“The Dead” Route

At the end of “The Dead,” Gabriel concludes that “[t]he time had come for him to set out on his journey westward” (223). Gabriel imagines himself moving from east to west, landing like the snow on various places on the Irish map: “the dark central plains,” “the treeless hills,” “the Bog of Allen,” “the dark mutinous Shannon waves,” and finally “the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried” (223-24). The imagined route from Dublin to Oughterard (near Galway), where Michael Furey is most likely buried, is roughly 230 km. It’s a significant journey and conveys Gabriel’s capacity for empathy and his desire to close the distance he feels lies between himself and his wife.

But the imagined route is much different than the actual route the couple travels in the story. Instead of east to west, Gabriel and Gretta make their from the Misses Morkan’s house in Usher’s Island eastward and then a little northward to the Gresham Hotel in Sackville (now O’Connell) Street. Instead of the plains, hills, bog, waves, and churchyard, they see Usher’s Island, the Four Courts, Winetavern Street, O’Connell Bridge, and the Gresham. And instead of flying gently through the air like snow, they walk a bit before upgrading to a cab that makes a “rattling noise” that drowns out any attempt at conversation. Though it’s not referenced in relation to their route,  they would also have passed Adam and Eve’s, where Julia is lead soprano.

The physical eastward movement is in direct contrast to the imagined westward movement of Gabriel’s ‘swooning soul.’ The contrast is yet another indication of the ambivalence that defines Gabriel and his circumstances. He’s drawn westward though he’s more comfortable in the east. At the party he feels himself to be a failure only to be met with applause and laughter when he performs. He envisions his life with Gretta romantically and looks forward to arriving at the hotel where he will seduce her but instead learns she had a lover before him that he can never compare to. The cemetery, the final destination of the imagined journey west, is permanent and powerful, whereas the destination of the physical journey, the hotel, is transitional and temporary.

Nevertheless, it is a journey, and the first distinct route illustrated in the text since “A Painful Case.” The three public life stories preceding “The Dead” make reference to many places but there is a lack of movement, a kind of paralysis initiated perhaps by the tragedy of “A Painful Case.” Mrs. Sinico’s death (she’s hit by a train) puts a halt to transportation and movement for the Dubliners until the end of the final story. In “The Dead,” we see a return to movement and re-evolution of transportation methods. From the immobility of the previous public life stories, the movement of “The Dead” starts slowly, with simple walking. Gabriel and Gretta walk five blocks (650 meters) from Usher’s Island to Winetavern Street and cover the remaining 1.5 km to the Gresham in a rattling cab.

While in one way the physical journey counters the imagined journey, perhaps painting Dublin as a kind of paralytic space working against the transcendent space of the imagination, the presence of a physical journey at all indicates a break from the immobility of the previous stories, a kind of return to the ease of movement that characterizes the childhood stories. And it’s fitting, then, that the final destination of the journey in “The Dead” is just steps away from Great Britain Street, the very first geographical reference in the opening story of Dubliners.

Author: Jasmine Mulliken

Jasmine Mulliken is Digital Production Associate at Stanford University Press. Prior to that she spent five years as Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Oklahoma State University. She has a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin and specializes in 20th-Century British Literature, Digital Humanities, and Digital Literacies.