Dubliners is a collection of short stories, meaning each story has its own ending. However, because James Joyce chose to end his collection with “The Dead,” we can examine the ending of this particular story. In the final paragraph of “The Dead” (and Dubliners as a whole), Gabriel Conroy sleepily watches the snowflakes fall against the window in his hotel room in Dublin. As he gazes out the window, he imagines the snow coming down across Ireland, upon every living person and the gravestones of the dead, and the scene reminds him of his own mortality. Gabriel imagines the snow coming down on the grave of Michael Furey, his wife Gretta’s childhood love, and 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.” The phrase “their last end” echoes a previous scene, in which Gabriel’s niece describes monks who sleep in coffins to remind them of their mortality. This epiphany helps Gabriel conclude that it is better to die of passion like Michael Furey than to wither away with age, but it is unclear as to whether or not this idea will lead to any lasting change in Gabriel’s life or marriage.
In the final scene, the themes of mortality and self-awareness are closely linked. Gretta’s story about her passionate childhood love reveals to Gabriel his diminished significance in her life, as well as the reality that he has never loved any woman the way Furey loved her. Although this epiphany is painful for Gabriel and the mood of the story is severely dampened, “a shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him,” conveying also a heightened self-awareness, which can empower proactivity. Moreover, the snowfall itself, like death, is indifferent; it falls on everyone dead and alive, regardless of class and nationality. In this way, death is also the great unifier between past and present, suggesting a broader connection to the “wisdom of the ages,” as Little Chandler expresses inherited circumstance in “A Little Cloud.” It is impossible to truly divorce oneself from personal or national history, which is particularly painful for Dubliners trapped within cycles of alcoholism, poverty, or abuse. Gabriel, like all other Dubliners, must face the harshness in his life to overcome it. The ups and downs of Dublin life will continue to deliver epiphanies; whether or not they lead to any lasting change is up to the individual.