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This chapter corresponds to the Homeric ‘Symplegades’ or ‘clashing’ (rather than ‘wandering’) rocks. These rocks do not appear in the action of the Odyssey but are mentioned by Circe to warn Odysseus of their danger. They have sometimes been identified with the two banks of the Bosphorus. As such they correspond to Father Conmee SJ (Church) and the Viceroy (State).
The New Testament correspondences point to the arrest and trial of Jesus, in particular his appearances before the High Priest (Conmee) and before Pontius Pilate (the Viceroy). Conmee is chosen because he was once Stephen’s headmaster and an authority over him. He is personally a kind and just man, but his claims to power over the spirit mean the death of art. The technique of the chapter is called "labyrinth." It evokes the physical labyrinth of Dublin streets.
There are nineteen episodes, each consisting of a rather simple narrative with a small amount of interior monologues. Each is interrupted by one or more of the other episodes. The events are simultaneous in time but separated in space. The nineteen episodes are like short stories. Each summarizes some aspect of the life of Dublin, between the Roman Church of Episode I and the English Ruler of Episode XIX. So the poverty and distress of the Dedalus family or Father Cowley are one side of the city. The arrogant foppery of Boylan and Kernan are the other. Corny Kelleher works, the sailor begs, Molly reads, Stephen broods, Cunningham manages, Miss Dunne types, Lenehan bets. In all these, the varieties of labor, the varieties of life styles are clarified.
Several of these episodes point to Stephen as he might have been. If he had followed his teacher’s advice and taken his singing more seriously, he might have been a successful tenor. On the other hand, if his eyesight had got worse he might have ended up as a blind piano-tuner. Mulligan discusses Stephen cogently: "They drove his wits astray, he said, by visions of hell. He will never capture the Attic note. The note of Swinburne, of all poets, the white death and the ruddy birth. That is his tragedy. He can never be a poet." But he is too anxious to write Stephen off as uncreative. Mulligan himself, despite his flow of quotations and parody, will turn out to be sterile.
Neither Bloom nor Stephen belongs, wholly and vitally, to this meticulously evoked city environment. Ulysses gives clear expression, among other things, to that common twentieth- century theme, modern man’s difficulty in integrating the disparate inner and outer worlds. These worlds of experience will not cohere. They will remain intractable to the end. In their relations with the urban world, or in relation to each other, Stephen and Bloom are not able to achieve and sustain an adequate synthesis of inner and outer. In this predicament they are not, of course, alone. In the Dublin of Ulysses, aspiration is rarely matched by achievement. Perception fails to confirm intuition. Actions do not lead to expected results. Hopes remain as mere wishes and inclinations. Despite the many pleas for the contrary view, it seems that nothing much has happened by the end of the book. The situation has, perhaps been clarified for both men. But the problems remain, and life, it seems, will carry on in much the same fashion as it does on 17 June 1904. Hopes are, of course, continually raised but they are ultimately seen to be false.
The narrative manner of each of the episodes is apparently simple, lucid, self-contained. It is unencumbered by allusion or linguistic complexity. The simplicity is, however, an illusion, a trap for the naïve reader. This is, indeed, a chapter full of traps for everyone, readers and characters alike. Things are not what they seem. Most of the characters are a prey to illusion or frustration. For them the city is continually disappointing and evasive. Artifoni and young Dignam miss their trams. Kernan misses the cavalcade. A statue imperiously bids halt. A telephone rings rudely. An invitation to a boxing match is out of date. A pot on a range is deceptively promising. But above all it is the reader who undertakes the dangerous imaginative journey, in emulation of the Argosy.