Ulysses

by: James Joyce

Episode Thirteen: “Nausicaa”

Bloom smells Gerty’s perfume in the air—a cheap smell, not like Molly’s complex scent, opoponax. Bloom smells inside his waistcoat, wondering what a man’s smell would be. The scent of the lemon soap reminds him that he forgot to pick up Molly’s lotion.

A “nobleman” passes Bloom. Bloom wonders about the man and considers writing a story called “The Mystery Man on the Beach.” This thought reminds him of the macintosh man at Dignam’s funeral. Looking at Howth lighthouse, Bloom considers the science of light and colors, then the day he and Molly spent there. Now, Boylan is with her. Bloom feels drained. He notices that Mass seems to be over. The postman makes his nine o’clock round with a lamp. A newsboy cries the results of the Gold Cup race.

Bloom decides to avoid going home just yet. He reconsiders the incident in Barney Kiernan’s— perhaps the citizen meant no harm. Bloom thinks about his evening visit to Mrs. Dignam. Bloom tries to remember his dream last night. Molly was dressed in Turkish breeches and red slippers.

Bloom picks up a stray piece of paper, then a stick. Wondering if Gerty will return tomorrow, he begins to write her a message in the sand—“I AM A”—but stops as there is not sufficient room. He erases the letters and throws the stick, which lands straight up in the sand. He decides to have a short nap, and his thoughts become muddled by sleep. Bloom dozes off as a cuckoo clock chimes in the priest’s house nearby.

Analysis

In Episode Thirteen of Ulysses, Gerty MacDowell corresponds to Princess Nausicaa, who, in The Odyssey, discovers Odysseus asleep on the beach and tends to him. Gerty, associated with blue and white, also seems to correspond to the Virgin Mary. Sounds from the nearby temperance retreat are interspersed with Gerty’s narrative, creating an ironic parallel between Gerty and Mary: as Gerty dreams of ministering to a husband and opens herself to Bloom’s supplicating sexual attention, so do the men in the church appeal to the statue of the Virgin Mary for comfort and aid. Episode Thirteen is the first episode of Ulysses that centers on a female consciousness, and it inaugurates the final sections of the book, which are more female-centered in their characters and settings.

The first half of Episode Thirteen centers on Gerty’s appearance and consciousness, and we only hear Bloom’s interior monologue in the second half of the episode. Gerty’s half consists of several barely distinct narrative points of view and styles. The narrative is sympathetic with Gerty, and Gerty’s consciousness slides in and out of the narrative—her interior monologue is sometimes rendered directly. The narrative’s style borrows from (and parodies) the prose of both moralizing, sentimental literature and consumer-oriented women’s magazines. The style is accordingly full of emotional clichés, effusive diction, and imprecise descriptions. Additionally, the style of the narrative is such that unpleasant realities and indelicate details are filtered out. Thus, Gerty’s lame foot is only slightly alluded to, as is masturbation.