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Ulysses explained

Ulysses is the most difficult of entertaining novels. Books were written to explain the wanderings around Dublin, Ireland on Bloomsday (celebrated and recreated by Anthony Cronin in 1952) of the fictional Leopold Bloom on 16th June 1904. Joyce wrote Ulysses in 1914 the same year he drafted the play Exiles,

published Dubliners, wrote the poem Giacomo Joyce and completed A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, he ended the book after his two Parisian sojourns of 1903/04. Ulysses is written as a comedy, based on malapropism and epigram, satire and parody with mock-heroics. Joyce described himself as trying to instil a soul or conscience on the wretched Irish race. Ulysses is lexical in regards to its English, taking its words from all social levels. Ulysses takes the major works of western culture, beginning with the Odyssey and creating a complex mediaeval myth. Joyce’s myth has four aspects: Stephen’s estrangement from Mulligan, Molly Bloom’s infidelity, Bloom and Stephen meeting and their return to Bloom’s house and their parting. This myth creates a new Odyssey in which most of the adventures occur in the mind. The second myth is ethical (desirable and undesirable life). The third myth is aesthetic (art versus nature (art and morality). The last myth is the ultimate justification of existence. The book concludes through uniting lofty purpose with ordinary circumstances in extravagant comedy.16th June 1904 was the first time Joyce walked out with Nora Barnacle. The book was grouped in threes with the beginning and ending (Telemachiad and Return) separated from the twelve adventures (in four triads). The number three was Homer’s favourite number. Initially (I) on throwing Stephen Dedalus out of his Omphalos Tower, Mulligan wants to Hellenise the Irish. Joyce was directly influenced by Ibsen, Flaubert, Dante and D’Annunzio.

The Morning After (1) Adam has sinned. Stephen’s mother clutches at him from the underworld. Mulligan looks like a prelate and acts like a snob. Ulysses is rendered an Irish Faust. Joyce allies himself with practical Aristotle who rejected mysticism. The Odyssey takes place in heaven, earth and the underworld, Joyce adopts two undeclared Gods of this world, space and time.

Magpie and Cuckoo (2) This episode begins with a history lesson. Stephen allows history to survive as an actuality of the possible as possible. Time is marshalled in this chapter. The Irish are oppressed throughout history.

Why Stephen Dedalus Picks his Nose (3) Stephen’s monologue details space and time, his shadow is endless, he ends by writing a poem, expressing love and death.

Browne and Nolan (II) Joyce matched Homer’s aim - father searching son and son searching father. Bloom balances Stephen’s edgy mind with abundant goodwill.

Much of the book takes place within Bloom’s mind, he is allowed nine episodes as an embryo.

Middle Earth (4) The sensory world of food. Molly reads a pornographic book. In the role of Calypso Molly is unfaithful whilst in the process of metempsychosis from Penelope to Calypso to Callidike. Secret messages are exchanged between Bloom and the cat. Bloomism is a recollection of a factual near miss.

The Other World (5) The Lotus Eaters function in time, they are divorced from history because they have put it to sleep. Lotus Eaters are dolce far niente. Two letters, one from Molly in Calypso the other from Martha Clifford in the Lotus Eaters provide opposition. Martha likes money. Bloom’s adventures in Lotus Land include two meetings with M’Coy and Lyons. M’Coy and his wife are Lotus Land replicas. Bloom meditates on Buddhism and Christianity. Buddha lolls on his side while Christ writhes. Bloom leaves the Lotus Land creatures behind - a penpal is better than a bedpal.

The Circle Joined (6) Bloom and Stephen work together. For Stephen women are distant creatures. Bloom finds women interesting. Dignam dies of a heart attack – the best death according to Bloom. In Blooms imagination the dead speak as they did for Odysseus in Hades. Stephen teaches in a rich boy’s school, ‘You will not be the master of others or their slave’ They discuss the democracy of death.

(III) Harsh Geometry. Joyce regards Odysseus as a man-God with supporting etymology, his name derives from Outis (no-one) and Zeus.

Blowing up Nelson’s Pillar (7). Nelson represents the defeat of Europe’s Catholic chivalry. The middle of this section of the book is purgatorial. The 1882 Phoenix Park murderers are described as ‘Clamn dever.’ Three speeches, the third one defends the Irish language revival. Bloomism - Moses did not free the Jews from bondage. Joyce worked his prose into patterns.

A Cheese Sandwich (8) Lestrygonians were cannibals. Boylan exemplifies malign fleshiness. Bloom reflects on his married life. Bloom uses his memory (love enriches his memory) to defend himself against the Lestrygonians.

The Riddle of Scylla and Charybdis (9). This episode is based on Hamlet. They escape

Scyllla and Charybdis by mating them. ’Flight is better than fight.’

(V) The Void Opens. The Universe is a mighty maze without a plan. Only through error can one become fully human and achieve liberation in life or art. Memory is a source of personal identity. Time and space are explored.

Between Two Roaring Worlds (10). The Viceroy represents the occupying authority which is out of place and time. Father Conmee upholds spiritual power. Bloom and Stephen disregard both powers.

Words Become Notes Become Words (11). The Sirens episode begins with a series of sounds. Bloom alone hears Boylan’s song. Miss Douce pulls the beerpull just as the ‘Croppy Boy’ is hanged.

Bloom Unbound (12). A pair of narrators, Thersites, refers to putting out eyes, alluding to Odysseus blinding Cyclops. Dr. Pangloss and another Cyclopean, the Citizen is introduced. Bloom counters hatred, illusion and chauvinism. ‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake’ Bloom.

(VI) The Battle for Dublin. Ulysses adventures from Aeolus to Circe, Joyce makes statues of idealists, body penetrated by soul is ideal, sentimentality is death.

Towards Lay Sanctity In Nausicaa Blooms watch stops at 4.30. The Gods of materialism and idealism are both considered in Circe.

Heroic Naughtiness (13). Bloom lands in the country of Nausicaa, Phaeacia. Love loves to love, love. The young assert their uniqueness, the old their familiarty. Molly menstruates, Bloom’s masturbation renders him heroic.

Vagitus, The Word is Born (14). The lying in hospital. Odysseus crew profane the sacred cattle. Vagitus is the cry of the newborn. Stephen, is sired by the English language and damned by literary tradition. Stephen and Bloom discuss the fertility of Irish cattle and foot and mouth disease, then at an epidemic state. By nature and art, bloom and Stephen save themselves from shipwreck.

The Orc (15). In this episode the Orc has many heads. In the brothel scene Bloom is crowned King Leopold I. The book’s climax is in the house of climaxes, Odysseus avoids Circe turning him into a pig. Beaten up and friendless Stephen is helped by a stranger. Bloom raises Ruby from the dead like Lazarus.

(VIII) The New Bloomusalem. Bloom must return home. Joyce, in Circe, mastered two kingdoms - birth and death.

A Fiction Not Supreme (16). Old age is supreme in the last part of the book. Gerty McDowell is the monologuist. In the cabman’s shelter they hear Italians. The sailor is spokesman for false art.

Le Scienza Nuova e Vecchia (17) Bloom is at home in Ithaca, the slaughter of the suitors, fidelity and infidelity coincide.

Why Molly Bloom Menstruates (18). Bloom and Molly are in the arms of Morpheus, (arms of Murphy, according to Joyce). Molly’s impending concert tour is discussed. In this Ithaca episode Bloom and Stephen become like the stars on which they gaze. Molly rejects sado-masochism, her monologue is a correction. Molly re-bears paradise. Bloom, Stephen and Molly is a trinity and a unity. Ulysses is an oblique message in Dublin Greek.

Homer’s Ulysses is essential reading. Joyce’s Ulysses must be read and re-read with intense concentration in order to understand its comedy.


Salman Rushdie on Ulysses in 36 seconds 'A Jewish insurance salesman meets his friend in the middle of the night, he speaks to a club footed girl on a beach, he tries to pimp his wife to his friend, the end.'


The stream begins in the void and ends in the void. Is all of this perhaps one single, immensely long and excessively complicated Strindbergian pronouncement upon the essence of human life, and one which, to the reader’s dismay, is never finished?



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