James Joyce's novel "Ulysses" strives to achieve a kind of realism unlike that of any novel before it by rendering the thoughts and actions of its main characters in a scattered and fragmented form similar to the way thoughts, perceptions, and memories actually appear in our minds.It is set in Dublin on 16 June 1904 and covers only the events of that single day,following the physical and mental wanderings of three main characters:Leopold Bloom,a Jewish advertisement canvasser,his wife Molly,a professional singer and an aspiring poet Stephen Dedalus.The novel is based both on the trivial details of everyday life and the inner life of the characters and is written with a variety of styles and techniques.At the same time that Ulysses presents itself as a realistic novel, it also works on a mythic level, by way of a series of parallels with Homer’s Odyssey. Stephen, Bloom, and Molly correspond respectively to Telemachus(though not Bloom's real son), Ulysses, and Penelope, and each of the eighteen episodes of the novel corresponds to an adventure from the Odyssey.
The last chapter of Ulysses,Penelope, is devoted to giving the feminine voice of Dublin a chance to speak, or, at least, to think. The stream-of-consciousness technique Joyce employs is his representation of the unchecked female mind in its entire rambling splendor, but Molly Bloom’s flowing thoughts also give readers insight into the commonalities shared not only by all humans, but all of the universe.
The physical setting of the chapter is Molly’s bed, but the reality the reader is presented with is the landscape of Molly’s “real” personality; the real world is left behind; no societal constructs or pressures can reach the detached heights of Molly’s thoughts while she occupies the safe isolation of her sleeping quarters, freeing Joyce to explore an unrestricted female mind.
YES because he never did a thing like that before as ask to get his breakfast in bed with a couple of eggs since the City arms hotel when he used to be pretending to be laid up with a sick voice doing his highness to make himself interesting [...] what an unearthly hour I suppose theyre just getting up in China now combing out their pigtails for the day well soon have the nuns ringing the angelus theyve nobody coming in to spoil their sleep except an odd priest or two for his night office the alarmclock next door at cockshout clattering the brains out of itself let me see if I can dose off 1 2 3 4 5 what kind of flowers are those they invented like the stars the wallpaper in Lombard street was much nicer the apron he gave me was like that something only I only wore it twice better lower this lamp and try again so as I can get up early Ill go to Lambes there beside Findlaters and get them to send us some flowers to put about the place in case he brings him home tomorrow today I mean no no Fridays an unlucky day first I want to do the place up someway the dust grows in it I think while Im asleep then we can have music and cigarettes I can accompany him first I must clean the keys of the piano with milk whatll I wear shall I wear a white rose or those fairy cakes in Liptons I love the smell of a rich big shop at 71/2d a lb or the other ones with the cherries in them and the pinky sugar lid a couple of lbs of course a nice plant for the middle of the table Id get that cheaper in wait wheres this I saw them not long ago I love flowers Id love to have the whole place swimming in roses God of heaven theres nothing like nature the wild mountains then the sea and the waves rushing then the beautiful country with fields of oats and wheat and all kinds of things and all the fine cattle going about that would do your heart good to see rivers and lakes and flowers all sorts of shapes and smells and colours springing up even out of the ditches primroses and violets nature it is as for them saying theres no God I wouldnt give a snap of my two fingers for all their learning why dont they go and create something I often asked him atheists or whatever they call themselves go and wash the cobbles off themselves first then they go howling for the priest and they dying and why why because theyre afraid of hell on account of their bad conscience ah yes I know them well who was the first person in the universe before there was anybody that made it all who ah that they dont know neither do I so there you are they might as well try to stop the sun from rising tomorrow [...]
This “real” representation of Molly was, in Joyce’s words:
…the clou of the book. The first sentence contains 2500 words. There are eight sentences in the episode. It begins and ends with the female word yes. It turns the huge earth ball slowly surely and evenly round and round spinning, its four cardinal points being the female breasts, arse, womb and cunt expressed by the words because, bottom (in all senses bottom button, bottom of the class, bottom of the sea, bottom of his heart), woman, yes. Though probably more obscene than any preceding episode it seems to me to be perfectly sane full amoral fertilisable untrustworthy engaging shrewd limited prudent indifferent Weib. Ich bin der [sic] Fleisch der stets bejaht (Letter to Frank Budgen, 16.viii.1921, SL, 285).
In the same passage, Molly also recalls the day Leopold proposed to her:
the sun shines for you he said the day we were lying among the rhododendrons on Howth head in the grey tweed suit and his straw hat the day I got him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leapyear like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldnt answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didnt know of Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharans and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down Jo me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
The same scene had already been evoked by Leopold in the eighth chapter "Lestrygonians".
“Lestrygonians,” the eighth chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses, begins at one o’clock in the afternoon and lasts approximately an hour. This chapter primarily monitors Leopold Bloom’s actions as he strolls through the center of Dublin. Bloom considers this the “worst hour of the day,” because he has an unsatisfied appetite for both sexual fulfillment and lunch. Bloom’s every thought in “Lestrygonians,” invariably returns to one subject, the forthcoming affair between his wife, Molly, and her lover, Blazes Boylan. In many ways, this chapter exists to remind the reader that in this work there exists a humanity behind the commonplace events of everyday life. “This is the very worst hour of the day. Vitality. Dull, gloomy: hate this hour. Feel as if I had been eaten and spewed” (Joyce 164).
The episode opens outside a candy shop, and food pervades Bloom’s thoughts and serves as a tie-in with many other disparate topics. Bloom looks above the bar at the tins of food. He ruminates about food: odd types, poisonous berries, aphrodisiacs, quirky personal favorites. Bloom notices two flies stuck on the window pane. He warmly remembers an intimate moment with Molly on the hill on Howth: as Bloom lay on top of her, Molly fed him seedcake out of her mouth, and they made love. Looking back at the flies, Bloom thinks sadly of the disparity between himself then and now:
Stuck on the pane two flies buzzed, stuck.
Glowing wine on his palate lingered swallowed. Crushing in the winepress grapes of Burgundy. Sun's heat it is. Seems to a secret touch telling me memory. Touched his sense moistened remembered. Hidden under wild ferns on Howth. Below us bay sleeping sky. No sound. The sky. The bay purple by the Lion's head. Green by Drumleck. Yellowgreen towards Sutton. Fields of undersea, the lines faint brown in grass, buried cities. Pillowed on my coat she had her hair, earwigs In the heather scrub my hand under her nape, you'll toss me all. O wonder! Coolsoft with ointments her hand touched me, caressed: her eyes upon me did not turn away. Ravished over her I lay, full lips full open, kissed her mouth. Yum. Softly she gave me in my mouth the seedcake warm and chewed. Mawkish pulp her mouth had mumbled sweet and sour with spittle. Joy: I ate it: joy. Young life, her lips that gave me pouting. Soft, warm, sticky grumjelly lips. Flowers her eyes were, take me, willing eyes. Pebbles fell. She lay still. A goat. No-one. High on Ben Howth rhododendrons a nannygoat walking surefooted, dropping currants. Screened under ferns she laughed warmfolded. Wildly I lay on her, kissed her; eyes, her lips, her stretched neck, beating, woman s breasts full in her blouse of nun's veiling, fat nipples upright. Hot I tongued her. She kissed me. I was kissed. All yielding she tossed my hair. Kissed, she kissed me.
Me. And me now.
Stuck, the flies buzzed.
JOYCE MAKES USE OF MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES
Three main characters—Stephen, Bloom, and Molly—and a subset of narrative techniques that affect our perception of events and characters combine to demonstrate the fallibility of one single perspective. Our understanding of particular characters and events must be continually revised as we consider further perspectives.
If we focus on the “vulgarity” and physicality of her monologue, our built-up sympathies with Bloom as the well-meaning husband of a loose woman are ratified. But a more nuanced understanding of her involves seeing her as an outgoing woman who takes a certain pride in her husband, but who has been feeling a lack of demonstrative love. This idea yields a reevaluation of Bloom as being unfaithful in his own ways and complicit in the temporary breakdown of their marriage.
Though Molly’s feelings toward Bloom oscillate wildly throughout her monologue, as the episode comes to a close, her thoughts center more on Bloom and Stephen-Rudy and less on Boylan and other suitors. The sexual desire prevalent through her monologue becomes more evidently underwritten with a compatible desire for the intimacy of the family structure. Molly’s mental return to the scene on Howth that Bloom has also thought of several times today shows the power of memory to provide a source of continued intimacy between them, even if her final yes may be in reference to Mulvey or Bloom.(in the same paragraph, she remembers a similar outdoor scene of love with Lt. Mulvey). This uncertainty is characteristic of Joyce’s endings, and it serves to remind us that we have witnessed only a single day in the lives of the Blooms—progress may have been made in their estranged marriage, but there certainly was not a complete turnaround. On the other hand, the unrestrained affirmation and joy of the final lines cannot be denied. Molly’s “Yes” here is an unqualified affirmative of natural life and of physical and emotional love. Molly’s storytelling and frankness about role-playing evinces her sense of humor, and it also mediates our sense of her as a hypocritical character. Finally, it is this pragmatic and fluid adoption of roles that enables Molly to reconnect with Bloom through vivid recollections, and, indeed, reenactments, of the past, as in her final memory of the Howth scene at the end of Ulysses.
Two emotional crises plague Bloom’s otherwise cheerful demeanor throughout Ulysses—the breakdown of his male family line and the infidelity of his wife, Molly. The untimely deaths of both Bloom’s father (by suicide) and only son, Rudy (days after his birth), lead Bloom to feel cosmically lonely and powerless.
We slowly realize over the course of Ulysses that the first crisis of family line is related to the second crisis of marital infidelity: the Blooms’ intimacy and attempts at procreation have broken down since the death of their only son eleven years ago. Bloom’s reaction to Molly’s decision to look elsewhere (to Blazes Boylan) for sex is complex. Bloom enjoys the fact that other men appreciate his wife, and he is generally a passive, accepting person. Bloom is clear-sighted enough to realize, though, that Blazes Boylan is a paltry replacement for himself, and he ultimately cheers himself by recontextualizing the problem. Boylan is only one of many, and it is on Molly that Bloom should concentrate his own energies.
COMPASSION AS HEROIC
In fact, it is this ability to shift perspective by sympathizing with another viewpoint that renders Bloom heroic. His compassion is evident throughout—he is charitable to animals and people in need, his sympathies extend even to a woman in labor. Bloom’s masculinity is frequently called into question by other characters; hence, the second irony of Ulysses is that Bloom as Everyman is also somewhat feminine. And it is precisely his fluid, androgynous capacity to empathize with people and things of all types—and to be both a symbolic father and a mother to Stephen—that makes him the hero of the novel. In nearly all senses, the notion of Leopold Bloom as an epic hero is laughable—his job, talents, family relations, public relations, and private actions all suggest his utter ordinariness. It is only Bloom’s extraordinary capacity for sympathy and compassion that allows him an unironic heroism in the course of the novel. Bloom’s fluid ability to empathize with such a wide variety of beings—cats, birds, dogs, dead men, vicious men, blind men, old ladies, a woman in labor, the poor, and so on—is the modern-day equivalent to Odysseus’s capacity to adapt to a wide variety of challenges.