Joyce is the product of a troubled Ireland, a repressive religion that he abandoned spiritually but always carried with him in his art, and an inheritor of Irish writers such as “Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and William Butler Yeats” (5) whom he saw as both venerable authors and enviable rivals. These tensions are ever present in his work, and for a boy nicknamed “Sunny Jim” the darkness and confusion in his works reveals a stormy underside, something that is likely the product of his raising and surroundings.
His disillusion and ambivalence towards marriage and love is seen clearly in “The Dead” and in his love life- In 1904, “opposed to marriage as a convention, he and Nora left Ireland to live out of wedlock.” (11) The Dead tackles what happens when couples fall out of touch with each other, when the Irish fall out of touch with their present in favor of an idyllic past and an impossible future, and when a man falls out of touch with who he is and puts on a front for his friends and family. The Dead ends bleakly, snow falling and leaving little hope for redemption.
The most poignant moments revealing this tension between love and life come at the end of the story, when he is leaving the party and longing for his wife.
“THere was grace and mystery in her attitude as if she were a symbol of something.” (48) He paints a picture of her in her head, and calls it “Distant Music,” but he does not know what she is a symbol of. The reader, however, is clearly supposed to consider it. The Distance between the two is physical and emotional. The Music is being made by another man, though he too, in his own way, is creating art for her- the poetic lines in his head, the picture he mentally paints. Yet, if he never forms it in reality, only mentally, how could she know or appreciate it? On the walk home, it is the same trouble- he wants to display his love for her, he thinks about it every moment, and yet, for some reason, he doesn’t.
“There was grace and her attit