Ulysses

by: James Joyce

Episode Thirteen: “Nausicaa”

The feminine pleasantries and the focus on sentimental love in Episode Thirteen seem to be something of a response to Episode Twelve’s masculine violence and prejudice. This hypothesis fits with the workings of Ulysses, by which previous perspectives are tempered by later styles and character viewpoints. Thus, Bloom’s foreignness—a detriment in Episode Twelve—becomes an attractive asset for him in Episode Thirteen. Yet Episodes Twelve and Thirteen ultimately turn out to have straightforward affinities. Excess lacking substance seems common to both, from the hyperbolic lists of Episode Twelve to the lush expositions of Episode Thirteen. And both episodes seem to offer examples of categorical or stereotypical thinking. The citizen’s logic worked on the seemingly straightforward basis of race and religion. Gerty’s thoughts offer conventional ideas, while the narrative of Episode Thirteen invites us to evaluate Gerty as an entirely typical Irish girl.

Women in Episode Thirteen are defined, in part, by their perceptiveness about who is looking at them and when. Women become sexual beings through their ability to present themselves to be looked at, and Bloom’s erotic moments are voyeuristic. Stephen, in “Proteus,” experimented with closing his eyes and concentrating on his other senses. The second half of Episode Thirteen reflects a shift of emphasis from the eyes to the nose. Bloom’s thoughts hover around smells and smelling. The distinction between the emphasis on senses in the two beach episodes seems to lie in the import of Stephen’s and Bloom’s musings—Stephen seeks to understand how our senses order our relationship to the physical world, while Bloom’s thoughts dwell on sight and smelling as ordering relationships between people.

Like the other women whom Bloom has seen and fantasized about so far in Ulysses, Gerty eventually reminds Bloom of Molly, suggesting that Bloom’s desire for Molly is often refracted through another woman. It is in this episode that Bloom notices for the first time that his watch has stopped, apparently sometime between four and five o’clock—perhaps at the exact time of Boylan and Molly’s tryst. Yet our sympathy for Bloom’s sadness at this thought is tempered by the circumstances of the discovery—Bloom himself is conducting a tryst at this later hour, albeit an unconsummated one.