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Alienation of the Characters in Joyce’s The Dead and Hemingway’s The End of Something

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    Alienation of the Characters in Joyce’s The Dead and Hemingway’s The End of Something

                James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway are two writers who opted to write stories of human nature and human life with distinct sincerity and clarity with respect to their created characters’ thoughts, emotions, actions, and relationship to other characters. In Joyce’s The Dead, the main character Gabriel Conroy was projected as a man detached, whether intentional or not, from the people he used to be close with: his wife, his aunts, his people, and his country. In The End of Something by Hemingway, though, the protagonist Nick Adams, was portrayed differently from Gabriel. Although both of them are showing detachment from the people around them and the community they are currently at, there still is a different and opposite effects the readers can feel after reading the two stories. This difference can be uprooted from the different, but not necessarily opposite, writing style and techniques of Joyce and Hemingway. To further analyze the themes, particularly the idea of human alienation, embedded in these two short stories, it is not only vital for the comparison and contrast of the two male protagonists, but the two writers as well—the masterminds behind such masterpieces.

    Analysis of the Characters: Gabriel Conroy vs. Nick Adams

                A main character of the story is always said to have a one ultimate goal which he will try to gain at the end of the story. In analyzing the characters of Gabriel Conroy and Nick Adams, it is therefore just to settle first on their objectives and compare them in order to see the similarities and contrasts of their characters.

                Gabriel’s goal in the story is to keep the annual holiday party of his aunts as orderly and as peaceful it can be. He performed various tasks during the said celebration, some of which were requested by her aunts themselves like keeping the company of Freddy Malins who always comes late, acting as the carver of the goose presented during dinner, and giving a speech for the occasion. On the other hand, the objective of Nick Adams in the story is simply to end his relationship with Marjorie.

                From the goals of the two characters, the difference in the approach of building and developing characters of Joyce and Hemingway is clearly seen. While Joyce chooses to allot extra time and build up of Gabriel’s character, Hemingway on one hand opts to bring at the same time Nick’s characteristics together with his goal. Gabriel’s objective in the story is also vaguer as compared to that of Nick’s. He was not given a one, single, and direct goal, but a more complicated one. Helping to organize a party requires tasks to different people. Nick, on the other hand, requires only to tell his thoughts to a single person—Marjorie, which is a more direct and simple task.

                This difference in their objectives can be related to the kind of environment they are in when the events happened. Gabriel was at a party while Nick was only with Marjorie at the lakeshore. The people around them may have affected their behaviors and actions. While Gabriel tries to impress the people around him by bringing himself up, Nick tries to be honest with Marjorie and to himself by telling the truth about his incapability to continue their relationship.

    In both stories, Hemingway and Joyce both used the third person point-of-view. However, there is still a difference in the narration of the main characters’ thoughts and emotions. In The Dead, Gabriel seems to have a more free flow of thoughts than that of Nick’s. This was very evident in the story. For example, when thinking about his dinner speech, Joyce actually gave Gabriel the chance to communicate with his readers through a passage that releases his thoughts: “  He was undecided about the lines from Robert Browning, for he feared they would be above the heads of his hearers…He would only make himself ridiculous by quoting poetry to them which they could not understand. They would think that he was airing his superior education ” ( Joyce,1993, p. 129).  This situation is repeated in some other parts of the story which never happened in The End of Something. The readers never heard any thoughts or sentiments from Nick or from any other characters. Exchange of dialogues was just the only means for the readers to know the thoughts and emotions of the characters. Nick’s thoughts, for example, was just revealed right after he confessed to Marjorie that, “ It isn’t fun anymore ” (Hemingway, 2004, p.518). In fact, the readers have fewer clues of what the story is all about. Unlike in The Dead, readers are like moviegoers with free passes in Gabriel’s minds. That way, they can easily relate and sympathize with the main character. It is easier for them because Gabriel’s sentiments are more accessible for them rather than those of Nick’s.

    Because of this, it is now clear why the readers seem to be less alienated with Gabriel and more detached from Nick. Although both writers tackle human alienation in the story, the effect of this idea is being projected to the readers in a different manner. The writing style of Joyce and Hemingway are different for these two particular stories. The question now of whose style is more effective arises. If it is the technique of Joyce, the readers are free to know and to sympathize with the characters. It is therefore a reader- friendly style. However, in this kind of writing, Joyce can be criticized as feeding his readers too much, making them appear as people who are incapable of reading the subtexts of the story. If it would be the approach of Hemingway, on the other hand, the readers may feel alienated while reading the experiences of the characters, which is a bad point in writing works of literature.

    Alienation, although both portrayed by Gabriel and Nick, is still projected using two different approaches. While Joyce included readers’ sympathy for Gabriel, Hemingway’s style seems to create a character detached not only to the people inside the story but to the people outside of it as well. Nevertheless, both of them successfully depicted the theme of alienation.


    Demas, C. Various, Mjf. (2004). Great American Short Stories: From Hawthorne to          Hemingway.              Spark Educational Publishing: USA

    Joyce, J. (1993). Dubliners. Penguin Books: England


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