James Joyce normally has an ordinary character go through a revelation, or epiphany. Gabriel from "The Dead" is no exception to this, as he too has an epiphany. His epiphany is slowly drawn out during the story to show the essence of his character. Eventually leading to his revelation, or epiphany, being that of life and death. "The Dead" starts out with Gabriel and his wife, Gretta, arriving at a holiday party that they routinely go to every year.
The soon to be routine and somewhat stressful evening starts off with Gretta making a comment about Gabriel. The comment hints that their marriage may not be filled with passion or love, as Gabriel is irritated at her comments. At the party, many routines happen, such as a drunk Freddy Malins stumbling in, various people inclined to dance in circles in similar steps to similar songs, for Gabriel to sit at the head of the table making a speech, and then all the guests to eat a similar meal. During this annual speech that Gabriel makes he touches on his beliefs of separating the past from the present. This, I believe is foreshadowing to the epiphany that will come to him later regarding that very subject. However, all these reoccurring events so far are resembling a paralysis in these people’s lives, specifically Gabriel’s. Gabriel's life tends to go in circles much, like the story he shares about his grandfather’s horse, who continually walked in circles outside of its work-related routine.
Finally, as Gabriel’s somewhat stressful evening is ending, he notices something different about his wife. Gretta is memorized by a song being sung by Mr. Bartell D’Arcy. Gabriel observes her and becomes filled with lust as he remembers wooing her in the past. However, when the two arrive at their hotel for the night and he intends to make love to her, she suddenly breaks down in tears. Gabriel is angry at first but as Gretta explains how the song resurfaced the feelings for a past lover, Michael Furey, that had died outside her window in the cold. She tosses herself into the bed and cries until she is asleep.
Gabriel stares out the window suddenly coming to the climax of his epiphany. At first, he realizes that his marriage with Gretta never had true love but also that his life in general has been passionless and numb. Gabriel looks out at the snow and acknowledges that the coldness of the snow has a numb or paralysis like effect on the country of Ireland much like his life. Then, he realizes that he cannot separate the past from the present any more than the dead to the living. He comes to this realization by acknowledging that Michael Furey, despite both being dead and a part of Gretta’s past, is still very much alive. Michael lives on in her memory as well as her heart as she will always have emotions towards this man despite him being long gone.
To emphasize this fine line between, past and present, life and death, Gabriel also sees the snow not just outside but over all his country, connecting all living beings and the dead in a cold, numb, and dark winter night. An example of this epiphany can be seen in the last paragraph of "The Dead." It reads as follows,
“…snow was general all over Ireland…It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried…His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
This quote also sums up the fact that Gabriel sees his life of routine paralysis as a life that will be forgotten, unlike that of Michael Furey.