Besides being one of the world's finest writers, James Joyce was a singer who maintained a life-long interest in vocal music. In "The Dead," he uses music as a means of interconnecting the living and the dead. The story's title, scholars claim, refers to the Irish poet and musician Thomas Moore's "O Ye Dead!" in which the living and the dead sing of their envy for one another. The story itself contains a number of different dances, a piano piece, the Bellini aria "Arrayed for the Bridal," and the Irish folksong "The Lass of Aughrim," which serves as the catalyst for the main character Gabriel's epiphany. Numerous references to the sounds of dancing, clapping, and rattling symbolically serve to keep death at bay but in the end only emphasize the connectedness of both states of being. A primary topic of dinner table conversation is music and musicians-those tenors who are alive today seem not to be as good as the ones of yesteryear that are dead and gone.
Furthermore, despite the fact that Bartell D'Arcy's performance of "The Lass of Aughrim" is not very well performed because he has a sore throat and doesn't know all the words, his music transports Gretta from the living present into the realm of the dead-where she experiences once again her attachment to her dead lover Michael Furey. And, as if to emphasize this point, Gabriel watches Gretta as she listens and likens her appearance to a painting which he would title "Distant Music."
Many of the stories in Dubliners revolve around family relationships. Joyce, who was virulently anti-Catholic saw marriage and family as a trap set by the Catholic church, a trap that would paralyze the individual, especially the artist, and thus keep him or her from pursuing their art and attaining their full potential. In "The Boarding House," Mr. Doran, who has impregnated nineteen year-old Polly Mooney, finds himself caught in this insidious trap set by Polly's manipulative and domineering mother, Mrs. Mooney, to lure him into supporting her daughter and herself for the rest of their lives. The priest has more or less ordered him to marry Polly if he is to have any hope of keeping his job and respectable position in the community. He has lost any ability to choose his future. Similarly, Eveline, the young protagonist in "Eveline," chooses her family that includes an abusive father and two young siblings, over the opportunity to flourish as an individual with an agency in Buenos Aires with Frank, her fiance.
While we despise the abusive and impoverished Farrington in "Counterpoints," who works at a boring dead-end job, we wonder how his life would be different had he been single and not encumbered with five children. Similarly, in "A Mother," the artist Kathleen is kept entirely in the background, actually given no voice at all, while her domineering mother runs her life and ruins any chance of a future for herself as an artist in Dublin. The ties of family therefore become a metaphor of restriction and entrapment.