6.
  4. Barry, Dan. "Singular Collection, Multiple Mysteries". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  5. "An Exploration of 'The Dead'". Joyce's Dublin. UCD Humanities Institute. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  6. Ellmann, Richard (1982). James Joyce (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 252. ISBN 0-19-503103-2.
  7. Schwarz, Daniel (1994). "Introduction: Biographical and Historical Contexts" in "The Dead". Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press. p. 19. ISBN 0-312-08073-5.
  8. Irish Playography entry for Hugh Leonard retrieved 7 July 2013
  9. Film review of The Dead, from
  10. Tony Award history, from
  11. Taylor, Gordon O. (June 1983). "Joyce 'after' Joyce: Oates's 'The Dead'". Southern Review. 19 (3): 596. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
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