Day 7: Is it Good Luck to Write about 13 on the 7th Day?

During the funeral we get a mysterious 13th stranger, somebody wearing a Macintosh raincoat that Bloom doesn’t recognize.  If this were a mystery this person would show up later and off one of the guys at the funeral, maybe Simon Dedalus.  Unfortunately Agatha Christie was not consulted during the long writing process.  Of course there may be an Agatha reference in there somewhere, but I promised myself I wouldn’t look at any secondary sources until I finished the book.

Are you in here, Agatha?

Joyce is just so good as sub-referencing that you can’t run your eyes over a curious line without wondering if you’re missing something.  It’s like this book is the biggest storehouse of literary in-jokes in the history of the novel.  We get a lot of Shakespeare (Tempest, Hamlet, and Julius Ceasar so far) plus all the Irish songs that I’ve yet to hear at Renaissance Festivals, and of course the Odyssey stuff, but I’m sure there’s stuff I’m not picking up.

Of course the 13th guest at the funeral ties in to all kinds of myths, legends and superstitions. For example, there were 13 guests at the Last Supper, with Judas being counted as number 13.  You’ve also got the myth that a witches’ coven had 12 members, with the devil being number 13.

And then there's this guy of course.

So this mysterious 13th guy could be any number of people.  I’m sure there’s enough opaque evidence to suggest that it’s Stephen, or Molly, or even (gasp!) the ghost of Dignam himself!  But most likely it’s just Joyce messing with our heads again. I don’t want to seem irreverent, but sometimes a writer can put a mystery in just for the sake of  a mystery.  Still, it’s a nice touch, and definitely one that can keep undergraduates endlessly guessing.

The funeral itself is rife with ill omens, as if Joyce wants us to believe that Bloom is going to suffer more misfortune somewhere down the line.  Between the mysterious guest, the donkey braying, and the general gloominess of it all, it seems likely that our Mr. Bloom is going to have to endure more drama in the pages to come.


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Day 6: What Guys Really Think About at Funerals.

Once he’s done getting his sudsy on, Bloom heads for the funeral of his friend Dignam, where he meets up with a crew of mourners that includes the father of Stephen Dedalus.  We get a few references to boatmen and death by water and Bloom wonders if it would be easier to convey bodies to the cemetery via a canal instead of hearses.  All of this is of course a reference to the boatman that carries the dead to Hades, and not really a surprise to anyone who gets the reference.  We also get a choice description of what old Dignam must look like in his present state as Bloom imagines with grim humor what might happen if the hearse tipped over.

Bom! Upset! A coffin bumped out on to the road. Burst open. Paddy Dignam shot out and rolling over stiff in the dust in a brown habit too large for him. Red face: grey now. Mouth fallen open.  Asking what’s up now. Quite right to close it.

"S'up, Bloom? How's the wife?"

Obviously the fascination with the dead and the undead is somewhat universal.

We hear the party talk about a few more dead people; murders and suspected murders and a suicide.  Bloom ponders the fate of a widow in his own inimitable fashion.

“Condole with her.  Your terrible loss.  I hope you’ll soon follow him.  For Hindu widows only.  She would marry another.  Him?  No.  Yet who knows after.  Widowhood not the thing since the old queen died.”

Obviously being a widow is not as fashionable as it was since Queen Victoria.  But for a book that would not pass the feminist test (outlined below) there are a lot of references to women in the story.

1. Does the story have more than one named female character?  Answer: Yes.

2. Do two female characters talk to each other? Answer: Thus far, No.

3. Do the two female characters talk to each other about anything other than a man (or shopping)?  Answer: No

So much of this is Bloom’s obsession with his wife and with women in general.  For someone who is worried about getting cheated on, Bloom spends a great deal of time thinking about cheating.  He can’t even go to a funeral without thinking about how to pick up a dead guy’s widow. Even here, in an all-male scene, Bloom is thinking about women and the role they play (or endure) in death.  You could argue that the book says a lot about how men perceive women and how women can shape (and in Bloom’s case dominate) a man’s character.

Not Appearing in this Novel?


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Day 5: Bored, Bath, and Beyond

Just before Bloom leaves the church he notices that his waistcoat buttons were open, which I expect may have been just as bad as if he were unzipped.  He muses that women never tell you about such things, but men are always pointing it out, even if they kind of like it.

Excuse, miss there’s a (ww!) just a (whh!) fluff.  Or their skirt behind, placket unhooked. Glimpses of the moon. Annoyed if you don’t. Wh didn’t you tell me before?  Still like you better untidy.

Not surprising, given the gritty descriptions of his wife’s boudoir.  Reminds me a bit of Herrick’s poem “Delight In Disorder”.

A SWEET disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness :
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction :
An erring lace which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher :
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbons to flow confusedly :
A winning wave (deserving note)
In the tempestuous petticoat :
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility :
Do more bewitch me than when art
Is too precise in every part.

After sitting through the mass, Bloom wanders over to the local pharmacy to pick up a few things.  Of course back then a pharmacy was more like…

...this place

but hey, it’s the early 1900’s, so you can’t really expect a Drug Mart or even a GNC store.  The aroma of the place is palpable in Joyce’s description:

Mortar and pestle. Aq. Dist. Fol. Laur. Te Virid. Smell almost cure you like the dentist’s doorbell.

The scent of the place is an obvious reference to “The Lotus Eaters” in  The Odyssey.  It’s almost too obvious, actually.  But then again, this is paired with the observations of the church, so the devout may be the Lotus Eaters as well.  In a sense, so is Bloom, with his preoccupation about a bath.  Of course, we don’t get to hear his inner monologue when taking a bath, just his dreams about it.

He forsaw his pale body reclined in it at full, naked, in a womb of warmth, oiled by scented melting soap, softly laved. He saw his trunk and limbs riprippled over and sustained, buoyed lightly upward, lemonyellow: his navel, bud of flesh: and saw the tark tangled curls of his bush floating….

Then again, maybe it’s better we *don’t* see it all.

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Day 4: Cheating the Old Fashioned Way

So Bloom takes off to the post office where we find that he’s been doing the early 20th century equivalent of online cheating.  Seems our guy has a fake id called “Henry Flower” and he’s been exchanging letters with some lady named Martha.

It's like this except without the laptop

Bloom picks up his snail mail and worries a bit about whether his last one might have crossed the line.  Apparently it didn’t, since the lady wrote back.  For those of you not familiar with snail mail letters I will translate:


Got Ur last. TY. Sad U did not like mine. WTF with the stamps? I is pissed. U should get spanked :). U so nawty. BTW what is def’n of that word? R U not happy at home Mr. nawty pantz?  Wish I could help. U think of me? I heart Ur name. We shud hook up cuz OMFG u r so hot! Feelz guilty tho.  U write next tell me more. If U do notz I will haz to spank U nawty boi.  Rlly wish we could meet.  So write, k? Or I gets 😡 . Will write back.  Head hurtz. Stopping now.



PS What perfume doz ur wife use?

Yeah, it’s actually that disjointed even written in full.  At this point I’m really not sure what Bloom intends to do about this lady.  He seems to be a bit torn about the idea of making a real connection. He seems excited and scared at the same time.

Later, Bloom tries to indulge in a bit of girl watching as he wanders about, but some guy named M’Coy keeps blocking his view.  I’ve got to say that despite the challenge of interpreting Joyce’s prose style, he does get a lot of male motivations down pretty well.  Do guys really think like that? Yeah, we kind of do.  There’s nothing more annoying than having another guy try to talk to you when you are scoping out a lady’s…uh…ankle.

Bloom makes his way into a catholic church, where he watches mass and makes a few choice observations.  He kind of reminds me of Stephen here, because like Stephen, Bloom is at heart an observer.  Well, more like a voyeur.  The interesting thing is that since Bloom is an outsider, he is more at liberty to critique the church than Stephen is.  I can’t help but wondering if Joyce is using Bloom as a way of expressing his conflict with the church, although admittedly Bloom’s critique is much more reserved.

Squarehead chaps those must be in Rome: they work the whole show. And don’t they rake in the money too?…The doctors of the church: they mapped out the whole theory of it.

Bloom’s outsider voice is capable of pointing out the politics and practicalities of the church without dwelling on the mysticism.  Unlike Stephen, he has no childhood investment in the church and is therefore immune to the subconscious pull of its theology.

It’s interesting that we can still relate to Bloom’s situation even though the time and the language used can make things difficult on occasion.  Bloom as a character is understandable if you can read his inner motivations through the cloud of Joyce’s writing style.  Like Shakespeare, it’s easy to understand once you get over the language.

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Day 3: Pork Products and Other Offal

And so we come at last to Mr. Bloom.

No not this guy...

Of course if it were Orlando serving up breakfast in bed for a lady, maybe it wouldn’t seem so sad and pathetic.  Our Mr. Bloom seems to be saddled with a very demanding and somewhat spoiled spouse.


Yeah, kinda...

Bloom takes a moment to run down to the butchers to grab himself a pork kidney (see what I did there? Pork?) and oggle the neighbor’s daughter along the way.  It seems that our hero has a taste for the forbidden in more ways than one.

It’s interesting to see how Joyce segues into his stream of consciousness.  At the beginning of the section he begins with a description of Bloom’s appetites:

Does Rachael Ray have a recipe for this?

And before you know it we’re reading his mind.  Bloom’s thoughts run from food to his wife to the mail to his daughter and to myriad topics in between.  There is definitely something pathetic about Bloom…in his appetites and his sad desires.

Attending to his wife, we see the disarray of their bedroom, including some soiled underthings.  It’s a pretty unattractive scene, made even worse with Molly’s evasiveness about a letter she receives.  Bloom is obviously concerned about what his diva wife is going to do when he steps out, but he feels helpless to do anything about it.  So he does what any henpecked middle aged man does: he eats his kidney breakfast and has a dump.

There’s a level of gritty realism in Joyce’s story.  Everything about Bloom’s life is dirty, from his wife’s discarded clothing to the faintly urine smell of his food (again with the pee) to his “me” time in the outhouse.  All of it combines to create a pretty sorry excuse for a man, somebody who lives in a pretty disgusting world and occasionally does some pretty disgusting things, but who is also worthy of our sympathy.

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Day 2: Phlegm, Snot, and Dead Dogs

The only thing worse than being a crappy teacher is being a crappy teacher whom everyone knows is a crappy teacher. Stephen is pretty bad at his reluctant profession and it seems that everyone including him is acutely aware of the problem. His students are pretty baffled by his ability to ignore an obvious joke, and his boss tells him to his face that teaching is not his vocation. Even Stephen can’t pay attention to his own lessons. His mind wanders through ideas of historical probabilities when he is supposed to be paying attention to his students.

His ineptitude is not lost on his boss Mr. Deasy, who comes off as a polite version of the principle with a chip on his shoulder. You know…this guy:

Deasy spends most of his time trying to justify his existence to Stephen, pretty much trying to pick a fight with him when our boy could pretty much care less. Deasy reminds one of Polonius from “Hamlet”, the father who keeps trying to dispense advice to deaf ears. Deasy gives Stephen a lecture on the need to pay one’s own way that has echoes of “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” and then segues into some good old fashioned anti-semetism, which Stephen challenges pretty easily.

A merchant, Stephen said, is one who buys cheap and sells dear, jew or gentile, is he not?

The sad thing about Deasy is he seems to not get or not hear anything Stephen says. Every time Stephen makes a point, or even a cool statement like the amazing “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken”, Deasy just keeps rambling on as if he hasn’t heard a thing. In the end he rushes after Stephen to tell one last anti-semetic joke and then acts as if it’s the most brilliant part of the whole conversation.

A coghball of laughter leaped from his throat dragging after it a rattling chain of phlegm. he turned back quickly, coughing, laughing, his lifted arms waving in the air.

In a book where a lot of gross things are described, it’s not surprising that one of the grosser images is this description of Deasy’s bigoted laughter.

While we’re on the subject of phlegm, let’s take a moment to look at Joyce’s effective use of snot. In the first chapter we got a few lines from Buck Mulligan regarding Stephen’s handkerchief or “snot rag” as it’s called. Mulligan makes some connections to snotgreen, its appearance on the Irish flag, and Stephen as an Irish poet. It comes as no surprise that in the third act we get to see our boy Stevie pick his nose and leave a big honking booger on a rock for all to see. This is the kind of thing that can make Joyceian scholars go batshit crazy. Anton Chekhov once said “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.” With Joyce, if you mention snot in one chapter, you’ve got to pull out a booger later on. The same goes with dead dogs. Mulligan calls Stephen “Dogsbody” at one point, and now we get the corpse of a dog in this chapter, along with a live dog who comes by to have a sniff and a pee. I’m sure there are lots of undergraduate papers that have analyzed dog corpses and snot so I won’t bother trying here.

Earlier I mentioned Stephen’s reminiscences about Paris. It seems that he thoroughly enjoyed himself, although his train of thought is so disjointed it’s kind of hard for the casual reader to follow. The one thing I do follow in this section is the repeated uses of “father” imagery throughout. Deasy is Polonius like and also reminisces about the good ol’ days of Irish rebellion, trying to legitimize his connection to Stephen. You also get some good “Tempest” references as well, all of which seems to point to the search for a missing father. Interestingly enough, Stephen never outright says he’s looking for a father figure, but instead everything is intimated by the references going through his head.

There are so many details in this book that it is very easy to go searching for connections that aren’t there. It’s like an optical illusion: the mind gets these scraps of details and tries to fill them in by looking for connections and relationships. I suppose that’s why scholars spend so much time dissecting “Ulysses”. It’s a never ending Rorschach diagram.

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Day 1: Buck Mulligan’s Day Off…or Why John Hughes Should Have Made a Movie From this Stuff.

Let me begin by saying I hate Buck Mulligan. Stephen’s roommate reminds me of that guy…you know the one…the guy who won’t shut up about how cool he is even when it’s plain for all to see that he is, in fact, pretty darn cool. Mulligan is the literary equivalent of the cool funny guy that plagues the nerdy protagonist in a 1980’s comedy. In fact, if Ulysses had been a 1980’s comedy Mulligan would be this guy:

Hey Dedalus...let's skip school and cruise around Dublin in your Dad's new Model T!

Or worse, this guy:

Wait...Stephen...We don't have to go to a brothel tonight...we can open our own brothel in Sandycove Tower!!!!

There’s nothing worse than a roommate who is so cool you can’t stand him. It’s even worse when you owe him money. The thing is, guys like Mulligan are hard to hate, no matter how much they annoy you.

Then again, Stephen Dedalus is so like


that I could totally see Alan Ruck playing him in the movie (if it were done back in the 1980’s).

There’s a school of thought that says all of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is actually a delusion that exists inside Cameron’s head. Getting inside Stephen Dedalus’ head is definitely not nearly as fun. At one point he seems to be reminiscing about visiting Paris, only it’s like he drank so much absinthe that he can’t remember the good parts. We get some hints at the fun stuff, but mostly it’s just little scraps of French mixed in with images of a girl. Come to think of it, that’s about all I remember from my first trip there. I guess I shouldn’t complain.

One of the things that has kept my attention focused on the book is trying to find all the sub-references that Joyce likes to scatter about the narrative. For example, when the locals talk about a body washed out to sea and someone says “five fathoms”, I know it’s a reference to the Tempest…and several pages later Stephen thinks about the same passage: “Full fathoms five thy father lies”.

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.

Stephen has daddy issues. But at the moment it’s his mother that is plaguing him…specifically her death. Mulligan seems to take exception to the fact that Stephen refused to pray at his mother’s deathbed, even if it was just to humor her. Steven’s douchey roommate is pretty much a pragmatist at heart. He’d rather that Stephen fake it a little to ease his mother’s suffering rather than stick to a principle no matter how hard it might be. What makes Mulligan even more douchey is that he likes to berate Stephen even after it’s too late to do anything about it.

But to think of your mother begging you with her last breath to kneel down and pray for her. And you refused. There is something sinister in you…

It never occurs to Mulligan that Stephen is still haunted (literally, in his dreams) by his mother’s passing. To make matters worse, Mulligan has invited a boring Englishman named Haines to stay at the tower. He then asks Stephen for a loan and the key to their domicile. This is so like having a bad roommate it’s not even funny. Dude invites someone to crash on the sofa, then asks you for some cash and the key to the flat. No wonder Stephen elects not to go home that night.

So Mulligan is a douchey roommate and Stephen is that Cameron guy from Ferris Bueller. Try that on your English Lit. Profs and see what they say…I won’t take the blame if they fail you though. 🙂

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