01 January 2011

Penelope: journey's end

I have come to the end of James Joyce's Ulysses. The final episode is known as "Molly's soliloquy" and consists of a running internal monologue bereft of ordinary sentence structure and punctuation. We get to listen in on Molly Bloom's mind as it runs on and on like all minds do, intermixing the past, present, and future with impressions, feelings, and half-formed thoughts as well as vivid descriptions, precise details, and surprising insights. We know nothing of the real Molly in the rest of the book and have only her reputation and the things the other characters think and say about her to form an idea of her make-up. The long journey into her unregulated, unselfconscious mental stream reveals a complex woman full of contradictions. She enjoys her extramarital affair and fantasizes about other lovers, but also reminisces about falling in love with Leopold Bloom, realizes the depth of her feelings for him, and resolves to give their marriage a fresh start. Molly is petty and self-absorbed, but also sensitive and empathic. She's ignorant--i.e. uneducated--but intelligent and perceptive. There's enough Molly there to either love or hate and that seems to be the point. Joyce hasn't made anything easy in Ulysses and it is no surprise that Molly is an enigma as well. You could argue just as easily that Molly represents the divine or the debased, that she's an earth-mother or a harlot. I would imagine that the real Molly is like all of us--a little of both and a lot in-between. Joyce refuses to settle the argument and forces us to take all of Molly, the good parts and the bad parts. It is interesting that Molly's favorite word is "yes" and that she uses it almost like punctuation (think of "like" and "um" and "you know" in conversation) throughout the monologue. The whole episode begins and ends with the word "yes." Her last thoughts are of Bloom and her love for him. The book, for me, ended on a hopeful note. Despite the myriad of injustices done to us each day, the suffering, and the failed dreams, there is still a chance at love and renewal. Life goes on in all its confusion and uncertainty and each day is its own epic struggle to understand and be understood.

A healthy and prosperous 2011 to all of you!

No comments: