by: James Joyce

Molly Bloom

Over the course of the novel, we get a very clear picture of Bloom and Stephen because we witness their interactions with many different people and see what they are thinking throughout all of these interactions. For most of the novel we only see Molly Bloom through other people’s eyes, so it may be tempting to dismiss her as a self-centered, unfaithful woman. The way we decide to view her will require us to reevaluate the understanding we have thus far formed of Leopold Bloom. If we focus on the “vulgarity” and physicality of her monologue, our built-up sympathies with Bloom as the well-meaning husband of a loose woman are ratified. But a more nuanced understanding of her involves seeing her as an outgoing woman who takes a certain pride in her husband, but who has been feeling a lack of demonstrative love. This idea yields a reevaluation of Bloom as being unfaithful in his own ways and complicit in the temporary breakdown of their marriage.

Like Bloom, Molly is a Dublin outsider. She was raised in the military atmosphere of Gibraltar by her father, Major Brian Tweedy. Molly never knew her mother, who was possibly Jewish, or just Jewish-lo-oking. Bloom associates Molly with the “hot-blooded” Mediterranean regions, and, to a lesser degree, the exoticism of the East. Yet Molly considers her own childhood to have been normal, outside the dramatic entrances and exits of young, good-looking soldiers going off to war. Molly seems to organize her life around men and to have very few female friends. She enjoys being looked at and gains self-esteem from the admiration of men. Molly is extremely self-aware and perceptive—she knows without looking when she is being looked at. A man’s admiration of her does not cloud her own negative judgments about him. She is frank about topics that other people are likely to sentimentalize—intimacy, mourning, and motherhood, for example. She is also frank about the extent to which living involves adaptations of different roles. Her sense of this truth—which is perhaps related to her own career as a stage singer—aligns her with Stephen, who is also conscious of his outward existence in terms of a series of roles. Molly and Stephen both share a capacity for storytelling, scene-setting, and mimicry. Molly’s storytelling and frankness about role-playing evinces her sense of humor, and it also mediates our sense of her as a hypocritical character. Finally, it is this pragmatic and fluid adoption of roles that enables Molly to reconnect with Bloom through vivid recollections, and, indeed, reenactments, of the past, as in her final memory of the Howth scene at the end of Ulysses.