The specific scene to which I would like to point, which is actually more of a still-shot, is the picture near the end of “The Dead” of Gabriel looking up at his wife, who is “standing on the stairs in the shadow, listening to distant music.” What attracted me to this passage in particular was the clarity with which I was able to imagine this scene above all others in either “The Dead” or “Ivy Day,” as well as Joyce’s seemingly playful acknowledgment of the scene as a specific symbol. I suppose then the most pressing issue would be to answer Gabriel’s question, which is what the scene is “a symbol of.” Not having read any criticism pertaining to this particular scene, my guess is as good as any at this point, but I do have one on offer.
The beautiful music in the distance that Gabriel’s wife is listening to is representative of her youthful love of Michael Furey; it is something she yearns to hear in full again (I believe she knew the song prior to this particular rendition of it), but at the same time something that she cannot fully grasp at such a distance. The shadow cast over Gretta and her marked distance from Gabriel in the scene represent, respectively, the parts of Gretta’s past that are hidden from Gabriel, and the subtle distance in their relationship (they are relatively close, but Gretta is held back by the distance music or Michael Furey). Finally it may be important to note that it is Gabriel, not Joyce who “would call the picture” Distant Music “if he were a painter.” This potentially points to Gabriel’s inability to grasp that the scene should ideally be about him overcoming the distance between him and his wife, rather than being about his wife’s relationship to the music. Despite this scene’s place before the Michael Furey-reveal, this interpretation about the title would reflect the sentiment at the end of the story that Gabriel fears his inability to compete with the memory of Furey, or again the music in the picture.
Apologies for being a few hours late with this.