Leopold Bloom fixes breakfast for his wife, Molly, and feeds his cat. Bending down with his hands on his knees, he wonders what he looks like to the cat and how her whiskers work as she laps milk. Bloom considers what he will get from the butcher for his own breakfast. He creeps upstairs to ask Molly if she would like anything from outside. Molly mumbles no and the bed jingles under her. Bloom thinks about the bed, which Molly brought with her from Gibraltar, where she was raised by her father, Major Tweedy.
Bloom checks on a slip of paper in his hat and his lucky potato, and he makes a note to retrieve his house keys from upstairs before he leaves for the day. Bloom walks outside and anticipates being warm in the black clothes he will wear for Paddy Dignam’s funeral today. He imagines walking a path around the middle part of the globe in front of the sun’s path to remain the same age and he pictures the Eastern landscapes. But no, he reasons, his mental images are fictional material, not accurate. Bloom passes Larry O’Rourke’s pub and wonders if he should stop and mention Dignam’s funeral, but he simply wishes O’Rourke a good day instead. Blooms tries to figure how all the small-time pub owners like O’Rourke make money, given how many pubs there are in Dublin. Bloom passes a school and listens to the students recite their alphabet and Irish place names. Bloom imagines his own Irish place name, “Slieve Bloom.”
Bloom arrives at Dlugacz’s, the butcher shop. He sees one kidney left and hopes the woman in front of him does not buy it. Bloom picks up a sheet of the wrapping newspaper and reads the ads. The woman pays for her order, and Bloom points to the kidney, hoping to fill his order quickly so that he can follow her home and watch her hips move. Too late to catch her, he continues reading his sheet of newspaper on the way home. It advertises fruit plantations for speculation in Palestine and Bloom thinks of fruits from the Mediterranean and Middle East. Bloom passes a man he knows who does not see him.
As a cloud passes over the sun, Bloom’s thoughts turn sour with a more barren vision of the Middle East and the tragedy of the Jewish race. Bloom vows to improve his mood by beginning his morning exercises again, then turns his attention to an unrented piece of real estate on his street and finally to Molly. The sun comes back out and a blond girl runs past Bloom.
Bloom finds two letters and a card in the hall. Bloom senses that the one for Molly is from Blazes Boylan, Molly’s associate and possible lover. Entering the bedroom, he gives Molly the letter and a card from their daughter Milly in Mullingar. Molly puts Boylan’s letter under her pillow and reads Milly’s card. Bloom goes downstairs to prepare the tea and kidney. He skims his own letter from Milly.
Bloom brings Molly her breakfast in bed. Bloom asks her about her letter, and she explains that Boylan is bringing over the concert program this afternoon. Molly will sing “Là ci darem” and “Love’s Old Sweet Song.” Molly directs Bloom to bring her a book. While he retrieves the book, Bloom rehearses lines from “Là ci darem” in his head, wondering if Molly will pronounce them correctly. Molly takes the book, a racy novel entitled Ruby: the Pride of the Ring, and finds the word she wanted to ask Bloom about—“metempsychosis.” Bloom rehearses the etymology, but Molly asks for the meaning in plain terms. Bloom explains reincarnation. Spotting a painting of a nymph over their bed, he gives her the example of nymphs returning in another form, such as a tree. Molly asks for another book by Paul de Kock.
Molly smells Bloom’s kidney burning and he runs downstairs to save it. Bloom sits down to eat and rereads Milly’s letter. She thanks him for her birthday present and mentions a boyfriend, Bannon. Bloom thinks of Milly’s childhood and of his son Rudy, who died several days after birth. He thinks about Milly becoming a woman and being aware of her own attractiveness. Since Milly has mentioned Boylan in her letter, he thinks of Blazes Boylan’s confidence and feels helpless and regretful. He thinks of visiting Milly.
Bloom fetches a copy of the magazine Titbits and heads toward the outhouse to relieve himself. Bloom thinks of plans for his garden. On the toilet, Bloom reads the story Matcham’s Masterstroke by Philip Beaufoy. Satisfied with the regularity of his bowel movement, he finishes the story and thinks he could write a story and be paid for it. He could write about a proverb or about Molly’s chatter. Bloom wipes himself with part of the story. He reminds himself to check the funeral time in the paper. Hearing the church bells, he thinks with pity about Dignam.
Episodes One, Two, and Three constituted a prologue centering on Stephen as a Telemachus figure. With Episode Four, the morning begins again—it is 8:00 A.M., and this chapter takes place simultaneously to Episode One as we begin the adventures of “Odysseus,” Leopold Bloom. Joyce subtly emphasizes this simultaneity by having both Stephen and Bloom notice the same cloud move briefly over the sun. Thematic correspondences also emphasize the simultaneity: both Stephen and Bloom prepare breakfast for others; both are dressed in mourning; both are dispossessed of their homes (Buck takes charge of the tower, Molly and Boylan will take over the Bloom house); both leave without their house keys.
Aside from these thematic correspondences, Episode Four also serves to set up differences between Bloom and Stephen. Whereas Stephen resentfully helped serve breakfast to Haines in Episode One, Bloom solicitously prepares his wife’s and his cat’s breakfasts before his own. The movements of Bloom’s body are foregrounded while Stephen’s body was virtually absent from Episode One’s narrative. Finally, Stephen’s last word in Episode One—“Usurper”—was theatrically bitter, while Bloom’s last line in Episode Four—“Poor Dignam!”—is sympathetic and mundane.
The character differences between Bloom and Stephen are most clearly evident in their respective thought processes. As we see in Episode Three, a concrete thing turns into an abstract thought in Stephen’s consciousness, and these abstractions often lead back to Stephen himself. Bloom, however, perceives details by putting them in a larger context outside himself. Thus when Bloom walks past Larry O’Rourke’s pub, the establishment spurs thoughts of comparative establishments and of the larger trend of small-time pubowners in Dublin. Whereas Stephen’s trains of thought take him further and further from reality, Bloom checks himself when his imaginings become unrealistic, as with his colorful mental image of walking around the globe. When the cloud passes over the sun in Episode One, Stephen quickly descends into depressive thoughts and is only (partly) revived by the intervention of Buck. Bloom’s thoughts also turn depressingly to death when the same cloud passes over the sun on his way back from the butcher’s, yet Bloom pragmatically and deliberately revives his optimism. Finally, whereas Stephen’s thought processes focus on philosophical or aesthetic problems and terms, Bloom’s mind is practically curious and he answers his questions with practical experience and science.
Bloom begins his daily wanderings with his trip to the butcher’s. Bloom’s wandering sets him in relation to both Odysseus and the tropic figure of the Wandering Jew. Bloom’s attitude toward Judaism, however, is presented as ambivalent at best. He shows practical and romantic interest in the movement for a Jewish homeland and in the newspaper ads for start-up plantations in Palestine. Yet he purposely does not return a glance of implied solidarity from the Jewish butcher and he does not follow Jewish dietary restrictions. The nature of Bloom’s Judaism is not fully revealed in Ulysses—instead, Joyce shows that judgments about Bloom’s Judaism reveal more about the other characters than they reveal about Bloom himself. Bloom is also clearly aligned with Irish identity through various details in Episode Four, such as his Irish-language personal place name, “Slieve Bloom,” and his potato talisman.
Bloom is somewhat feminized in Episode Four through the reversal of household roles—Molly remains in bed and orders Bloom to get her breakfast, tea, and a novel. He suspects at some level that his wife—a concert soprano—is, or will be, conducting an affair with her concert manager, Hugh “Blazes” Boylan. But Bloom’s thoughts reflect his feeling of powerlessness to stop his afternoon visit, and in a larger sense to stop the infidelity of his wife or the impending sexual activity of his fifteen-year-old daughter, Milly. As Odysseus was helplessly enthralled to Calypso in The Odyssey, so is Bloom presented in “Calypso” as paralyzed and enamored by Molly. Thus we see Joyce using the Homeric parallels to produce irony—Molly here is the enchanting Calypso and later the dutiful Penelope. Similarly, Bloom is Odysseus, yet we discover in Episode Four that his only son, Rudy, died soon after birth.
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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I think Ulysses, and all Joyce (except Finnegan's Wake) should have a No Fear and a summary video. These classics are often overlooked by kids my age, and they should be read!
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I'm about half way through Ulysses and I'm beginning to realize that his scenarios and conversations will never become any clearer than they are now. I rarely quit a thing once I've started, but it's very frustrating. To those of you who have read it in full....do you understand who's talking, where they are, who's good/bad.....nothing is clear to me. I just keep reading words......I'm not sure why.