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MonkeyNotes-Ulysses by James Joyce
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In the Homeric parallel Mr. Deasy stands for Nestor, the oldest of the Greek heroes in the Iliad. He had a high reputation for wisdom, though it is possible that Homer is mocking him for garrulity. Shakespeare certainly did. After the war Nestor has returned to his kingdom in sandy Pylos, where he is a famous breeder of horses. The sport of horseracing is loved by Mr. Deasy, as by most Irishmen. Telemachus approaches him for advice about the suitors and his absent father. Nestor does not in fact give very good advice. Nor does he know what has happened to Odysseus, but he does tell him much about the fate of the Greek heroes when they returned from the war. Nestor’s recital is the oldest source for the tragedy of King Agamemnon, slain on his homecoming by his faithless wife Clytemnestra. This story is not irrelevant to the Odyssey, for it seems to suggest that a similar tragedy could happen at Odysseus’ homecoming in Ithaca. Homer may be trying to say that this must not happen, although the happy ending will not be achieved without violence and danger. So in Joyce’s Ulysses, we are to believe that the book will end as a comedy but both Stephen’s and Bloom’s courses are beset with perils.

The Homeric parallel is pursued further with the story of yet another unfaithful wife, Clytemnestra’s sister Helen. In Book IV Telemachus goes to the court of Menelaus, her husband. She is now repentant of the elopement that started the war. Mr. Deasy draws the Irish parallel inaccurately. Correctly, it should be one with Devorgilla, the wife of O’Rourke Prince of Breffny, who ran off with Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster in 1152. MacMurrough, by asking the aid of King Henry II of England, helped to bring about the first Norman invasion of Ireland. Yet another instance of the political trouble caused by a woman is produced. Parnell’s political career collapsed after his affair with Mrs. Kitty O’Shea had been revealed in a divorce case.


The Gospel correspondences are easy to discover if it is remembered that this is the second chapter of Ulysses. Matthew chapter 2 describes the gold brought by the Magi, and gold is a recurrent theme of ‘Nestor’, from the sovereign paid by Mr. Deasy to the last sentence: "On his wise shoulders through the checkerwork of leaves the sun flung spangles, dancing coins." Mark Chapter 2 describes the healing of a paralytic and Jesus’ conflict with the scribes and Pharisees. The former appears in the feeble boy Sargent who writes "in long shady strokes." The conflict, however, is between Stephen and Mr. Deasy. Luke Chapter 2 is even closer: the boy Jesus is in the Temple, sitting among the teachers. Mr. Deasy says, "You were not born to be a teacher, I think. Perhaps I am wrong." " A Learner, perhaps," Stephen said. John chapter 2 is the closest of all, since it is about Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the Temple. When Mr. Deasy says that England is in the hands of Jews, who are "wanderers on the earth to this day", Stephen has a memory of the Jewish money-changers he saw in Paris.

In terms of Stephen’s development as an artist these parallels can be interpreted as follows. He is born with great gifts. He is a boy prodigy, but he must now face and overcome the temptations to abandon his vocation as a writer for teaching or banking (profession, which Joyce had to take up under duress). These are not, however, the most serious temptations for this young bohemian. A more deadly one faces him in the next chapter, already hinted at here. He must not be drawn into politics, like so many of his Irish contemporaries. As a first step he must free himself from the webs of Irish history. "History", Stephen said, "is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." This can be read in two ways: first, obviously, that Irish history has been a nightmare, second, that Irish nationalistic historiography is also a nightmare.

In this chapter the Joycean use of symbols and subtle connections can be seen. Ireland again is central. The Royalist furnishings of Deasy’s study, and his firm faith in his outmoded political views, deepen Stephen’s feelings that he is cut off from his society. Stephen’s recollections of France and his meditations about Pyrrhus, another exile, confirm his awareness of isolation. He has fellow feeling only towards Sargent, the unprepossessing boy who is cut off from his schoolfellows by his dullness and drabness. It is a sign of how ill at ease Stephen is in his world. Stephen’s failure to communicate properly with Mr. Deasy suggests an essential honesty. The listing of his debts gives a practical justification for his depression, and the grimness of his daily routine excuses more of it. Satire is implicit in the portrayal of Stephen as a teacher. He has to glance at his textbook to get the answer to a simple question. His attempts to please the class by school boyish humor fail. Sargent goes off unaware of the emotions he has stirred. Stephen is certainly not an effective teacher. But he appears as a gentle and vulnerable person.

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