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Gabriel's (O)bo-Gender, Sinthome and Courtly Love in the Dead

The Letter, Issue 35, Autumn 2005, Pages 84 - 92


Pauline O'Callaghan

The Dead,[1] the final story in Joyce's collection Dubliners, seems to illustrate many of Lacan's later theories on the structure of the human psyche, the relationship between the sexes and the nature of love. According to Lacan, Joyce had a symptom due to the fact that his father was lacking. '...I thought that it was the key to what had happened to Joyce. That Joyce has a symptom which starts, which starts from the fact that his father was lacking (carent): radically lacking, he talks of nothing but that.'[2] Lacan claims that it was by wanting to make a name for himself that Joyce compensated for the paternal lack.[3] Joyce's writings, he says, were altogether essential for his ego[4] and bear witness to the way in which Joyce remains rooted in his father even as he disowns him; and this was his symptom. 'The father,' he says in the same seminar, 'is a symptom or a sinthome.'[5]

Gabriel Conroy, the chief character in The Dead, is, like Stephen Daedalus, in many ways an alter ego of Joyce. He too is an arts graduate who works as a teacher and literary reviewer. As with Joyce, his wife is a less well-educated girl from Galway whom he appears to have married without parental approval and they have two children, a boy and a girl. Gabriel, also like Joyce, has weak eyes, and is drawn more to the continent than to his native country. As with Joyce, Gabriel's father appears to have been an ineffectual character. He is even missing in the family photograph in the aunt's home.

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