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Theme of The Dead by James Joyce and Things Fall Apart by Chinua: Comparative Analysis

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The novel, The Dead by James Joyce begins with the character, Gabriel and his wife, Gretta arriving at an annual dinner party. At this party, Gabriel has different encounters with several different people. Throughout The Dead, themes begin to reveal themselves, jealousy and masculinity/male pride, as well as anti-nationalism, death, and women. The second novel I will be looking at is Things Fall Apart, which is a book by Chinua Achebe that is about a man named Okonkwo who is in an African clan. Inside this clan a certain chain of events leads to the downfall of Okonkwo and his position in the clan.

The themes in Things Fall Apart are fate, tradition, masculinity and repression. Although both of these stories are set in two drastically different places the themes can relate to each other in the same ways they also contrast from each other. A theme that both The Dead by Jame Joyce and Things Fall Apart by Chinua share is masculinity, although both of these books share this theme masculinity is shown in various different forms. One example of masculinity In The Dead is when Gabriel is speaking to the maid, when he sees he angers her with a question regarding her love life, in which he doesn’t know how to react so he gives her a large tip which he hopes will solve his problem.

Later when conversing with Miss Ivors it seems like she had angered Gabriel but Gabriel does not see how his pride consumed him which made Miss Ivors leave the party earlier than expected. This is an example of how Gabriel is so overruled by his inner masculinity that he is unable to recognize how this could bother Lily and instead of replying with something that can relieve the situation he uses money as a way to pardon himself. Gabriel has a thrive to be a “master” to his wife, towards the end, he finds out that his wife is thinking of another man which enrages him and makes him jealous instead of becoming sad and disappointed. He’s jealous and threatened of a dead man, He fears he’ll never experience a love like his wife as he is scared he doesn’t love his wife like Michael Furey did. He later realizes that he’s been so self involved with his masculinity that he knows he’ll never come close to what Michael Furey was to Gretta. When it comes to the novel, Things Fall Apart masculinity is seen as more of a physical attribute than it being how a man might act. Kwadwo Osei-Nyame stated in his essay “Masculine traditions operate as forms of consciousness that act foremostly to legitimize specific ideals and values and to distribute and restrict authority within Umuofia, one of the most powerful of Igbo communities.” Umuofia is not only ‘feared by all its neighbours,’ but is also’powerful in war and magic’ (8). Achebe relates the reasons behind individual and communal crises in a society in which war heroes, titled and’ wealthy subjects, and other celebrated figures are dominantly male.” Many of the choices he made were based on masculinity which was highly valued in the clan. Masculinity also serves as the reason of Okonkwo’s downfall as he fails to separate masculinity from power.

This masculinity leads to the death of Ikemefuna who viewed him as his own father. Although he thinks this is what he needs to do, many situations appear in front of him to which don’t follow the path of masculinity and aggression. This toxic trait also leads Okoknwo to kill himself in the end as he can not face the punishment he has been given because he has too much pride within. Even though Okonkwo, Nwoye’s father cares about this masculinity trait, Nwoye is unable to recognize that this trait was the reason his father went down the path that he did. Luckily this trait which Okokwo has is what makes Nwoye realize the wrongdoings of his father and the clan. Although, masculinity is shown in different ways in both these stories, they still share this common theme. As the story continues to unfold the title The Dead by James Joyce shows that the “dead” is also a theme this book has. Both Gabriel and Gretta, have connections with the dead. A good example of this is Michael Furey, Gretta’s ex lover who she thinks died in the cold trying to confess his love to her. To Gabriel it doesn’t matter how long ago it was, or how much they knew each other he is still threatened by it. Gretta’s connection with the deceased Michael is the purest love and only love she will ever receive. Gabriel wants to be a “master” to his wife but now knows it isn’t possible because of what Micheal has done for her.

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This shows the grip a dead person can have onto the living, to Gretta the significances of someone dying for her is enough for her to never forget the person. Jim LeBlanc writes about this in his article “Although Joyce’s tale is strewn from beginning to end with refer- ences to death, dying, and the deceased, the most compelling and haunting element in “The Dead” is undoubtedly Gretta’s poignant memory of her teenage love, Michael Furey, and the effect that her tearful sharing of this recollection with her husband Gabriel has on the couple.” Just as the way the snow falls on Ireland covering it, so will death, the acceptance of it and how it’s inevitable. This is one of the realizations Gabriel comes across as his wife Gretta sleeps, as Loomis stated “Gabriel’s experience is intellectual only at that level on which intellect and emotional intuition blend, and the full power of the story can be apprehended by the reader only if he sympathetically shares the experience with Gabriel. As understanding of himself,then of his world, then of humanity floods Gabriel, so under? standing of Gabriel, his world, and humanity in terms of the story floods the reader.” During this part of the reading this is the only place where Gabriel is being empathetic and reflecting on the world, seeing what everyone shares, death. At some point through the story Gabriel has more connections to someone whose passed away, his mother. He thinks about how his mother did not agree with the marriage between him and Gretta, but is also why he is currently successful, idealizing the marriage. Soon after Gabriel comes to the realization that he thinks about his Aunt Julia and sees how death will come for everyone as he states “One by one they were all becoming shades,” “Shades” could suggest to fade away and die. Although, the theme of death doesn’t completely relate to Things Fall Apart in some ways it can be connected to the killing of Ikemefuna and how it had a grip on Okonkwo. Ikemefuna had a major influence on Okonkwo and his life. The passing of Ikemefuna could be tied into how Okonkwo’s leadership and roll in the clan fell apart and dissipated. Death was able to assist with the downfall and total collapse of Okonkwo it is interesting to see how one’s influence which has been gone for years can still react to someone living in the present. Throughout “The Dead” it seems like Gabriel does not show much attention toward his country, Ireland, which contributes to the theme of anti-nationalism. He also makes it really clear on how he wants leave and shows his interest in Europe in the conversation he shares with Mr. Browne and Mr. Bartell D’arcy on how every talented person goes to London, Milan and Paris.

Continuing in the story we find out more about gabriels anti-nationalism when during a conversation that Gabriel has with Miss Ivors, she states ““Well, I’m ashamed of you,” said Miss Ivors frankly. “To say you’d write for a paper like that. I didn’t think you were a West Briton.”” This response by Miss Ivors is directed towards how Gabriel wrote a column in a newspaper company that is known for being anit-nationalist. Even though Miss Ivors clearly sees the issue, Gabriel does not see anything wrong with what he did. The conversation continues and becomes more aggressive with Miss Ivors pokes fun of Gabriel by calling him “West Briton” which means that he chooses to side more with England. Although, it is clear to the reader that Gabriel is not happy with being in Ireland, he seems to not notice it but when he says to Miss ivors “I’m sick of it.” and she asked why, he was not able to give her an answer. Although, most of the attention is set on Gabriel, the women of this story play a big role. The aunt shows examples of how during this time women did not have a voice. Her experience with the pope and her stories about how women are not allowed to sing in the church quire provides evidence of how women were looked down upon. The result of this makes her angry, she states “I know all about the honour of God, Mary Jane, but I think it’s not at all honourable for the pope to turn out the women of the choirs that have slaved there all their lives and put little whipper-snappers of boys over their heads. I suppose it is for the good of the Church if the pope does it. But it’s not just Mary Jane, and it’s not right.”

During this time period that the book was set in , its not common to speak “fouly” about the church and pope, which later prompts her to take back all her statements and for her to later state how wrong it was of her to go against the pope. It isn’t certain if she had truly meant the words she said towards the pope as she may of been wary of what might happen to her, which shows an example of how women are looked down upon and the church is above all during this time. After this Mr. Browne goes on to talk about how women should and are to be expected to behave in Ireland. Gabriel is happy with how Gretta does not disobey him and acts like how a woman/wife are “suppose” to, which aids in the persona of portraying a “damsel in distress”. The way Gabriel feels about women connects with his masculinity as he feels controlling and demeaning women makes him stronger. Towards the end of the story, Gabriel came to the realization about how his wife does not love him because he was too concentrated on how controlling and becoming obsessed with becoming a “master” to his wife he was. Even though women aren’t a theme in Things Fall Apart, repression is, which what Okonkwo feels in his clan. Which is Similar to how women in The Dead are forced to repress their emotions for society. Repression is an important theme in Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo is proud of his masculinity because of how masculinity is admired in the clan, it also suppresses Okonkwo emotions leading to certain choices he’s made. As Kwadwo Osei-Nyame stated “Okonkwo’s masculinity becomes a defensive resource and his adherence to a masculine philosophy will thenceforth order his world. In articulating his identity and justifying his actions, he cultivates his masculinity as a defense of personal honor in the face of potentially overwhelming circumstances in an antagonistic universe.

The obsession with masculinity is an essential shield marked also by the excessive indulgences expressed in Okonkwo’s outrageous assertiveness and his intense repudiation of certain subjective values such as ‘gentleness’ and ‘idleness.’” We are able to see how he repressed his emotions in fear of not being seen as strong and powerful in his clan, which resulted in him making choices that he might not want to do, but feels like he does not have another choice. As said in the story “Okonkwo never showed any emotion openly, unless it be the emotion of anger. To show affection was a sign of weakness; the only thing worth demonstrating was strength.” This shows how repressing his emotions had taken a toll on him and how all the emotions that are bottled up within had turned into aggression. The symbolism of tradition and change are represented through Okonkwo and his son Nwoye. Okonkwo being a father figure represents tradition as he has certain ways of expressing certain values like masculinity and ranking within the clan. Okonkwo represents tradition as the clan turns away from him the tradition along with him begins to crumble. Then the story proceeds to present his fall as he murders Ikemefuna, a boy who saw Okonkwo as a father and a brother to Nwoye. Nwoye often did not feel the need to express masculinity like his father did but more like his grandfather, making his father wished he was different. Once Nwoye finds out about what his father had done, it pushes Nwoye even further away from him. This collection of events is where Nwoye is seen as change, he questions the ways of the clan such as the idea of sacrifice for example, the sacrifice of Ikemefuna who was innocent as well as the sacrifice of baby twins whose life was taken away from the. Events like this made him decide to cut his connection to the clan and their ways and join Christianity. Okonkwo got to his position in the clan by being aggressive and masculine. As the story unfolds he begins not taking responsibility for his actions but instead acussing fate for everything that went wrong,where he’s wrong is that he had a choice for the action he made before being confined to them. His neighbor Obierika tried to talk him out of killing Ikemefuna, expressing to him how Ikemefuna views Okonkwo as a father and how it is not right that he would be the one to kill him, the elder Ezeudu also expressed his concerns to Okonkwo about the killing. Actions like this show how the choice he made with free will lead him to this fate of exile after accidentally killing Ezeudu’s son. The Dead James Joyce and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe might be very different but actually share similar themes. These two novels define many issues that have to do with stigma based around cultures as well as ideologies. It is interesting to see how a group of people can become almost brainwashed by those around them, The people who rebelled against these notions can be seen as heros of not only their time but ours. It is important not to follow every trend or ideology that is in society as they can be many times toxic.

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Theme of The Dead by James Joyce and Things Fall Apart by Chinua: Comparative Analysis. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 5, 2023, from
“Theme of The Dead by James Joyce and Things Fall Apart by Chinua: Comparative Analysis.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
Theme of The Dead by James Joyce and Things Fall Apart by Chinua: Comparative Analysis. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 5 Feb. 2023].
Theme of The Dead by James Joyce and Things Fall Apart by Chinua: Comparative Analysis [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Feb 5]. Available from:
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