Ulysses

by: James Joyce

Important Quotations Explained

1
Amor matris: subjective and objective genitive.

This quotation, part of Stephen’s inner monologue, appears in Episode Two. Amor matris translates to “mother love,” a concept that Stephen ponders while giving extra help to his student Sargent. Sargent reminds Stephen of himself at the same age—Stephen was similarly dirty and disheveled, a child only a mother could love. Stephen thinks of “mother love” frequently in Ulysses—he contrasts the concrete, bodily reality of a mother’s love to the disconnected, tension-ridden relation between a father and a child. In Episode Nine, Stephen calls amor matris “the only true thing in life,” and skeptically identifies paternity as “a legal fiction.” The phrase “subjective and objective genitive” refers to the confusion about the translation of amor matris—it can be either a child’s love for a mother or a mother’s love for a child. This touches on Stephen’s difficulties in deciding whether to be an active or a passive being. In Episode Nine, he frames the choice this way: “Act. Be acted on.” In the quotation from Episode Two above, we see Stephen trying to understand the ethics and power relations involved in his teacher-stu-dent relationship with Sargent in terms of the compassion entailed by “mother love.”