I’ve been thinking about the end of James Joyce’s short story “The Dead” a lot lately. One of the images I have of myself (and one Mary Jo has mentioned a couple of times) is that of the male side of me (George) slowly fading out of existence as the female side of me (Joyce) is slowing fading into existence. On the past page of “The Dead,” Gabriel Conroy is lying in his bed next to his sleeping wife. It’s a typical Joyce short story like Araby, where the main character has an epiphany about his or her life, and here at the end of “The Dead,” Gabriel is thinking about his life and how how his identity as an intellectual, a husband, and Irishman now seems to him to be false. The story is about transition — not one about gender or sex, but rather one of maturity, of life-and-death, and of history — and when I read it these days, I cannot help but see myself in Gabriel’s place, confused, deflated, flickering out of existence, but with the beginnings of a plan to get moving in a new direction.

Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.