The Women in James Joyce's "The Dead" and in John Huston's filmic adaption

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

13 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. James Joyce’s Women in The Dead
2.1. Gretta Conroy
2.2. Molly Ivors
2.3. Lily, the caretaker’s daughter

3. The Women in John Huston’s Film
3.1. Gretta Conroy
3.2. Molly Ivors
3.3. Lily, the caretaker’s daughter

4. Conclusion

Works Cited

1. Introduction

James Joyce’s Dubliners is a famous collection of short stories, which introduces its readership to the life of Irish middle class people at the beginning of the 20th century. Especially the final of these short stories named The Dead, which simultaneously is the longest, received a brought reception. It is “the story of Gabriel Conroy who attends the Christmas dinner party of his aunts, the Morkans, accompanied by his wife Gretta” (Brannigan 56, 57). Here, he is confronted with his pro-British existance, in contrast to some nationalist attitudes. In the end, he discovers that his wife fell in love with a boy in Galway once, who died, and that their relationship is not, and never was, as passionate as he wants it to be. In general it can be said that “Joyce presents people in their relation to both nationalism and love” (Manganiello 94)

It arouse interest over seventy years after its first publication, when John Houston made it into a movie in 1987. This essay will analyze the changes that happened through the conversion from short story to film. Because the paper has a limited number of pages, the special focus will be on the women Gretta Conroy, who is next to her husband Gabriel the main actor, Miss Ivors, who stays in mind because of her strong feelings for her home country Ireland and Lily, a minor character but the first woman appearing in the story. After giving a description of their characters in the novella, the third chaper of this paper will deal with these women in the movie. It will be shown that they nearly all went through a kind of transformation and, in contrast to Joyce’s outline, were strenghtened by John Houston in various respects.

2. James Joyce’s Women in The Dead

2.1. Gretta Conroy

Gretta Conroy is the wife of Gabriel Conroy, the person around whom the narrative circles. She visits together with her husband his Aunts Kate and Julia Morkan for a Christmas dinner party which draws together a variety of relatives and friends. “In the midst of these solitaries, Gabriel and Gretta stand out as a surprising anomaly: a married couple with children at home” (Cowart 501). While they are at the Morkan’s party, their housemaid Bessie takes care for the children so that Gabriel and Gretta do not have to worry. During the party one gets the impression that Gretta really loves Gabriel and cares for him. But as the party progresses, she is reminded of her heritage and life as a young girl in the West of Ireland, in Galway, especially when Mr. Batell D’Arcy sings The Lass of Aughrim, “a nationalist ballad” (Brannigan 58). Furthermore this song makes her remember that she had had an admirer named Micheal [Furey]” (Wright 27) at that time. When the couple leaves the party and arrives at the Gresham Hotel, “Gretta is full of past memories” (Ehrlich 95) of her former lover. When Gabriel wants to know, what she is thinking about, she bursts into tears, because Michael Furey died as a young boy after Gretta went to a convent. Gretta says, she thinks that he died for her. After this sentence she falls asleep and leaves Gabriel thinking about their passionless relationship.

When thinking about Gretta Conroy, especially the last scenes stay in mind. Standing on the stairs, ready to leave the party, hearing the distant music, “Gabriel is moved by her stillness. The shadow she stands in has made the panels of her skirt ‘appear black and white.’ She is as though captured in a photograph; her attention is focused on something that has caused her desire.” (Leonard 464). One can easily imagine this picture, Gretta standing on top of the stairs, looking to the sky with dreamy eyes and Gabriel standing on the ground, looking at his wife and admiring her. Knowing the story, this is the moment, where the reader can feel pity for Gabriel. He seems to love his wife and sees the love in Gretta’s eyes, as well. But what he does not know is that “what has caused her to assume this attitude has nothing to do with him” (Leonard 465). When Gretta found her way back into reality, they leave the party together and arrive at the Gresham Hotel, “Gabriel fired by his living wife and Gretta drained by the memory of her dead lover” (Ellmann 179). Still lost in thoughts, she tells her husband about her past.

“Gretta slips into the local but formal and general language and gestures of the Galway girl that she was, language and gestures that understate the powerful emotions roused in her and now sweeping through her. To begin with, she is said to dry ‘her eyes with the back of her hand like a child,’ but one sign of her powerful retreat into her burried self.” (Torchiana 240)

And than she comes up with “the romance of Michael Furey” (Brown 84). When she says that she thinks the boy from Galway died for her, “this answer of Gretta has a fine ambiguity. It asserts the egoism of passion, and unconsciously defies Gabriel’s reasonable question” (Ellmann 179). She starts crying and fastly falls asleep. Now Gabriel is the one, who is lost in his thoughts and “in some sense Gretta’s disloyality to Gabriel at the end of the story [...] provokes his extraordinary melancholic reverie.” (Brown 85). This ending is not only Joyce’s imagination, he borrowed it from another book, from George Moore’s Vain Fortune. But Joyce made Gretta allow at least some feelings for Gabriel, if it is not passionate love, there is a kind of sympathy, because the autor “allows Gretta to kiss her husband, but without desire” (Ellmann 182).

2.2. Molly Ivors

Miss Molly Ivors is one guests at the Miss Morkan’s party. When Lancers, “an elaborate group dance” (Leonard 461) is arranged, she finds herself dancing with Gabriel Conroy. And right after they started their choreography, Molly Ivors begins to attack Gabriel. She blames him for writing for The Daily Press, a pro-British newspaper and she teases him “for not supporting the revival movement in his own country” (Brannigan 57), of Ireland. She “manages to provoke and make fun of Gabriel Conroy by setting him up as the anithesis of everything Irish” (Brannigan 58,59). She repeatedly calls Gabriel a West-Briton and one can imagine, that this must have sounded depreciative to Gabriel. Even though she affirms later that she was just joking, the reader still gets the impression that she spoke out what has been on her mind. Then Miss Ivors suggests that Gabriel should spend “his holiday in the Irish-speaking Aran Islands” (Ellmann 178), because these are in the West and Molly Ivors knows that Gretta also comes from this region. It does not get clear, why she knows this. It is possible on the one hand that Miss Ivors knows Gretta Conroy from her youth. Against this stands the fact that the two ladies did not spent much time on the party together or any dialogue about their past is told. On the other hand, Molly Ivors may guess Grettas heritage from the way she speaks and pronounces words, just like Gabriel does when Lily speaks to him. To this point, I will refer in the chapter about the housemaid later. But Gabriel rather likes to spend his holidays in Europe. Molly Ivors leaves the dance and the conversation with Gabriel, with a last and in some way also arrogant “West Briton”. Then we meet Molly again when she is about to leave the party. She has an overstay in time and wants to leave before supper. Gretta and Mary Jane try to convince her to stay and eat with them, but she does not feel hungry and refuses. She does so as well, when Gabriel offers her, to bring her home and wants the others to let her go and have dinner themselves. But Miss Ivors cannot leave without a little hit to Gabriel. With a laugh she runs out of the house and says “Beannacht libh”, which is “Gaelic for farewell” (Brannigan 61), and must have reminded Gabriel of their conversation about supporting the Irish country, language and culture.

Molly Ivors’s outward appereance is, just like Gretta Conroy’s, described by the main character Gabriel. But he describes Miss Ivors in opposite to his wife, he “sees Molly Ivors only as what she is not” (Leonard 461). She is a frank-mannered, talkative young lady, with a freckled face and prominent brown eyes. Then Gabriel mentions the “absence of the low-cut bodice [which] announces that Miss Ivors does not dress in accordance with what she imagines the male viewer wishes to see” (Leonard 461). She also wears an Irish device, “indicating the popular revival of Irish and Celtic designs in jewellery, dress and other objects in the 1890s” (Brannigan 60). Later, Gabriel refers to her as the girl, or woman, or whatever she was, was an entusiast. This description of Molly Ivors is a good way for the reader to create a mental image of this person. And then she starts talking and one feels that “her style of questioning is aggressive and persistent. One might say, then, that it is completely unfeminine” (Leonard 462). From my point of view Garry Leonard put it into too harsh words. Miss Ivors seems aggressive and straight forward-out and does not try to hide her honest opinion, but these must not be signs for unfemininity. In my opinion, the author created this figure with a great sense for gibes and a good feeling for irony and the right humour at the right time.

2.3. Lily, the caretaker’s daughter

Lily is the first person, the reader gets to know when the story opens. “She is the caretaker’s daughter. He is mentioned but three times in the story” (Torchiana 226,227). Furthermore she is literally run of her feet, because she has to do her job as a housemaid at the Morkan’s party. She has to answer the door and welcome the guests. “’Literally run off her feet’ is the cliché that provides her with an image of how she imagines other people would perceive her at the moment” (Leonard 455). One can guess this after a close reading of the text, and as well that “on a strictly physical level, Lily is tired” (Leonard 456). She has a conversation with Gabriel Conroy and, as already mentioned above, Gabriel realizes that she pronounces his surname with three syllables: Con-er-oy. He smiles because this is a reference “to her likely West of Ireland origin” (Torchiana 227). We also learn something about her looks, she is slim, pale and has hay-coloured hair. She is a young, unmarried, working-class woman who is less educated, less articulate, and less socially empowered than Conroy” (Ehrlich 94,95) and therefore Gabriel feels superior to her and as well because he knows her from childhood on. But in the ongoing conversation it gets clear that Gabriel only thinks to know her. He asks her, if she still goes to school, and if he really knew her, he should have known that this is not the case. And then the her famous description about men follows: The men that is now is only all palaver and what they can get out of you. Right afer this sentence Gabriel feels embarrassed and gives her money to cover up this feeling. He seems to realize the fact that she is no longer the little girl playing with the doll, but a real women with real experiences with men now. It is possible that Lily, like Gretta Conroy, “has had her moment of passion that will not eventuate in fulfillment” (Cowart 504). After this conversation, “Joyce’s story has little use for Lily after the guests arrive” (Barry 21). “The last we see of Lily is her removing the guests’ plates after Gabriel has begun eating” (Torchiana 227).


Excerpt out of 13 pages


The Women in James Joyce's "The Dead" and in John Huston's filmic adaption
Ruhr-University of Bochum
Ireland, North and South, in Film
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
447 KB
James Joyce, The Dead, John Huston, Gretta Conroy, Dubliners, Gabriel Conroy, Lily, Molly Ivors
Quote paper
Lena Spiekermann (Author), 2008, The Women in James Joyce's "The Dead" and in John Huston's filmic adaption, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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