Guide to James Joyce's Ulysses

by Professor Margot Norris

Chapter One, Telemachus

Narrative Focus: Stephen

Characters: Stephen Dedalus, Malachi "Buck" Mulligan, Haines, elderly milklady, various bathers.

Setting: The Martello Tower, Stephen's residence, 8 PM.

Homeric Correspondence:

While Odysseus is delayed in his return from the Trojan War, suitors besiege his wife Penelope and overrun his palace at Ithaca. Disguised as Odysseus' loyal friend Mentor, Athena advises Telemachus, son of Odysseus, to set off in search of his father. He journeys to Pylos to consult Nestor, and to Sparta to consult Menelaus, who reports that Odysseus is held on Calypso's island (Books. I-IV). Here, Stephen appears a sort of mentorless Telemachus.

Synopsis:

Stephen and Mulligan prepare to meet the day in the Martello tower they rent (a seaside fort built by Cromwell to enforce English rule in Ireland). Their exchanges center on Stephen's guilt about his mother's death: he had refused to kneel and pray at her deathbed. Accompanied at breakfast by Haines, their English visitor, an Oxford student they both resent and whose nightmare antics Stephen fears. Conversation centers on Ireland, its oppression both political and artistic, and on hints of Stephen's theory of Hamlet.

Critical Issues:

1) Theme of father-son reconciliation suggested by theological references (father and son of the Trinity) and by Stephen's Hamlet theory. His guilt about his mother is closely related to these themes.

2) Stephen's references to Mulligan suggest that Mulligan is John the Baptist to his Christ. Appropriately, then, Stephen is the Son in this Trinity, Mulligan his precursor (and betrayer). Betrayal is a paramount issue in Stephen's relations with friends, just as betrayal and fidelity are the center of the Leopold/Molly-Odysseus/Penelope relation.

3) Ireland is personified in the milklady as "The Old Woman." The crone figure will appear again.

4) References to a drowned body and to Mulligan's saving of a drowning man suggest Shakespeare's "Full fadom five thy father lies": the motif of recovering the drowned man, then, connects with a) the theme of the mariner's return and b) with Stephen's dream of restoring his lost father.

Chapter Two, Nestor

Narrative Focus: Stephen

Characters: Stephen, Mr. Deasy (headmaster), Sargent (a student), other students.

Setting: Mr. Deasy's School, 10 am.

Homeric Correspondence:

Mr. Deasy parallels Nestor, the aged, wise, and somewhat pompous "tamer of horses" (note his preoccupation with livestock, the pictures of racehorses in his office, his ancestor Sir John Blackwood) to whom Telemachus first applies for advice in his father-search (Book III).

Synopsis:

Stephen teaches his morning class in Roman history, touching on Milton's "Lycidas" -- an elegy for a drowned man -- along the way. Math lesson with Sargent, the "bloodless" student, intensifies Stephen's speculations about maternal love. His payday interview with Mr. Deasy ends with Deasy's request for help in placing an article on foot and mouth disease.

Critical Issues:

History, Stephen confesses, is the nightmare from which he is trying to awaken. The chapter begins to establish what will become evident later -- that the searches of Stephen for a father and Bloom for a son are not personal, but universal quests, and they will be treated in encyclopedic, not individual terms.

Chapter Three, Proteus

Narrative Focus: Stephen

Characters: Stephen, the "Frauenzimmer" (passing midwives), a dog, various of Stephen's relatives and friends in recollection.

Setting: Sandymount Strand, a stretch of Dublin beach, 11 am.

Homeric Correspondence:

Menelaus recounts his own wanderings and how, aided by Eidothea, daughter of Proteus, he wrestled with and captured the shape-changing Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea, in order to learn from him the way of his returning from the Trojan War (Book IV). Stephen similarly wrestles with his own protean memory and language to wrest from them the self-knowledge he seeks.

Synopsis:

Stephen encounters his memories and dreams, meditates on history, philosophy, and language while walking on the beach. Contemplates a visit to his Uncle Richie Goulding's, mixing memories of past visits with an imagined visit now. Watches a dog sniffing another dog's carcass (the fox of Ch. 2) while the Frauenzimmer ("midwives") pass. Stirred to write a poem, but paperless.

Critical Issues:

Stephen's manipulations of the primal matter of poetry are the most extended and most radical use of interior monologue thus far: the protean nature of his mental associations anticipates the fluidity of association that Joyce will invoke to construct the fantasia of the fifteenth, or "Circe" chapter.

Chapter Four, Calypso

Narrative Focus: Bloom

Characters: Bloom, Molly.

Setting: Bloom's House, 8 am.

Homeric Correspondence:

Odysseus was stranded on the woodland island of the nymph Calypso, to whom he was a domestic prisoner and served as unwilling lover because homesick (Books V, XII). Usually cast as Penelope, Molly here assumes her Calypso aspect (note "Bath of the Nymph" hanging in the bedroom), though Martha Clifford, to be introduced in "Lotus-Eaters," is the most immediate Calypso figure for Bloom.

Synopsis:

Bloom ventures out to buy kidneys, collects the mail (a letter from Milly, their daughter, and one for Molly from her lover Blazes Boylan), prepares breakfast for Molly, explains "metempsychosis" and promises her another pornographic book, then retreats to the garden earth-closed where he reads magazine fiction.

Critical Issues:

Odysseus' delay with Calypso and Bloom's dalliance with Martha Clifford both suggest a connection with Stephen -- both are usurpers who must be replaced with the genuine wife, just as Stephen's friends are usurpers who must be supplanted by a reunion with the father.

Chapter Five, The Lotus-Eaters

Narrative Focus: Bloom

Characters: Bloom, Martha Clifford (in writing), minor characters encountered on his errands.

Setting: Post Office, Church, Public Bath, 10 am.

Homeric Correspondence:

The land of the Lotus-Eaters was one of a perpetual sensual languor induced by eating the lotus flower (Book IX; see also Tennyson's poem for brief exposition of the theme and of Odysseus' escape).

Synopsis:

Bloom visits the post office, where he picks up a letter addressed to him as "Henry Flower" from Martha Clifford (pseudonym, "Driscoll"), his pen-pal/mistress. Visits church, pharmacy, and public bath.

Critical Issues:

Images of artificial torpor and flowers ("lotus") are rampant here: e.g., the description of Bloom's genitals in the final paragraph.

Chapter Six, Hades

Narrative Focus: Bloom

Characters: Bloom, Martin Cunningham, Simon Dedalus, Mr. Power, anonymous Man in the Macintosh, Corny Kelleher.

Setting: Glasnevin Cemetery and the cab en route, 11 am.

Homeric Correspondence:

Bidden by Circe, Odysseus traveled to the underworld to consult the seer Tiresias about his fate and the manner of his return. While there, he encountered the shades of Agamemnon, Achilles, his mother Anticlea, and Elpenor, a comrade who had drunkenly fallen off Circe's roof and broken his neck (Book XI). Paddy Dignam, Bloom's close friend, here parallels Elpenor, the fallen companion.

Synopsis:

Bloom rides to Glasnevin cemetery with Simon Dedalus and Martin Cunningham to attend Dignam's funeral. They pass Stephen (with Mulligan) and Blazes Boylan, Molly's lover, then join in the ritual and conversation that encircle Dignam's funeral.

Critical Issues:

The funeral evokes in Bloom a grief for Rudy, his dead son, as well as instilling a new sense of guilt about his son's death. His uneasiness about the Man in the Macintosh suggests that he, like Stephen, has a puzzle of identity to solve: is he an impostor or is he the father of Rudy Bloom and, despite her infidelities, the husband of Molly?

Chapter Seven, Aeolus

Narrative Focus: Bloom, then Stephen

Characters: Bloom, Stephen, Professor MacHugh, Myles Crawford.

Setting: The Newspaper Office, Mooney's Pub, Noon.

Homeric Correspondence:

Aeolus was a minor deity and keeper of the winds. Because Odysseus' crew opens the bag of winds which Aeolus gave as a gift to ensure their journey, his ship is blown back to the island of Aeolus after coming within sight of Ithaca (Book X). Hence, a metaphor for the reversals of the winds of rhetoric.

Synopsis:

Bloom arrives at the Evening Telegraph office to arrange an ad for the "House of Keyes." While thus occupied, he narrowly misses Stephen, who arrives to place Deasy's article. Conversation dwells on Moses and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt as a metaphor for Parnell's failed bid for Irish independence and his betrayal. Stephen responds with his "Parable of the Plums" as a cynical paradox and rejection of the Irish/Israelite dream of freedom.

Critical Issues:

The journalistic headings and blurbs are only an obvious and satiric use of rhetorical devices -- the chapter as a whole is an encyclopedia of classical rhetorical strategies (see Stuart Gilbert, James Joyce's Ulysses for a listing).

Chapter Eight, Lestrygonians

Narrative Focus: Bloom

Characters: Bloom, Mrs. Breen (an old flame), Davy Byrne, Nosey Flynn, blind piano-tuner.

Setting: Davy Byrne's Tavern, Dublin streets

Homeric Correspondence:

The Lestrygonians had cannibalistic intentions in mind for Odysseus' crew (Book X). The opening passage of this chapter clarifies a comic parallel between Odysseus' horror that these are not "men who eat bread" and Bloom's disgust at the gustatory habits of his meat-eating mates.

Synopsis:

Bloom stops at Burton's for lunch but, disgusted by the diners, makes his way gradually to Davy Byrne's pub for a cheese sandwich and glass of burgundy, meeting Mrs. Breen who tells him of Mrs. Purefoy's lying in (see Chapter XIV, "Oxen of the Sun"). Helps the blind "stripling" cross the street while wandering toward the library to find a back-issue and look at the nude statuary.

Critical Issues:

None listed.

Chapter Nine, Scylla and Charybdis

Narrative Focus: Stephen

Characters: Stephen, Bloom (in passing), Mulligan, "AE" (George Russell), John Eglinton, Seumas O'Sullivan ("Starkey"), other Dublin intellectuals.

Setting: The National Library, 2 PM.

Homeric Correspondence:

Odysseus' ship had to pass between the whirlpool Charybdis and the cliff-monster Scylla. Thus, his decision between the two is idiomatic for being caught on the horns of a dilemma. He chose to pass close to Scylla, losing six crew members rather than endangering the whole ship near the whirlpool (Book XII). In this chapter, Stephen steers a course between the Scylla and Charybdis of intellectual and emotional analysis of Hamlet and of his own identity.

Synopsis:

Consorting with the Dublin literati, Stephen offers a psychoanalysis as much his own as an interpretation of Hamlet. Bloom passes.

Critical Issues:

1) Though Stephen himself hardly believes the analysis of the Hamlet-Ghost and Hamnet/Shakespeare parallel, the purpose is to underline the consubstantiality of the father with the son: i.e., parallel reinforces the need for "at-one-ment" between Stephen and Bloom.

2) The literary prefiguration of the novel shifts, temporarily at least, from Homeric to Shakespearean reference.

Chapter Ten, The Wandering Rocks

Narrative Focus: Multiple

Characters: See synopsis below.

Setting: The Dublin Streets, 3 PM.

Homeric Correspondence:

The Wandering Rocks (Planctae, "the clashers") were just that -- rocks that collided with a will to crush ships between them. Odysseus avoids them entirely (Book XII), but here Joyce welcomes a not-so-randomly arranged "clashing" of characters and themes in seemingly chance encounters on the Dublin streets at midafternoon of Bloomsday.

Synopsis:

Father Conmee (the rector in Portrait) sets out for a walk, passing Corny Kelleher, the undertaker (Chapter VI, "Hades"). A one-legged sailor asks Molly Bloom for a handout. Katey and Boody Dedalus, Stephen's sisters, eat lunch at home. Blazes Boylan buys a basket of fruit as a gift for Molly to be delivered at their afternoon tryst. Stephen takes a walk with an Italian named Artifoni. A secretary, Miss Dunne, makes an appointment at 4:00 for Blazes Boylan. Ned Lambert and the Reverend Love visit St. Mary's Abbey. Tom Rochfort, Nosey Flynn, M'Coy and Lenehan part company and see Bloom at bookstall. Bloom purchases Sweets of Sin for Molly at the bookstall. Simon Dedalus gives money to his daughter Dilly. Simon reminisces with Mr. Kernan about the death of Emmet, a political leader. Stephen browses at the same bookstall Bloom has just left and meets Dilly there. Father Cowley encounters Simon Dedalus and complains of dept. Martin Cunningham makes financial arrangements for Patrick Dignam's children. Mulligan and Haines catch a glimpse of Parnell's brother while discussing Stephen's theory of Hamlet. Artifoni, to whom Stephen has just spoken, encounters the blind piano-tuner Bloom had helped. Patrick Dignam, Paddy's son, makes a purchase in a butcher-shop. The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (William, Earl of Dudley) makes a carriage promenade through the streets, passing most of the characters above.

Critical Issues:

The eighteen section of "The Wandering Rocks" are intended as a microcosm of the eighteen chapters of Ulysses. The careful ordering of seemingly random events can be taken as a typically modernist response to the chaos of human experience.

Chapter Eleven, The Sirens

Narrative Focus: Bloom

Characters: Bloom, Miss Douce and Miss Kennedy (barmaids), Lenehan, Ben Dollard, Boylan, piano-tuner.

Setting: Concert Room of the Ormond Hotel.

Homeric Correspondence:

Odysseus stopped the crewmen's ears with wax and lashed himself to the mast to resist being lured by the sirens' song. Like Bloom in the concert room, he alone could hear them without succumbing to their charm (Book XII).

Synopsis:

Bloom narrowly avoids Boylan, who is on his way to the previously mentioned assignation with Molly. While the others imbibe music and drink, Bloom writes a letter to Martha Clifford.

Critical Issues:

The musical setting and allusions of the chapter are paralleled by uses of musical technique such a counterpoint, suspension, resolution, etc.

Chapter Twelve, Cyclops

Narrative Focus: Bloom

Characters: Bloom, the "Citizen," Alf Bergman, Garryowen (a dog), other barflies.

Setting: Barney Kiernan's Tavern, 5 PM.

Homeric Correspondence:

Trapped in the cave of Polyphemus the Cyclops, Odysseus resorted to the pseudonym "No-man" to escape (Book IX). Bloom effects his escape from the Citizen more ingloriously but less violently, after invoking the cause of "all men" against the Citizen's virulent nationalism.

Synopsis:

Bloom arrives at the bar in search of Martin Cunningham (to make arrangements for Mrs. Dignam's insurance) but finds himself embroiled in argument with the "Citizen," a somewhat crazed nationalist, xenophobe, and anti-Semitic bigot. Bloom's defense of the Jews angers him, and the Citizen throws a biscuit-tin at Bloom, but misses because, like Polyphemus blinded by the superior resource of Odysseus, "the sun was in his eyes." Bloom nonetheless wisely retreats.

Critical Issues:

Stephen's earlier revolt against his country -- the betrayals and hypocrisy of Irish nationalism and religion -- is unwittingly championed by Bloom's insistence on the priority of human value as opposed to national or political allegiance.

Chapter Thirteen, Nausicaa

Narrative Focus: Bloom, Gerty

Characters: Bloom, Gerty MacDowell, Cissy Caffrey and Edy Boardman (her friends), Tommy and Jacky Caffrey (twins).

Setting: Sandymount Rocks, 8 PM.

Homeric Correspondence:

Odysseus was washed ashore in the land of the hospitable Phaeacians after Poseidon wrecked his raft. The young princess Nausicaa and her maidens found him on the beach and, unkempt from his swim ashore, he frightened all but Nausicaa whom he pretended to mistake for a goddess (Book VI). Struck with admiration for the nameless hero, she conveyed him to the palace where Odysseus narrated the tale of his Great Wanderings (Book VII). Joyce's maiden-meets-older-man-on-the-beach theme in this chapter is strictly Homeric; the treatment is not.

Synopsis:

Bloom spends a quiet hour on the beach, presumably the same strand Stephen walked at 11:00 am, and watches "those lovely seaside girls" as they watch the evening fireworks display. While Gerty accommodates her harlequin-romance image of Bloom by leaning back to reveal her petticoats, Bloom masturbates.

Critical Issues:

The only chapter in which Joyce accords an extended interior monologue status to a peripheral character -- Gerty.

Chapter Fourteen, Oxen of the Sun

Narrative Focus: Stephen, Bloom

Characters: Bloom, Stephen, Lynch (see Portrait), Mulligan, Madden, Punch, Costello.

Setting: Maternity Hospital, 10 PM.

Homeric Correspondence:

Though forewarned by Circe not to molest the Oxen of Helius (the Sun), Odysseus' men were driven by hunger to feast on the sacred cattle while Odysseus slept. Helius complained to Zeus, who struck their ship with a thunderbolt so that all but Odysseus drowned (Book XII). The Oxen of the Sun are fertility symbols -- thus the aptness of the maternity hospital setting. Also, the drinking-feast takes place at the expense of Stephen, for whom it will be another misadventure in the return home.

Synopsis:

Stephen stands Mulligan and the medical students to the "glorious drunk" promised that morning while Bloom arrives to attend on Mina Purefoy's delivery of a ninth child.

Critical Issues:

The narrative voice of the chapter is modulated to reproduce a radically telescoped history and parody of English prose styles. Ulysses thus expands to encompass and make comic mileage out of the tradition of which it is a part.

Chapter Fifteen, Circe

Narrative Focus: Bloom/Stephen

Characters: Bloom, Stephen, Lynch, Mulligan, Bella Cohen (madame), Zoe, Kitty, Flory, Stephen's mother, Lipoti Virag (Bloom's grandfather), Rudy (Bloom's son), Cissy Caffrey, Major Tweedy (Molly's father), Private Carr, Private Compton, other phantoms.

Setting: Bella's Brothel, Midnight.

Homeric Correspondence:

Circe the Enchantress transformed Odysseus' men into swine. Armed by Hermes with the magic herb moly as an antidote to Circe's magic, Odysseus forced her to restore the men's human shape. After living with her for a year and begetting a son (Telegonus), Odysseus set out on Circe's instructions to visit the Underworld and learn the secret of his return (Book X). The parallels between Circe's House and Bella's are self-evident: magic and metamorphosis are the keynotes of this chapter.

Synopsis:

Prose fiction dissolves into drama, reality into dream, magic, and vision. Bloom sees the ghosts of his father, mother, and son Rudy, Stephen the ghost of his mother. As the Walpugisnacht fantasy of Circe's House lifts, reality enters once again in the person of Private Carr, who knocks Stephen unconscious. Stephen and Bloom, however, have survived their final trial and solved the mystery of their identity amid Circe's magic, so Bloom steps in to act as father to Stephen, who drunkenly quotes snippets of Yeats' "Who Goes with Fergus?"

Critical Issues:

Too many to cite: this is the climax and critical crux of the novel.

Chapter Sixteen, Eumaeus

Narrative Focus: Bloom/Stephen

Characters: Stephen, Bloom, Skin-the Goat (shelterkeeper), "Lord" John Corley (see "Two Gallants" in Dubliners

Setting: Dublin Streets and the Cabman's Shelter, 1 PM.

Homeric Correspondence:

Upon his return to Ithaca, Odysseus disguises himself as a beggar. He is first recognized by the beloved swineherd Eumaeus and then reunited with Telemachus in the swineherd's hut (Books XIV, XVI), a direct coincidence with the interview in Skin-the-Goat's shelter.

Synopsis:

Bloom guides Stephen to the cabman's shelter where Stephen recovers over coffee. The red-bearded sailor, himself a returned Odysseus, spins yarns of adventure that underscore the theme of the wanderers' return home.

Critical Issues:

Joyce designated the "art" of this chapter as navigation. Note the emergence of Odysseus as returned mariner (Bloom, the sailor).

Chapter Seventeen, Ithaca

Narrative Focus: Bloom/Stephen, then Bloom

Characters: Bloom, Stephen, Molly

Setting: Bloom's House, 2 am.

Homeric Correspondence:

Odysseus' return culminates in the test of the bow and in his rout of Penelope's suitors: first, he arranges and wins the contest for Penelope by stringing and shooting the great bow of Odysseus; the he and Telemachus lure the suitors into the great hall, lock them in, and rain arrows on them till the last are dead (Books XXI-XXII). Here, a triumphant but bloodless return to the House of Bloom.

Synopsis:

Bloom, having guided Stephen home to 7 Eccles Street, finds he has forgotten his key (see Ch. I) and so climbs through the service door and lets Stephen into the kitchen where yet more conversation ensues (this time, a father-son talk turning most immediately on the significance of the day's events). Stephen declines Bloom's offer of shelter for the night (or more), departs, leaves Bloom to reconnoiter his reclaimed house and repair to bed with Molly.

Critical Issues:

The narrative voice retreats into a) a parody of "objective" narration and b) a deliberately catechismal question-and-answer session, appropriate to the "dialogue" that has been established between Stephen and Bloom.

Chapter Eighteen, Penelope

Narrative Focus: Molly

Characters: Molly, Bloom, various figures from her past.

Setting: The Bloom Bed, an hourless time of night.

Homeric Correspondence:

The final recognition and reunion of the Odyssey take place after the return and revenge of Odysseus: Penelope, the last to believe that Odysseus has dies on the return journey, is also the last to know of his return (Book XXIII). Appropriately, Joyce ends with a similar affirmation of the husband's return in Molly's final word: "Yes."

Synopsis:

Initially awake while Bloom has fallen asleep, Molly recreates in progressively unconscious reveries her childhood at Gibraltar, her lovers before and after marriage, the events of the day, and her surrender and marriage to Bloom.

Critical Issues:

None listed.