by: James Joyce

Episode Twelve: “Cyclops”

Bloom re-enters the pub breathlessly to find that Cunningham has arrived. Cunningham, sensing that the room is turning belligerent, escorts Bloom, Power, and Crofton out to their car. The citizen follows, yelling jibes about Bloom’s Jewishness. The narrator is disgusted with the citizen for making a scene. Bloom, held back by Power, lists off famous Jews, including, finally, Christ. The citizen grabs a biscuit tin and throws it after the car. A long passage provides an exaggerated description of the impact of the tin. A biblical passage describes Bloom as Elijah in a chariot ascending into heaven.


Episode Twelve corresponds to the adventure in which Odysseus and his men become trapped in the cave of Cyclops, a one-eyed monster. Cyclops seems to be represented by both the narrator and the citizen. The narrator’s biased first-person (“I”) viewpoint renders him Cyclops-like. But it is the citizen who is the most clear representation of the belligerent, one-eyed monster. The citizen’s one-eyed quality is his particularly uncompromising, narrow-minded, and xenophobic brand of Irish nationalism. In contrast to the citizen’s one-eyed presence, Bloom remains distinctly two-eyed—able to consider more than one side of an issue and to reconcile two viewpoints by compromise.

Bloom’s ability to be moderate in the face of the citizen’s excessiveness is part of what makes him a target for the men in this episode. Bloom stands out in several ways. He does not drink, and thus refuses the friendly economy of standing drinks and having drinks bought for him. He repeatedly turns the easy-going bar conversation serious with his intellectual superiority. Yet Bloom seems to have been targeted before even entering the bar. As the episode continues, Bloom alone stands up to the citizen’s excessive viewpoints, and Bloom’s eccentricities (and rumors about his personal affairs) become synonymous with his Jewishness to the other men, as the atmosphere becomes increasingly anti-Semitic.

Episode Twelve, “Cyclops,” represents the climax of all the public chapters of Ulysses—all the tensions that have been building around Bloom in the other social episodes come to a head. Here, also, for the first time, we do not get any interior monologue from either Stephen or Bloom. Instead of our usual third-person narrator, a first-person, unnamed narrator gives a biased view of events at Barney Kiernan’s with his own satiric commentary. In addition to the narrator’s first-per-son commentaries, thirty-two interspersed passages of inflated prose recall a variety of styles. These interpolations are unique so far in Ulysses because they seem to change the setting of the episode—they depart from Barney Kiernan’s to describe scenes as diverse as a court trial, a parliamentary session, and a public hanging. They give us a sense of what is to come in the novel, specifically the dream-like sequence of Episode Fifteen. Though the styles and settings of the thirty-two passages differ, they are similar in their hyperbolic quality. None of the scenes are realistic—all are exaggerated to hilarious degree, some containing lists that span more than half a page. They render their subjects laughable, and in their affiliation with the citizen’s own inflated, excessive, unstoppable rhetoric, they render him laughable as well.

The citizen here represents a particular kind of Irish nationalism that bases itself on an idea of racial purity. The citizen’s “us-versus-them” logic allows him to sustain his single-minded, one-eyed personal and national mission. The citizen is able to recognize the brutality and moral bankruptcy underlying the British Empire, yet he cannot recognize these same qualities in Irish society. Here, the hyperbolic passages step in to reinforce the satire, as when prose resembling that of a newspaper’s society page describes a Dublin crowd’s glee and sentimentality at a public hanging. Similarly, the citizen’s blindness will not allow him to see that just as Bloom does not buy drinks for the crowd, neither does the citizen himself. But Bloom’s refusal to stand drinks is codified as a Jewish trait and used to mark him as different and inferior. Against this one-eyed perspective stands the fluid symbolism of Ulysses itself, in which Bloom figures as an Irishman, a Jew, and a Greek (Odysseus).

The symbolism of Episode Twelve increasingly uses Christian imagery to depict Bloom as a Christ-figure or an Elijah-figure, as others seek to crucify Bloom or sacrifice him as a scapegoat. These analogies further suggest an underdog figure victorious in the end. This representation connects with the symbolism of the Gold Cup horserace in which Throwaway, the underdog horse that Bloom supposedly tipped Bantam Lyons to, comes from behind to win the race against Sceptre, the horse on which Lenehan and Boylan have bet. Because Bloom is distanced from Sceptre, the phallic and violent connotations of the horse’s name reinforce his position as a non-violent, effeminate, self-sacrificing outsider.