James Joyce's Ulysses Term Paper

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James Joyce's Ulysses -- Leopold Bloom, the modern Odysseus

Of what did the duumvirate deliberate during their itinerary?

Music, literature, Ireland, Dublin, Paris, friendship, woman, prostitution, diet, the influence of gaslight or the light of arc and glow-lamps on the growth of adjoining paraheliotropic trees, exposed corporation emergency dustbuckets, the Roman catholic church, ecclesiastical celibacy, the Irish nation, jesuit education, careers, the study of medicine, the past day, the male-cent influence of the presabbath, Stephen's collapse."

James Joyce, "Section 17 -- Ithaca" from Ulysses

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This early passage is from James Joyce's epic modernist classic Ulysses. It is from the chapter of the novel entitled "Ithaca." The passage depicts the conversation of two of the novel's main protagonists, that of Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, not physically, but in words. On the surface, the words of the two men seem simple, but on further reflection, Joyce's method of recounting the conversation strikes the reader as a strange way of relating an interaction between two men, one young, and one old, one a lapsed Irish Catholic, the other a lapsed Jew. In fact, a cursory reaction to this passage underlines how the entirety of James Joyce's Ulysses must have seemed to its early readers a strange way of telling a story. The story of the novel evolves through a kind of stream-of-consciousness narrative style, whereby the reader receives an impressionist, fragmented sense of what life is like on a single day in Dublin. Joyce chooses this style to convey the modernist sense of fragmented identity, whereby persons are losing their secure alliances to class, religion, place, and morality.

TOPIC: Term Paper on James Joyce's Ulysses Assignment

The novel proceeds through the lives of two persons, Leopold Bloom, and Stephen Dedalus, who only intermittently react with one another over the course of the day. However, by using these two figures to suggest a modern Odysseus story, Joyce demonstrates the relevance of myth, even to modern life, albeit a myth that must be reconfigured to suit the modern era. Although Bloom and Dedalus are merely walking together in the quotation above, their conversational subjects span human history, time, and personal subjects that are germane to both men. Essentially a small world is created between the momentary intimacies between these two men. Joyce does not say this explicitly, or even use complete sentences, instead he merely inserts a catalogue or a list to sum up the moments of time that flow past the reader's observing eyes and ears, much as one might remember a conversation in real life -- in fragments, rather than in perfect sentences.

When reflecting on such a passage excerpted from the section of the novel entitled "Ithaca," one is provoked to query why does a work set in Ireland locate its in a fictional Greek island of literary history? This suggests a parallel between the two men's journey through Ireland at the moment of the novel with Odysseus' search for home. Later in the passage, Leopold Bloom will find himself locked out of his home, as Odysseus in Homer's epic poem had to fight to regain his home. Bloom must also fight for the affections of his wife against rival suitors, not unlike the Homeric hero. The literary parallels and references of the novel, however, are not merely confined to one text. Just as variegated as the conversation of the two men, Ulysses contains parallels with "Hamlet," the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, and modern texts relating to geography, science, and medicine, the subjects spanned in Bloom and Stephen's conversation. This shows the multitude of references human beings are exposed to in modernity, as various as the many subjects Stephen teaches as a schoolteacher or that rest upon Bloom's shelf in his home. In short, "Joyce is not playing a clever little game when he parallels a Stephen with a Hamlet, a Bloom with an Odysseus, or even a Bloom with Christ," he is making a claim about modern culture and the experience of human exposure to fragmented, but multifaceted culture. (Blamires, 1996, p.44)

Unlike the externally realized events of the real Homeric "Odyssey," however, Bloom's Odysseus-like journey is primarily an internal one, or as in the case with his conversation with Stephen, a duet of verbal rather than physical challenges. Mentally, Bloom is Odysseus, rather than physically. His status of wandering is further reinforced because of Bloom's ethnicity and his religion. Bloom is a Jew. Thus Bloom is a strange man in an alien land, in the eyes of many of the (mainly Catholic or Protestant) inhabitants of the Irish capital, despite Bloom's long dwelling-time in this area and his conversion to Protestantism. Through his 'born' social status in the minds of his fellow Dubliners, Bloom is just as estranged socially, if not physically like his Homeric counterpart.

Stephen Dedalus also has a mythical alter ego, that of Telemachus, Odysseus' son. Dedalus is Bloom's figurative if not his literal son, in both the young man's fantasy if not in fact, because Stephen is also an outsider, even though Stephen was born an Irish Catholic. Stephen is an outsider by choice rather than by birth -- he refuses to bathe, and disdains other customs of modern society. Although not Jewish, Dedalus begins the book refusing to go to his mother's funeral, spurning conventional religious norms. He is also a tormented figure, hence the reference to "Stephen's collapse" as one of the subjects the father and son figures discuss during their wanderings. "Stephen Dedalus corresponds to Telemachus, Ulysses' son. At the beginning of Homer's Odyssey Telemachus finds himself virtually dispossessed by his mother's suitors in his own father's house...Leopold Bloom corresponds to Ulysses in the Homeric parallel."(Blamires, 1996, p.3)

Furthering this association, Dedalus perpetually identifies with the outsider, such as his defense of Jewish business methods in the section of entitled "Nestor," and his defense of unpopular theories about Shakespeare, a historical representation of English literary tradition still living in the minds of the Irish, even in the midst of the Irish capital torn apart by nationalist strife. (Hart & Hayman, p.250) The two men, when alone together, discuss subjects like the Roman Catholic Church, celibacy, and other religious topics that they seem to feel free to be open about with one another, that might bring them censure if they broached the topic with their fellow Dubliners. Although Bloom, by and large, and perhaps as a result of his conversion to Protestantism, tends to express more socially and artistically conservative views than Stephen in company, although in the private space of his own thoughts, Bloom is wildly sexual, again showing how much of the excitement of modern life takes place in the internal life of the mind, and is unseen by observing forces.

Thus, myth and modern reality, external and internal excitement (sexually and in terms of drama), and external and internal life, are perpetually contrasted in Ulysses. The book is called Ulysses, the Roman name for Odysseus, because the protagonist exists essentially in translation, the translation of an ancient into the modern era. Bloom is "one with the lostness of a Ulysses far from home, a Moses brought up in an alien land, a Stephen Dedalus, artist, at loggerheads with the culture that has reared." (Blamires, 1996, p.46) However, rather than external adventures, the parallels are internal between Bloom, Dedalus, and the major characters, like a long walk or being locked out of one's own home or "Ithaca." Where once journeys were external, and long in temporal time, now, in modernity, time is collapsed and lacking external venues for heroics, heroics take place inside through individual resistance.

Through conversation instead of physical engagement, the great sweeping panorama of history, and the themes of identity, nationality, and finding a place are "present on the universal scale and on the individual scale, nationally in the destinies of the Jewish and the Irish nations, personally and in miniature in the day's business frustration of Bloom." (Blamires, 1996, p.44) Bloom is not only preoccupied with his "marital predicament," namely his wife Molly's infidelity, but also escaping "from the hostile Dublin environment, to the land of his ancestors (which would make him the Jew he thinks he ought" to be, and fears to be, even while he discusses Roman Catholicism with Stephen. (Hart & Hayman, p.75)

The Jewish status of Bloom, and the preoccupation with religion and nationalism was not merely a preoccupation of Joyce's alone. Joyce chooses this outsider status for his hero partly because of historical events. An obviously important factor in Joyce's decision to make his own hero a Dublin Jew was the concern with nationalism at the time, both of the Jewish people, but also of the Irish people. The Irish, seeped in Catholicism and anti-Semitism, liberally depicted within the context of the novel, might seem to be a strange parallel, initially. In Joyce, such as during "the rehearsal in the Camden Hall," references to Bloom are "all couched in such terms of endearment as 'you inquisitional drunken jew,' but for the reader, Bloom is one of the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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