Ulysses

by: James Joyce

Important Quotations Explained

2
History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

This quotation appears in Episode Two, during Stephen’s conversation with Mr. Deasy. With Sargent and his class earlier in Episode Two, Stephen was the reluctant teacher, and now Deasy attempts to position him as the pupil. But Stephen blithely maneuvers out of this role by way of a few cryptic statements, such as the one above. Here, Stephen’s version of history as a “nightmare” is an explicit challenge to Deasy’s conception of history as moving toward one goal (the manifestation of God), and an implicit challenge to Haines’s version of history in Episode One as something impersonal and cut off from the present (“It seems history is to blame”). Stephen’s conception of history has several meanings. Stephen sees history, and Irish history in particular, as filled with violence—Deasy’s and Haines’s conceptions of history enable this violence by excluding certain people from history in Deasy’s case (those who do not believe in a Christian God) and by absolving those who perpetrate violence from any blame in Haines’s case. Stephen’s comment also refers to his conception of the tensions between art and history—Stephen sees history as an impossible chaos and art as a way of representing that chaos in an ordered fashion. Finally, Stephen’s statement is also an extremely personal one—his own history is something he is trying to overcome. At the opening of Ulysses, Stephen is feeling particularly hopeless about the possibility of rising above the circumstances of his upbringing.