Wednesday 3 February 2016

Learning From The Dead

Whether history or the social conditioning passed on from the dead is our learning, we have decisions to make about how we are to live out our lives. Before we face west into the sunset of our years, do we just trudge coldly through the snow, dragging our feet until we lay down with it in our graves or do we raise ourselves to the snow's dizzying heights, throwing ourselves into life with the ups and downs that it brings or fly on the wind, snow swept flurries to rise and fall and then eventually lay down softly with all the rest, to rest. 

Joyce tells us:

'Better pass boldly into that other world, 
in the full glory of some passion,
 than fade and wither dismally with age.'

Joyce presents the dead of the unchanging social traditions of Ireland and that of the unchanging mentality of the individual. Gabriel, a master of self control, eschews change while eventually recognizing its need, in not just wider society but in his own persona. He is frozen in his development like all of Ireland, in the snow that covers the whole country and the grave of a man who has died with more life lived in his young years than he himself. In this story we see Gabriel begin to thaw.

With Gabriel's thaw and relinquishing of control, the falling of the snow awakens a realization that he has as little control over death, and is of as little consequence in the greater universe as a snow flake that falls. He finds life affirmation in the acceptance of death, that he is at one with the living universe where all of us are falling. Individuals linked by the universality of death.

The end of the hero's story is the end of everyone's story, a joining up in the end by the blanket of snow under which we all come to the same end.

The snow falls throughout the universe, just as death comes to us all, even the hero in his own story. As Joyce's last words of The Dead put it:

'His soul swooned softly 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.'

However, the power of the language, especially Joyce's, is that such words outlive the narrator, narrative and the writer. The 'full glory' of Joyce's 'passion' will not as he feared 'fade and wither dismally with age' it will 'boldly go into that other world' of immortality.

Joyce, J. (1914, 2011) The Dead, Melville House Publishing

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