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MonkeyNotes-Ulysses by James Joyce
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This is the most beautiful chapter of the book, though at first sight the most forbidding. Joyce called it the "ugly duckling" of the novel. It is apparently written in the rather pseudo-scientific prose, as suits one side of Bloom’s mind. It contains just one striking poetic image: "The heaven tree of stars hung with humid night blue fruit." Stars and other heavenly bodies (planets, meteors, comets) form the principal metaphor of the chapter. But they are treated in an apparently literal, unmetaphorical way. It is only towards the end that the narrative turns out to be a powerful allegory of the human condition, like the narrative of Dante.

The Homeric story, occupying six books of the epic, is greatly condensed. Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, enters his own house. The suitors hold a competition to see who can string Odysseus’ bow. None can do so. Then the beggar does it with ease and at once starts to shoot the suitors. As prearranged father and son take other weapons from the armory and kill all the suitors but two. Odysseus then purifies his house by fumigation. This slaughter takes place so swiftly that Penelope remains asleep upstairs. When her husband makes himself known to her, still in his disguise, she is at first unwilling to recognize him. But he shows her that he alone knows one of the secrets of the house, namely the marriage bed partly made out of a living tree. She acknowledges him as her husband and celebrates the rites of wedded love. Bloom as the non-violent man does not of course kill off Molly’s many suitors, but he does at least think of violence. He has already "disposed of" Mulligan (Antinous) in the previous chapter by telling Stephen not to trust him again, and now he thinks what to do about Boylan (Eurymachus). In fact, he deals with Boylan and the others simply by banishing them from his mind.


The Christian correspondences are based on Christ’s ascent to heaven at Easter. The chapter begins with the liturgy for Easter Saturday. Bloom falls into the basement well as Adam fell. Bloom rises to his feet, as Christ ascends from hell on the third day. He then lights a fire, pours water into a kettle and makes two cups of cocoa. This business of fire and water, described at length, corresponds to the ritual of the paschal Candle on Easter Saturday. The drinking of the cocoa equals the Communion on Easter Sunday. This is celebrated by the ringing of bells. Stephen and Bloom have now mystically joined each other in the Holy Trinity. After the Resurrection God the Father is no longer separate from God the Son. Dante continues to provide a framework for this chapter. If ‘Eumaeus’ is Hell, visited by Christ on Good Friday, ‘Ithaca’ must be Purgatory, which all the blessed must ascend on his way to Paradise. In Dante, Purgatory is a mountain, with a garden at the top known as the Earthly Paradise. Bloom’s earthly paradise is his dream house.

Throughout the chapter, the author uses the Catholic technique of catechism: formal question followed by specific answer, in the dry style of scholastic logic. The result is the removal from the language of emotional overtones and moving elegance. Joyce is again using parody for a particular end. He parodies the language of logic (appropriate to Stephen’s skeptical turn of mind.) The parody here is perhaps less funny than elsewhere. The styles parodied are in themselves perfectly proper and acceptable forms of the language.

The religious significance of the characters is well defined. Stephen and Bloom are really of one flesh. Stephen has lost a father, for Simon Dedalus is a poor, lost soul, and Bloom has lost his son Rudy. They both can see in each other the part of themselves, which they feel to be lost. Yet they both see that this meeting can only be a temporary link between them. Between them and Homer, whose Ulysses and Telemachus could come together in permanent reconciliation, is Hamlet and Shakespeare. The episode presents a massive linking of various forms of the father-son relationship.

The reader is constantly aware, as are Stephen and Bloom, of Molly upstairs in bed. At the end of this chapter Bloom and Stephen have completed their roles. It is now left to Molly to have the last word.

At the end of "Ithaca", which is the end of Ulysses as novel and fable, Bloom enters a mythic world. This chapter marks the conclusion of Bloom’s day, the terminus of the novel’s literal action. But it represents also Bloom’s total retreat into the womb of time, from which he shall emerge the next day with all the fresh potentialities of Everyman. The final moment of ‘Ithaca’ is both an end and a beginning. "Ithaca" provides the capstone to our total experience of Ulysses. If the novel ended with this episode our view of the major characters and their motives would remain substantially the same, although our sense of reality would be somewhat different. This chapter unites fact and myth in a classic portrayal of Everyman as dispossessed hero.

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