26 pages 52 minutes read

James Joyce

The Dead

Fiction | Novella | Adult | Published in 1914

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Symbols & Motifs


Snow is one of the most important symbols in “The Dead.” Descriptions of snow bookend the story, beginning with Gabriel scraping snow from his shoes and ending with him watching the snow fall outside the window of his hotel room. In the tie between these two descriptions, however, Gabriel becomes attuned to the symbolism of the snow. At the beginning, the snow is a force of nature. It is an impedance, something which threatens to make walking along the streets of Dublin an annoyance. Gabriel thinks about snow only in terms of how it affects him on a practical level, so he must scrape the wet snow from his shoes so as to keep them in the best condition. Snow is incidental to his life, in the same way that he focuses only on himself and lacks empathy for others.

Snow is a distinctly external occurrence in the story. Gabriel removes it from his shoes, shaking of the final traces of the outside world before he steps into the party. From there, he only glimpses the snow through windows. The snow falls outside, creating a contrast between the warm, bustling party and the cold, serenity of the snow-blanketed exterior.