One of the most telling episodes of the point occurs in a discussion about the church between Aunt Kate, Freddie Malins, and Mr. Browne. The two are discussing the church and the idea of talent to charity when Kate brings up the fact that at that place are cloistral orders that require its members to sleep in their coffins:
Freddie Malins explained to him, as best he could, that the monks were trying to make up for the sins committed by all the sinners in the outside world. The explanation was not authentic clear for Mr. Browne grinned and verbalise: "I like the idea very much, but wouldn't a comfortable spring bed do them as well as a coffin?" "The coffin," said Mary Jane, "is to remind them of their last end" (Joyce 372).
Here is the nitty-gritty of the story in a nutshell. Joyce is subtly presenting the underlying theme of the story in offhand conversation.
The monks are a symbol of the characters discussing them. They are a opthalmic image containing a profound statement--a symbol--of the meaningless and trivial lives macrocosm led by the characters. That the monks are being discussed by these characters themselves is plainly Joycean irony. Joyce is taking a mild potshot at the mores and values and stopping point that he grew out of. He presents himself as omniscient narrator, and in drawing a parallel between the monks and the characters is asserting the superiority of his decisions. He has a fondness for the Irish that he cannot demolish himself from, but he is not above poking holes in any mild pretensions he perceives.
Gabriel Conroy serves many functions in the narrative.
He is both the protagonist and the character meant to represent the commentator's unenlightened sensibility. He also functions as an aspect of Joyce, filled with concerns that Joyce himself may pass worried over. As protagonist, Conroy acts as the filter through which the story's events travel. The reader empathizes with Conroy and is meant to experience what Conroy experiences. He is likable, if a bit of a failure. He is pedantic and timid. He is considerate, though, and a character that the reader takes to sum through the narrative. Therefore, at the conclusion, when Conroy receives his celebrated epiphany, Joyce means to transfer the epiphany to the reader.
To the perfunctory reader, the discourse between the characters is nothing more than chit-chat. Joyce is too precise for that. He has disguised his commentary on the human setting in an offhand remark. The story is telling the reader that there are those who live life as if they were dead. People live, move, eat, sleep, hold back parties, drink, and converse without ever being completely aware of life or of the possibilities that await them should they decide to transcend their narrowed mindset and grow emotionally.
Joyce has used the visual image of a real death to draw the readers attention to C
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