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Nausicaa is the princess who encounters Odysseus on the beach of Phaeacia, where he had been shipwrecked. After the storm he is naked and penniless. But covering himself as best as he can, he makes a speech eloquent enough to convince Nausicaa that he really is the Prince of Ithaca. She gives him clothes and takes him back to her royal parents. Clothes are a basic theme in this chapter. Nausicaa is laundering the palace linen with her maidenly companions. Gerty and Bloom have many thoughts about underwear. Samuel Butler had a theory that a woman wrote the Odyssey, leaving a concealed self-portrait in the character of Nausicaa. Joyce uses this theory and writes the first half of the chapter in the most sickening style of the popular lady-novelists, as found in the cheap women’s magazines of the day.
The theological level is fairly explicit where Gerty is concerned. "Mary, star of the sea", in the first paragraph, announces the Themes. The background to the mysterious encounter of Gerty and Bloom is the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is being sung in a nearby church. The identification of Gerty and the Virgin is fully worked out. Blue is Mary’s color and Gerty’s eyes "were of the bluest Irish blue." She wore a "neat blouse of electric blue." The whole chapter centers on the concepts of woman, moon, tide, sea. Bloom in this chapter is the Old Testament God. He has decided to begin the New Dispensation by creating a son on earth with a mortal mother.
Bloom is not caught up in the trivial romantic idealism of Gerty. His knowledge of women is based on experience as a lover, a husband and a father. His experience is much vaster, more precise and more explicit than hers. Thus he is able to use her in a way she cannot use him. She leaves the beach, a pathetic and lonely figure, leaving him feeling satisfied and restored.
Gerty may be living in a world, her folly has created. Bloom may be a knowing Ulysses, but Gerty is no simpleton. However, her imagination is conditioned by the books she has read. She is able to perceive the reality of Bloom’s interest and her own wretchedness. Her home life, with a drunken father and a sickly mother, is a sufficient justification for a life of daydream. Gerty’s daydreams do not affect her household efficiency. In fact, her ideal world gently influences her real environment.
Gerty’s imaginary world seems to be progressively destroying her. She has some insights. Everything she sees is screened by her romantic ideals and the truth hopelessly distorted. Successive layers of unreality overlay any valid understanding of her situation. So, for example, she puts on special stockings to attract Reggy, if she should see him.
This, in itself, is an illusory hope. Then she sees that Bloom is interested in her. She believes the stories she dreams about Bloom’s situation. She rejects the real world against the background of the romantic world she has been conjuring up for herself. Gerty, as a young and innocent girl, is near enough her ideal view of herself. She is by no means monstrous in her self- estimation. But she is shown as driven into vanity, ill-nature and incompetence by her reliance on the world of cheap fiction and journalism.
The other two girls, apart from being delightful characterizations of vivacious girlhood, serve as a contrast to Gerty. They are vigorous. They enjoy themselves. They like children and are liked by them. They have a fine determination not to be impressed by anyone. In contrast to them Gerty’s determination to be delicate, beautiful and lady like seems patently sterile. Her love affair with Bloom is a meaningless thing. It is lacking in communication or any valid consummation. Her whole life is hopeless and pointless.
This chapter focuses on the life of ordinary young people in Dublin. It presents with clarity the drabness of a life where drunken fathers are normal, moving about with a burnt cork moustache is fun, and four sets of underwear are a luxury. Gerty’s romantic imagination enables her to look upon Garryowen as a "lovely dog."