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This chapter corresponds with Book V of the Odyssey. It shows the beginning of Odysseus’ voyage home to Ithaca. He has been for seven years on the island of the nymph Calypso. He at first enjoys but later wearies of her love and is unable to escape. He gets away only because the goddess Athena, his protectress, sends Hermes to instruct Calypso to let him go. Bloom’s wife Marion (Molly) is Penelope in the final chapter. She is here the nymph, la Belle Dame Sans Merci who hath him in thrall. The breakfast that Bloom brings to his lazy wife is a symbol of his servitude, from which he must free himself by embarking on the male pursuits of business and pleasure.
If Stephen’s day is told in terms of the Gospel story, Bloom’s is told in terms of the Old Testament or Jewish Bible. Here at the outset the book must be Genesis. It is a Greek word meaning ‘birth.’ The Hebrew title means ‘in the beginning.’ Bloom is presented as one or all of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac or Jacob, much-married men. Like them he is enjoying possession of his own tents and flocks. But like most Jews throughout their history he is in exile, thinking of Zion from afar. This ties in neatly with exiled Odysseus. Athena sends Hermes to recall Odysseus to Ithaca and his own people, and the recall of Bloom to true Jewish thoughts about Palestine is performed by Dlugacz, the port-butcher from whom Bloom buys his kidney. He is Hermes or Mercury.
Bloom’s thoughts flow in a controlled channel. Joyce effectively uses the stream of consciousness here. Bloom is, of course, shown in the slow-moving, slow-thinking moments after waking. Joyce clearly suggests his sloth, even the clumsiness of his mind as he moves to full consciousness. At first only food and the mechanical actions of preparing breakfast are in his mind. Then come idle, scattered thoughts about the cat. Only when he steps into the street and becomes aware of the rich environment outside does he fully wake up and respond to a variety of experiences. But there remains throughout the chapter a certain comic absent-mindedness, as in the incident of the burnt kidney.
Bloom is certainly not an ignorant man. His definition of "metempsychosis" is neatly phrased. But he is not a student or a professed intellectual. Unlike Stephen’s, his mind does not grasp at learned parallels or philosophical analogies. Thus his meditations in this chapter and later, back the dimension appropriate to an older man. He is able to remember how things were when he was younger.
The major aim of the chapter is to characterize Bloom and his environment. Unlike Stephen, he is a new character in Joyce’s work and needs a careful introduction. We come to know that he is from a Jewish family. But he has fallen from the faith, eating pork and moving away from such old Jewish friends as Citron and Mastiansky. Yet he is still conscious of the history and symbols of the Jews. We learn that Molly is a singer, that her father’s name was Tweedy, that he was a soldier who had made some money and had contacts in Gibraltar, that Boylan is Mrs. Marion Bloom’s agent and presently has a more personal relationship with her. Although she is given to nagging, she is still seen by Bloom as the girl she was in her youth. All these insights into Bloom’s life are presented piecemeal through the chapter.