James Joyce’s “The Dead”

This is a segment from my course in Introduction to Literary Studies at Bryant University. A global survey of twentieth and twenty-first century literature, the course begins with a unit on the influence of psychology and the inner world as realized through early twentieth century fiction and non-fiction. This unit ends in a short essay in which students compare and contrast at least two texts from the unit, considering symbolism, a revised understanding of the mind, psychology, or surrealism among other topics. Our discussion of Joyce’s “The Dead” begins a unit on social crisis, war, and experimental writing. In this excerpt, I ask the students to consider the end of the story and if they think Gabriel Conroy truly has had an epiphany that may cause him to change. Students were directed to move to one side of the room or the other based on their answers so they are motivated to make a claim and respond to each other’s claims. My goal was for students to critically examine and interpret the text. In the process of realizing Gabriel’s intentions toward change, the students point to the simultaneity of foreboding, hesitation, and unity suggested by the ending. The students’ ability to make and support a claim about a text is a continuation of the first assignment and practice for a sourced essay assigned for later in the semester.

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