The Inception of the Bloomian Odyssey in James Joyce's "Ulysses"

'Calypso', 'Hades' and 'Lestrygonians'

Essay 2012 24 Pages

American Studies - Literature








Works Cited


Frank Budgen writes in his well documented James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses: ‘In the course of many talks with Joyce in Zürich I found that for him human character was best displayed ― I had almost said entirely displayed ― in the commonest acts of life’ (Budgen, 75). If prior to ‘Calypso’, Ulysses is seemingly a sequel to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), with Leopold Bloom, Joyce deflects from the over-analytical Stephen Dedalus whose stream of thought is infused with aesthetic, philosophic or theological inquiries and introduces readers to the mechanics of another character’s consciousness. Ezra Pound wrote in an essay on Joyce in his ‘Books Current’ column, The Future (1918) that ‘Bloom answers the query that people made after A Portrait. Joyce has created his second character; he has moved from autobiography to the creation of the complementary figure’ (Pound, 139-40). Poldy Bloom lacks Stephen’s eloquence and erudition, displaying instead a keen sensuousness, a remarkable sensibility and infinite admiration for life. Pound moreover continues his appraisal of the Joycean protagonist adding that: ‘Bloom brings life in the book. All Bloom is vital’ (Pound, 140).

‘Calypso’, ‘Hades’ and ‘Lestrygonians’ are three essential episodes included in the section of the novel known as ‘The Wanderings of Ulysses’. They depict the outset of Bloom’s peregrinations and, at the same time, establish a crucial framework at the level of narrative which is inextricably linked to the articulation of the character. The episodes are written in an ‘initial style’ that combines distinct modes of narration such as the traditional third person narration, interior monologue and what Michael Seidel calls in his James Joyce, A Short Introduction as the ‘fourth-estate narration’ (Seidel, 88) that reflects the workings of a greater, ‘epic consciousness’ (Seidel, 24). The initial style will give way to radical fragmentariness as in the ‘Wandering Rocks’, being foreshadowed by the ‘Aeolus’ episode or to a complete breaking down of the text in such stylistically extravagant episodes like ‘Cyclops’, ‘Oxen of the Sun’ and ‘Circe’. The titles of the episodes, as in the case of those that comprise The Telemachiad, derive from essential aspects of Homer’s Odyssey, maintaining, therefore, the central parallelism inherent in the novel. T.S. Eliot in his acclaimed study, ‘Ulysses, Order, and Myth’ asserts that the introduction of these parallels contributes to the elaboration of a ‘mythical method’ that orders and gives ‘shape and significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history’ (Eliot, 483). Although some aspects of the novel are inscribed within the paradigm of The Odyssey, they solely provide an efficient basis that does not bestow any crucial significance upon the lives and actions of Joyce’s characters. The story of the Greek hero and his valiant deeds and grand adventures is transplanted into a new social and historical context wherein Bloom, the quintessential Everyman, experiences his own story of homecoming and the outstanding ordinariness of his peregrinations throughout early-twentieth century Dublin.


‘Calypso’, the fourth episode of the novel recounts the events in the Fifth Book of The Odyssey wherein the goddess Calypso holds Odysseus captive on Ogygia, her island for almost seven years, preventing his return home, before being ordered by Zeus to allow the hero to resume his voyage to Ithaca. According to the details the Schema provides, the organ of the episode is the kidney, the symbol is the nymph and the technique is narrative (mature). ‘Calypso’ leaps back four hours to begin the day of June 16th, 1904 of Leopold Bloom mirroring the chronology of ‘Telemachus’ which enhances the parallelism between Stephen and Bloom and acts as a proleptic force that outlines their subsequent encounter. In A Companion to Joyce Studies, Zack Bowen minutely investigates the relation between the two protagonists and the similarities that reunite them, yet he correctly infers that ‘Bloom’s thoughts stem from different things and lead to different conclusions’ (Bowen, 447). In fact, if Stephen constructs an understanding of the world grounded on his scholastic outlook, Bloom’s perspective is saturated with quasi-scientific knowledge and with distinct perceptions filtered by means of his senses. ‘Calypso’, in fact is centered on themes of sensuality, on the one hand, and sensuousness. This is aptly translated into the opening lines of the episode: ‘Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet out, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hendcods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine’ (4.1-5).

The ‘relish’ Mr. Leopold Bloom takes in eating an entire myriad of assorted dishes and his particular keenness for the inner organs of different animals renders him as an essentially masculine – perhaps excessively gluttonous – figure that like all alpha-males, hunters, not gatherers, enjoys the healthy meal. However, the following sequence dismisses such initial pretensions as Bloom cautiously prepares breakfast for his wife and will proceed to carry it to her in bed. His domesticity invalidates both the heroic presets the parallel with Odysseus involves and the image of the Irish patriarch as an inscrutable family ruler. But, at the same time, it reinforces the Homeric allusion to the spell-bound Odysseus and his devotion to Calypso. While kidneys remained on his mind, he ‘moved about the kitchen softly [my italics], righting her breakfast things on the humpy tray’ (4.6-7). Bloom’s servitude is also captured in his interaction with his cat that he feeds and listens to its pleas for attention: ‘They understand what we say better than we understand them. She understands all she wants to. Vindictive too. Cruel. Her nature’ (4.26-7). It is not entirely clear whether Bloom refers to the cat or his wife when thinking: ‘ She understands’. If the cat is the referent, then it shows how Bloom performs services to another female presence in the house. Nonetheless, his care for his purring interlocutor certainly affirms his compassion for all beings. In The Cambridge Introduction to James Joyce, Eric Bulson notes that: ‘The first utterance in ‘Calypso’ does not come from Bloom or Molly but the ‘pussens’: “- Mkgnao!”’ (Bulson, 18). This particular aspect of the episode is analyzed by Jennifer Levine in her chapter on Ulysses in The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce where she interprets the variations ‘Mrkgnao!’ (4.25) and ‘Mrkrgnao!’ (4.32) as a ‘covert version of Mrkr, the Greek spelling of Mercury, and thus a signal to the Homeric Hermes’ (Levine, 129). Alternatively, ‘Mrkrgnao’ alludes to Buck Mulligan, ‘mercurial Malachi’ (1.518) as he was referred to in ‘Telemachus’ and this is reinforced by the similarity between the cat’s ‘milkwhite teeth’ (4.34) and Mulligan’s ‘even white teeth’ (1.25). Marie-Dominique Garnier also analyzes the segment with the cat particularly Bloom’s observations: ‘Why are their tongues so rough? To lap better, all porous holes’ (4.47-8). Garnier writes in ‘The lapse and the lap: Joyce and Deleuze’ that the cat’s tongue calls ‘for a logic of porosity, where the sense connects with nonsense’ (Garnier, 100). Consequently, the associations that occur in the text at the level of language are enabled by the ability of the text to bridge the gaps (or holes) between two distinct linguistic elements creating a new range of what Garnier playfully defines as ‘pussibilities’ (Garnier, 100).

The next verbal interchange that occurs is between Bloom and his wife. Before leaving for the butcher’s shop, he asks if she wants anything for breakfast and her reply is an inarticulate ‘Mn’ (4.57) followed by the sound of the ‘loose brass quoits of the bedstead’ (4.59). This incoherent reply on behalf of Mrs. Bloom triggers an entire range of associations Bloom will make throughout the episode, associations that are permeated with a semantic of desire and sensuousness that outlines Bloom’s vision. Therefore, the emergence of the feminine voice, however obscurely expressed, determines a register centered on sensuality and organicity. Bloom automatically links the jingle of the bed to Gibraltar, where his wife was born and raised. His thoughts of the Mediterranean place are intertwined with his finding of a ‘slip of paper’ (4.70) he kept safely, namely a letter from his illicit correspondent, Martha Clifford, another feminine figure that enhances the pervasive theme of desire. As he makes his way to his destination he remembers his first encounter with his wife: ‘moon, violet, colour of Molly’s new garters. Strings. Listen. A girl playing one of those instruments what do you call them: dulcimers’ (4.96-8). This reflects on the one hand, Bloom’s ability to vividly envisage chromatic details and his capacity to absorb distinct elements he perceives like the song played by the girl with the dulcimer. On the other hand, Janine Utell accurately observes in her book, James Joyce and the Revolt of Love that the first time Bloom mentions his wife’s name is when he is thinking of her undergarments (Utell, 75), since during his fumbling around in the kitchen Molly is only ‘she’.

Bloom encounters on his way Larry O’Rourke whom he approaches and has a very brief exchange: ‘- Good day, Mr. O’Rourke.’ ‘- Good day to you.’ (4.122-3). Unlike Bloom, O’Rourke does not address Bloom by his name, subtly obliterating him. This sequence is followed by another essential segment that corroborates its significance. While passing by Saint Joseph’s National school, Bloom can hear out the window the pupils reciting the alphabet: ‘Ahbeesee defeegee kelomen opeecue rustyouvee doubleyou’ (4.137-8). The letters that remain unpronounced are H, I, J a group that contains the quintessential ‘I’ that designates the self. This may indicate that by omitting these letters from his perception Bloom shows his own inarticulacy of character, but this is dismissed by his perception of ‘Slieve Bloom’ (4.139) he associates with ‘Mine’ (4.139). Consequently, the students who omitted the spelling of the ‘I’ are indicative of the influence school has in obscuring the sense of self rather than providing illumination, a fact previously confirmed in the second episode, ‘Nestor’.

At the butcher’s shop Bloom’s mind gives into the culinary exhibit in the window: ‘hanks of sausages, polonies, black and white. Fifteen multiplied by. The figures whitened in his mind, unsolved; displeased, he let them fade. The shiny links, packed with forcemeat, fed his gaze’ (4.140-3). Bloom utterly rejects abstract algebraic thinking in favour of palpable elements. His mind next perceives a plump woman shifting from culinary desire to sensual passion: ‘His eyes rested on her vigorous hips’ (4.148) and he continued to gaze at ‘the way her crooked skirt swings at each whack’ (4.151). Even as she left, he quickly followed ‘behind her moving hams’ (4.172). Both the meat products and the feminine shapes of the unnamed woman from Dlugacz’s overpower Bloom’s ‘senses and his will’ (4.163).

Upon leaving the shop he reads a page he took from the butcher’s that contains an advertisement for a planter’s colony, Agendath Netaim (4.191-2). This immediately triggers Bloom’s reverie of an Oriental haven, an echo of his native Palestine, populated with ‘silverpowdered olivetrees’ (4.201-2). This also causes him to envisage ‘Molly in Citron’s basketchair. Nice to hold, cool waxen fruit, hold in the hand, lift it to the nostrils and smell the perfume. Like that, heavy, sweet, wild perfume’ (4.206-8). The vivid synesthetic experience enables his thoughts to progressively wander to more remote, even abstract locations: ‘Spain, Gibraltar, Mediterranean, the Levant’ (4.211-2). However, this paradisiacal image dissolves and gives way to an apocalyptic vision of the same Agendath that now morphed into a wasteland:

Vulcanic lake, the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth. No wind could lift those waves, grey metal, poisonous foggy waters. Brimstone they called it raining down: the cities of the plain: Sodom, Gomorrah, Edom. All dead names. A dead sea in a dead land, grey and old. Old now. It bore the oldest, the first race. A bent hag crossed from Cassidy’s, clutching a naggin bottle by the neck. The oldest people. Wandered far away over all the earth, captivity to captivity, multiplying, dying, being born everywhere. It lay there now. Now it could bear no more.

Dead: an old woman’s: the grey sunken cunt of the world.

Desolation. (4.220-9)

By juxtaposing these two contrastive visions that have the same referent, Agendath Netaim, Joyce reinforces his choice in initially presenting an aspect and dismissing it immediately afterwards. This time, Bloom’s associative ponderings enabled him to link the colony first to the image of the Promised Land where the Jewish people could find salvation and, secondly, to the apocalyptic vision of fire and brimstone the Bible foresees. As the image of the barren land dissipates, Bloom finds solace in a distinct paradise grounded in his daily life, namely his marital bed and Molly’s ‘ample bedwamed flesh’ (4.238-9). However, he discovers that the distance he has to overcome in getting there is unexpectedly insurmountable since when he arrives home he finds in the doorway the correspondence: ‘Two letters and a card lay on the hallfloor. He stooped and gathered them. Mrs Marion Bloom. His quickened heart slowed at once. Bold hand. Mrs Marion’ (4.243–5). The latter is a letter from Hugh ‘Blazes’ Boylan, Molly’s agent and, as the text and Bloom’s sudden shift of mood reveals, her lover. This causes Bloom to refrain his initial excitement right even before entering his house properly. Moreover, he is deprived of his rights as master of the house first by means of convention, given the fact that Boylan addresses the letter to ‘Mrs. Marion Bloom’ and not to ‘Mrs. Leopold Bloom. After he delivers the letter to Molly, he can see with ‘his backward eye’ (4.256) as she hides it under her pillow, a painful confirmation of his suspicions. As he brings Molly breakfast he sees ‘a strip of torn envelope peeped from under the dimpled pillow’ (4.308), a sign that Boylan has already intruded in their marital bed, further usurping his status. Molly tells him that Boylan will be later stopping by to discuss the program of the prospective tour, a queue for Bloom to delay his return home.



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Babes-Bolyai Universität
James Joyce Ulysses Leopold Bloom




Title: The Inception of the Bloomian Odyssey in James Joyce's "Ulysses"