Fiction Poetry Life
At the end of James Joyce’s fine short story The Dead, the main character, Gabriel, learns something new about his wife, her past and their marriage. Gabriel and Gretta are back in their hotel room. The moment occurs after his failed attempt to be amorous. Earlier that evening, while leaving a party together, they hear a song. For Gretta, the song brings back the memory of her first love, Michael Furey, and his death. After some prodding from Gabriel, Gretta tells him about this memory and it’s clear she was once very much in love with Michael.
What Gabriel thought would be a romantic and intimate moment, “full of tenderness and joy and desire,” results in a rather brutal realization on his part, one that any spouse may face at some time or another: our partner is not entirely who we think he or she is and harbors memories and feelings that we never suspected and, on some level, may never fully know about.
Do You Know Your Spouse’s Inner World?
Isn’t that moment so true? In marriage, when it comes to our mates innermost thoughts, fears and desires, we can only know what they choose to reveal to us. We can never know for certain if they’ve revealed all, even after many years of being together. How we respond to what they do reveal depends on our current emotional state, our past and our own fears and desires. If we respond in a way that indicates we’re shocked, hurt, or angry, their desire to reveal more of themselves in the future may decrease.
Memories can tell us more about our mates than perhaps anything else, because memories let us in on what kind of experiences they’ve had in their lives. It’s a way to share their past, if we weren’t a part of it. I’ve known my husband for over twenty-five years but we’ve been married for only five. I believe I know him well, but I also understand that, through the years, more and more of his inner world will be revealed, much of it through his spoken memories, and more importantly, his interpretation of his memories.
Or not. The choice to reveal (or not reveal) memories and feelings is not necessarily a conscious thing. We might think we’re being as upfront with our spouse as possible, but just as most of us hide certain feelings from ourselves out of self-protection, we may unknowingly hide feelings from our spouse…until the moment a song or scent or movie brings a distant, nearly forgotten world to mind. In those moments, do we choose to tell our marriage mate what’s in our heart? Or, out of a sense of self-protection or the desire to protect our spouse’s feelings, do we bury the memory or the feeling?
This knowing and not knowing, revealing and not revealing, is common to all spouses. But it’s not a bad thing, it just is. This bit of mystery about our mate’s inner world, and the anticipation that all mysteries might one day be revealed, is what keeps our excitement and passion for our mate alive.
Literature Cited: The Dead
Author: James Joyce
Year Published: 1914 (as part of the collection Dubliners)