Episode Two: “Nestor”
Amor matris: subjective and objective genitive.
Stephen is teaching a history class on Pyrrhus’s victory—the class is not very disciplined. He drills the students, and a boy named Armstrong phonetically guesses that Pyrrhus was “a pier.” Stephen indulges him and expands on Armstrong’s answer, calling a pier “a disappointed bridge.” He imagines himself subserviently dropping this witticism later for Haines’s amusement. Thinking of Phyrrus’s and Caesar’s murders, Stephen wonders about the philosophical inevitability of certain historical events—is history the fulfillment of the only possible course of events, or one of many?
Stephen takes the class through Milton’s Lycidas as he continues to ponder his own questions about history, questions he thought about while reading Aristotle in a Paris library. An image from Milton’s poem makes Stephen think of God’s effect on all men. Stephen thinks of the lines of a common riddle then decides to tell the students his own riddle as they gather their things and prepare to leave to play field hockey. Stephen alone laughs at his impenetrable riddle about a fox burying his grandmother under a bush.
The students leave, except for Sargent, who needs help with his arithmatic. Stephen looks at the ugly Sargent and imagines Sargent’s mother’s love for him. Stephen shows Sargent the sums, thinking briefly of Buck’s joke that Stephen’s Hamlet theory is proven by algebra. Thinking again of amor matris, or mother’s love, Stephen is reminded of himself as a child, clumsy like Sargent. Sargent heads outside to join the hockey game. Stephen walks outside, then goes to wait in Deasy’s office while Deasy, the schoolmaster, settles a hockey dispute.
Mr. Deasy pays Stephen his wages and shows off his savings box. Deasy lectures Stephen on the satisfaction of money earned and the importance of keeping money carefully and of saving it. Deasy remarks that an Englishman’s greatest pride is the ability to claim he has paid his own way and owes nothing. Stephen mentally tallies up his own abundant debts.
Deasy imagines that Stephen, whom he assumes is Fenian, or an Irish Catholic nationalist, disrespects Deasy as a Tory—a Protestant loyal to the English. Deasy argues his Irish credentials—he has witnessed much Irish history. Deasy then asks Stephen to use his influence to get a letter of Deasy’s printed in the newspaper. While he finishes typing it, Stephen looks around his office at the portraits of racehorses and remembers a trip to the racetrack with his old friend Cranly.
Stephen hears shouts welcoming a goal scored on the hockey field. Deasy hands Stephen his completed letter and Stephen skims it. The letter warns of the dangers of foot-and-mouth cattle disease and suggests that it can be cured. It seems that Deasy resents the influence of those people who currently have power over the situation. He also seems to blame Jews for similar corruption and destruction of national economies. Stephen argues that greedy merchants can be Jewish or gentile, but Deasy insists that the Jews have sinned against “the light.”
Stephen remembers the Jewish merchants standing outside the Paris stock exchange. Stephen again challenges Deasy, asking who has not sinned against the light. Stephen rejects Deasy’s rendering of the past, and states, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” Ironically, a goal is scored outside in the hockey game as Deasy speaks of history as the movement toward the “goal” of God’s manifestation. Stephen counters that God is no more than “a shout in the street.” Deasy argues first that all have sinned, then blames woman for bringing sin into the world. He lists women of history who have caused destruction.
Deasy predicts that Stephen will not remain at the school long, because he is not a born teacher. Stephen suggests that he may be a learner rather than a teacher. Stephen signals the end of the discussion by returning to the subject of Deasy’s letter. Stephen will try to get it published in two newspapers. Stephen walks out of the school, pondering his own subservience to Deasy. Deasy runs after him to make one last jab against the Jews—Ireland has never persecuted the Jews because they were never let in to the country.
History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.
Episode Two, “Nestor,” takes place at the boys school where Stephen teaches. It is a half-day for the students and Stephen will leave for the day after he teaches his class and is paid by Mr. Deasy. The episode focuses on teaching and learning. We see Stephen positioned first as a teacher and then as a student in his conversation with Mr. Deasy. The subject of both educational scenes is history, and history as linked to memory. Stephen’s history lesson for his class relies on their memory of learned historical facts. Mr. Deasy’s impromptu history lesson for Stephen is anchored by Deasy’s own personal memories of historical events. Stephen himself resists the linking of history with memory. For Deasy to define history in terms of his personal recollections affords him too much control over the reconstruction of it (thus do Haines and Deasy use history to absolve themselves of responsibility). For Stephen, history is something that he cannot control: “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” Stephen’s statement refers both to his grappling with the circumstances of his own past, and to the philosophical problem of how history should be used to understand present circumstances.
Part of Stephen’s personal history that has nightmarishly, though subtly, plagued him through this episode and the first is his mother’s death. Stephen’s unsolvable riddle about the fox burying his grandmother suggests this personal pain. As he tutors Sargent, Stephen’s ruminations about a mother’s love and love for one’s mother also evoke her absence and stand in contrast to Deasy’s later misogyny. Stephen’s imagination of a mother’s love creates a moment of compassion and allows for an effective teaching between Stephen and Sargent. Otherwise, Stephen’s interactions with his students have been distracted and cryptic. Stephen himself credits Deasy with accuracy when Deasy intuits later in the chapter that Stephen was not born to be a teacher.
On the whole, Deasy seems pompous and self-righteous. We are prepared for the didactic nature of Deasy’s conversation with Stephen by our first glimpse of Deasy on the hockey field, yelling at the students without listening to them. Deasy is unperceptive—mistakenly assuming that Stephen is Fenian, he launches into a history lecture. The purpose of this lecture is less to teach than to assert authority, an authority that is undermined by several factual errors that Deasy makes. Like Haines, Deasy (a Unionist from the north) is pro-British as well as anti-Semitic. Just as Haines used history to clear himself of blame in Episode One (“It seems history is to blame”), so Deasy uses history to blame others, notably Jews and women.
This prelude of anti-Semitism will be evoked later in the day, as Jewish Leopold Bloom faces similar bigotry. Deasy’s anti-Semitism rests on his sense that the mercantile Jews have brought decay to England. According to Deasy, the Jews have sinned against “the light,” the light being those Christians who understand history as moving toward one goal—the manifestation of God’s plan. But the presentation of Deasy’s character undermines his own convictions. Instead of Christianity and light, Deasy himself deals in coins and material goods. His moralistic color scheme, in which good Christians are light and dangerous Jews are dark, is not to be the color scheme of Ulysses, in which the two heroes, Stephen and Bloom, are dressed in black, and the dangerous characters, such as Buck Mulligan, are associated with brightness.
Notably, Stephen challenges only Deasy’s anti-Semitism during the conversation, and not any other of Deasy’s ill-considered comments. Stephen’s overall passivity and politeness toward Deasy seem to have more to do with his unwillingness to participate in a political argument on Deasy’s terms. Stephen’s bohemian-intellectual comment that God is “a shout in the street” is a clear departure from the terms of Deasy’s argument, and it confuses him. Deasy is aggressive and likens their conversation to armed confrontation—breaking lances. Stephen dislikes violence. The subject of his morning history lesson, Pyrrhus, is notable for winning a battle, yet reckoning the cost of the violence too great. During his conversation with Deasy, Stephen is rattled by the noises from the hockey field outside. He envisions the field hockey match as a joust and imagines the boys’ moving bodies as sounds and gestures of bloody battle. Rather than remaining in this atmosphere, prey to Deasy’s aggressive comments, Stephen politely signals the end of the conversation by rustling the sheets of Deasy’s letter. When Deasy runs after Stephen in the driveway to report an anti-Semitic joke, Stephen’s non-participation is palpable. His thoughts are silent; his mind has moved on.
by mdd07c, September 16, 2012
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.
10 out of 11 people found this helpful2