26 December 2010


In the penultimate episode of Ulysses, Leopold Bloom returns home. He has Stephen Dedalus in tow, and they drink cocoa and converse about art and science. Bloom had forgotten his key and had to break in to his own house. Later, after Stephen leaves, he hits his head on some furniture in the dark as his wife Molly had rearranged things in his absence. Molly awakens when he comes to bed, and he tells her about his day. She had entertained her lover Blazes Boylan earlier in the afternoon. Bloom thinks about their long and difficult marriage and her many adulterous liaisons. It is hardly a heroic return to a faithful Penelope for the aggrieved Bloom. Joyce uses an impersonal catechism technique of question-and-answer that varies from precise, elaborate cross-examination to absurd, comical repartee. Bloom's fears and dreams are ruthlessly analyzed and made pathetic. The tone is despairing, but in the end Bloom embraces "abnegation" and "equanimity" before falling asleep. Joyce makes explicit the universality of Bloom's experience:
What universal binomial denominations would be his as entity and nonentity?
Assumed by any or known to none. Everyman or Noman.
The odyssey of this melancholy, cuckolded alien in a neglected city of a fading empire is bereft of heroes, monsters, and goddesses. It is a far cry from the Odyssey it purports to emulate. Joyce pulls down the lofty myth and gives it to all of us, making the Everyman the real hero of the modern world. He also pulls apart the novel as a form by refusing to follow its strictures and showing how almost any type of writing can tell a story and teach a moral lesson. The elaborate artifice and complex structure of Ulysses creates a contradictory effect in the reader--the characters are stripped of their pretensions and falsities and exposed for the shallow, grubbing humans that they really are. Molly Bloom takes over the remaining 45 pages. Her internal monologue, lying in bed next to her sleeping husband, is the final episode. I'll finish it up before the New Year so check back soon for my final thoughts on Joyce's famous creation.

No comments: