An Analysis Of Memories As A Form Of Escape In James Joyce's 'The Dead'

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“Think You 're Escaping and Run into Yourself”:
An Analysis of Memories as a Form of Escape in James Joyce’s “The Dead”
In “The Dead,” James Joyce marks his characters’ lives with an overwhelming paralysis that they can only break away from by reliving their memories. This reconstruction of memories is especially relevant to Gabriel Conroy, a character whose self-consciousness and routine-driven existence enhance the stagnation he perceives in his life. Gabriel finds his salvation by revisiting his memories. Thus, although Gabriel may alter the factual accuracy of his memories, he is able to transfigure the past and use it as a form of escape from the paralysis of the present. He accomplishes this transformation through his preservation of
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As Gretta walks ahead of Gabriel, he longs “to defend her against something and then to be alone with her” (2305). Gretta is doing nothing that should reliably evoke this response from Gabriel, yet he is overcome with feelings of lust, and is soon after propelled into a blissful reverie as he remembers his and Gretta’s “secret life together” (2305). Gabriel views this seemingly trivial event through a profoundly romantic lens, which permits him to direct his attention to the emotions he experiences as a result of the moment instead of considering the facts. His tendency towards the glamourous is accompanied by a deliberate dismissal of anything that contradicts his idealized version of people and events. When Gabriel notices Gretta on the stairs, he is quick to poeticize her actions and attach meaning to them. He wonders what “a woman standing on the stairs in the shadow, listening to distant music, a symbol of” (2303). Gretta’s actions have no immediately perceptible significance, so Gabriel imposes one upon them. …show more content…
As he is happier when he is reliving the past, Gabriel transforms the past into a form of escape when he encounters disagreeable situations. When Gabriel interacts with Miss Ivors, she insults him by calling him a “West Briton” (2290). Gabriel admits that he felt “perplexed and inattentive” (2290) in response to Miss Ivors’ remark. However, once he has realized that Miss Ivors is challenging his understanding of himself, Gabriel recounts a memory of when he would “turn over the pages of newly printed books” (2290). In revisiting this more enjoyable memory, Gabriel is able to delay his feelings of embarrassment and inadequacy while he relives a happier time. Similarly, when he and Gretta are at the hotel, Gabriel engrossed in feelings of lust and desire, as he states that he felt “a keen pang of lust” (2306) in reaction to Gretta leaning against him. Though, Gabriel soon notices that Gretta’s face is “serious and weary” (2307) – contradictory to how he feels. Gretta’s mood conflicts with Gabriel’s impression of the atmosphere in their hotel room, so he attempts to ignore it. However, when Gabriel cannot “overmaster her” (2307), he is overcome by “fever of rage and desire” (2307) as Gretta’s actions contradict Gabriel’s romantic outlook of the moment. At the peak of his fury, Gabriel turns to the past by recounting to Gretta a story about Freddy Malins (2307). His attempt to avoid

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