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Monday, March 15, 2010

The Voice that is Heard: A Reflection on Cheng's "Empire and Patriarchy in 'The Dead'"

I found Cheng's article on "The Dead" to be quite engaging. His reading of Gabriel as being a reflection of the high-minded elitism that fueled the colonial occupations by the British Empire adds a new level of interpretation which dares the reader to step away from the text and consider its historical and social contexts. One of the most profound points that Cheng made was his consideration of the concept of a voice. He begins by quoting Freddy Malins who, defending the legitimacy of a black singer, asks: "Why couldn't he have a voice too?" (Dubliners, lines 781-82). The isolation of this line in Cheng's analysis made me consider the role of voice not only in this story, but also in the bigger realm of postcolonial experience. Postcolonial studies is a field concerned with studying the works of individuals whose cultures and identities were challenged by the incursion of external forces. In many cases, this incursion results in the colonized being stripped of their identity and voice. They are no longer in control of what they say and do, for their actions are dictated by forced cultural behaviors. This lack of voice and the inability to establish a concrete identity is present in "The Dead." The character who is most plagued by this lack of voice is Gretta. Until the last few pages of the story, Gretta remains a figure of mystery. She speaks rarely, and the only solid description the reader receives is an objectifying portrayal of her figure standing on the stairs. Gretta, as the female companion of the "colonizing elite" Gabriel, takes a marginalized role in the story. However, by the end of the story Gretta's voice manifests and the reader finally gets to hear of her experience. It is interesting that the story Gretta tells, that of her lover Michael Furey, is the catalyst for Gabriel's fall from high-minded elitism. Could it be that Joyce is commenting on the nature of the narrative of the other? It is possible that the colonizer needs only to hear the story and feel the pain of the colonized to have his illusions of grandiose goodwill dashed by reality.

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