Human beings, by nature, tend to take comfort in the familiar. This familiarity that we crave is manifested in several ways, including a longing for the past. Living for yesterday is the conflict faced by the characters, particularly Gabriel in James Joyce's "The Dead". "The Dead" deals with the following themes: death of traditions, ideals, and complacency. .
The story takes place in Dublin, Ireland, during a time in which the country is trying to gain independence from Great Britain. The bitterly cold December weather does not infringe on the light mood of the party given by the Morkan sisters. However, the snow is mentioned quite frequently throughout the story and becomes a symbol for the paralysis that plagues both the country of Ireland as well as the lives of the characters, particularly Gabriel. The snow covers Gabriel like a death shroud (" A light fringe of snow lay like a cape on the shoulders of his overcoat and like toecaps on the toes of his galoshes-). The "snow shroud" foreshadows the miniature "deaths" that Gabriel will die over the course of the evening. .
Gabriel, like several other characters in the story, thrives on tradition. His unpleasant exchange with Lily in which he is told that the reason she is not planning to get married is because she feels that men are only interested in "what they can get out of you, leaves him feeling extremely embarrassed that he assumed that she would fall into the traditional societal role of the wife like most other women. Miss Ivors doles out the final, mortal blow to his faith in tradition by referring to him as a "West Briton", implying that he was selling out the Irish cause by writing for the The Daily Express. She further agitates him by asking, "haven't you your own land to visit?" to which he replies that he is sick of his own country. Not only has his security blanket of tradition been destroyed, but also he, in a sense, kills a part of his identity by claiming that he is sick of his country.