Books on Tap attempted Joyce via “The Dead” from The Dubliners at Champion Brewery on June 2. Most of the people who came had read something by Joyce many, many years ago and while not everyone was comfortable with the assignment, we all agreed that discussing the short story as a group deepened our understanding and made us want to go back to see what we had missed the first time around.
The story focuses on a Christmastime dinner party hosted by a pair of elderly aunts and their middle-aged niece. Many guests swirl through the gathering but the focus quickly shifts to the aunts’ nephew Gabriel, who arrives with his wife. Gabriel’s personal and political life are reflected in his interactions at the party and culminate in a revelation from his wife.
The party structure, in which conversations are fleeting, mirrored the characters’ missed connections, misunderstandings and secrets. The partygoers, like we the readers, may think that we know our loved ones and coworkers, but emotional truths may lurk under the surface. Gabriel gives a speech at dinner that unites those from the past with the those at the table while looking towards the future.
We examined a few symbols in depth. The food was a marker of class and wealth, an excuse to gather together to celebrate life in the depth of winter. However, Gabriel, while carving the goose, doesn’t eat any of the rich food (even eating celery instead of the sweets at desert), perhaps hinting at his surface relations with those at the party, including his wife. The galoshes that Gabriel gave his wife as a gift are imported to Ireland and a reaction to the cold she suffered the last time they visited this house. They foreshadow the death revealed in the closing pages. Finally the snow unites in its blanket coverage, burying grief and secretes and differences. A book club member movingly read the last line, which is the title of this post.
Before we left, we discussed how Joyce could have gone from writing the more conventional The Dubliners (written in 1906, published in 1914) to the ground-breaking Ulysses (written in 1921, published in 1922 ). Along with his native genius, we speculated about his move to Paris, World War I, the Uprising. We all agreed he remains an artist to read in the 21st century.
Now that you’re interested in Joyce, join us for Bloomsday on June 16 at Tin Whistle Irish Pub. Starting at 4:30pm, we’ll be sharing excerpts of Joyce’s work and that of other Irish writers. Read a bit yourself or simply enjoy hearing Joyce’s language brought to life.
Recommendations from Books on Tap Members:
Flannery O’Conner – A Good Man is Hard to Find
Chekhov short stories
Ulysses as a graphic novel
Join us on Thursday, July 7th at 7pm to discuss The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon.