Episode Fifteen takes the form of a play script with stage directions and descriptions, with characters’ names appearing above their dialogue. The majority of the action of Episode Fifteen occurs only as drunken, subconscious, anxiety-ridden hallucinations.
Near the entrance to Nighttown, Dublin’s red-light district, Stephen and Lynch walk toward a familiar brothel. The focus switches to Bloom, nearby. Bloom has attempted to follow Stephen and Lynch to Nighttown, but he has lost them. He ducks into a pork butcher’s to buy a late-night snack. Bloom immediately feels guilty about the expense, and a hallucination begins in which Bloom’s parents, Molly, and Gerty MacDowell confront Bloom about various offenses. Next, Mrs. Breen appears—she and Bloom briefly renew their old flirtation.
In a dark corner, Bloom feeds his meat purchases to a hungry dog—this suspicious-looking act engenders another hallucination in which two nightwatchmen question Bloom, who responds guiltily. Soon, Bloom is on public trial, accused of being a cuckold, an anarchist, a forger, a bigamist, and a bawd. Witnesses such as Myles Crawford, Philip Beaufoy, and Paddy Dignam in dog form appear. Mary Driscoll, the former housemaid to the Blooms, testifies that Bloom once approached her for sex.
The nightmarish scene ends as Bloom is approached by prostitute Zoe Higgins. Zoe guesses that Bloom and Stephen, both in mourning, are together. She tells him Stephen is inside. Zoe playfully steals Bloom’s lucky potato from his pocket, then teases Bloom for lecturing her on the ills of smoking. Another fantasy ensues, in which Bloom’s smoking lecture escalates into a campaign speech. Soon Bloom, backed by Irish and Zionists, is coronated as leader of the new “Bloomusalem.” The nationalist hallucination turns sour when Bloom is accused of being a libertine—Buck Mulligan steps forward and testifies about Bloom’s sexual abnormalities, then pronounces Bloom a woman. Bloom gives birth to eight children.
The hallucination ends with the reappearance of Zoe. Only a second of “real time” has passed since she last spoke. Zoe leads Bloom inside Bella Cohen’s brothel, where Stephen and Lynch are socializing with prostitutes Kitty and Florry. Stephen is pontificating and playing the piano. Florry misunderstands Stephen and assumes he is making an apocalyptic prophecy. An apocalyptic hallucination, Stephen’s, ensues. Another hallucinatory sequence, Bloom’s, begins with the arrival of Lipoti Virag, Bloom’s grandfather, who lectures Bloom about sex.
When Bella Cohen herself enters the room, a long hallucination begins—Bella becomes “Bello,” proceeding to master and violate a feminized Bloom, while taunting him about past sins and Boylan’s virility. Bello suggests that Bloom’s household would be better served without him, and Bloom dies. The hallucination continues—perhaps in Bloom’s “afterlife”—with the pristine nymph (from the picture in the Blooms’ bedroom) humiliating Bloom for being a dirty mortal. The spell ends only when Bloom confronts the nymph with her own sexuality.
Bloom finds Bella Cohen standing before him—again, only seconds seem to have “really” passed since her entrance. Bloom gets his lucky potato back from Zoe. Bella demands payment from the men, and Stephen gives Bella more than enough money for all three of them. Bloom puts down some of his own money and returns Stephen’s overpayment to him, then takes control of all Stephen’s money for the evening, since Stephen is drunk.
Zoe reads Bloom’s palm and pronounces him a “henpecked husband.” Another hallucination ensues, involving Bloom watching Boy-lan and Molly have sex. Talk turns to Stephen’s Parisian adventures and Stephen colorfully describes his escape from his enemies and his father.
Zoe starts the pianola, and everyone except Bloom dances. Stephen spins faster and faster, nearly falling. The rotting ghost of his mother rises up from the floor. Stephen is horrified and remorseful—he asks for confirmation that he did not cause her death. The ghost is noncommittal in response, speaking of God’s mercy and wrath. The others notice Stephen looks petrified, and Bloom opens a window. Stephen defiantly tries to dispel the ghost and his own remorse, proclaiming that he will stand alone against those who try to break his spirit. Stephen crashes his walking stick into the chandelier. Bella calls for the police, and Stephen runs out the door. Bloom quickly settles with Bella, then runs after Stephen.
Bloom catches up with Stephen, who is surrounded by a crowd and is haranguing British Army Private Carr about unwanted British military presence in Ireland. Stephen announces his own personal intent to mentally subvert both priest and king. Bloom tries to intervene. Carr, feeling his king has been insulted, threatens to punch Stephen. Edward VII, the citizen, the Croppy Boy, and “Old Gummy Granny,” the personification of Ireland, appear to encourage the fight, though Stephen remains distasteful of violence.
Lynch impatiently leaves. Stephen calls Lynch “Judas,” the betrayer. Carr knocks Stephen out. The police arrive. Bloom spots Corny Kelleher, who is close with policemen, and enlists his help with Simon’s son. Kelleher satisfies the police and leaves. Alone in the street, Bloom bends over the barely conscious Stephen, as an apparition of Rudy, Bloom’s son, appears.
Not much “really” happens in Episode Fifteen, though it is the longest. The bulk of the episode consists of hallucinations that actually take place in the real-time span of a second or two. In the first half of the episode, we can distinguish the lengthy hallucinations as emerging from either Stephen’s or Bloom’s subconscious. Thus Bloom’s hallucinations are either persecutory in tone, focusing on sexual guilt, or involve an element of wish-fulfillment, as with the appearance of Josie Breen.
Stephen’s hallucinations seem to emerge out of elements of his day, such as the interview with Deasy, and involve Stephen’s privately torturous interactions with authority, specifically with ideas about God. Yet the distinctions between Stephen’s and Bloom’s hallucinations are not sustainable. Stephen’s hallucinations involve elements of Bloom’s day that Stephen could not know about and vice-versa. Eventually, the apparitions begin to reference earlier scenes and words unseen and unheard by both Stephen and Bloom. It is perhaps more accurate to view the hallucinations of “Circe” as emanating not out of the subconscious of individual characters but out of the subconscious of the novel itself.
Episode Fifteen serves to bring Stephen and Bloom closer together. Bloom has followed Stephen to Nighttown with the intention of somehow protecting him—in the more action-packed second half of Episode Fifteen, Bloom begins to fulfill this intent. Bloom overcomes the paralyzing nature of his own sexual guilt and anxiety about Boylan’s sexual prowess to take control of several situations—the payment for the prostitutes, Stephen’s money, the dispute with Bella over the broken chandelier, and the attempt to save Stephen from the Carr altercation and suspicious police. Comparatively, Stephen, in the latter half of “Circe,” seems drunkenly unaware and emotionally overcome by his hallucinations. (Importantly, Stephen’s vision of his dead mother seems to be the only true apparition of “Circe.” Thus Stephen responds with real emotion, while Bloom, who has experienced equal trauma, has not reacted as though these things actually happened.)
In the final scenes, Stephen attempts to become intellectually and artistically independent through his rejection of “priest and king” and Ireland (Old Gummy Granny). Yet he is mainly depicted as having been abandoned: by his mother, by his father, by Buck and Haines (who have taken Stephen’s key and ditched him), and by Lynch (“Judas”). When Stephen is left knocked unconscious at the end of the episode, with his belongings scattered around him, it is Bloom who is there to act as symbolic father and pragmatic caretaker. This preliminary culmination of the father-son union has the tone not of a cosmic convergence but a wish-fulfillment for Bloom, a fact underscored by Bloom’s final hallucination of his dead son, Rudy.
This book needs a No Fear for it! But if there were a No Fear made, it should be made in a different way from the others; some lines just need to be put into context. For example, I can't tell if one character is thinking or talking.
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