Bloom walks a roundabout route toward the downtown post office, thinking about the people he passes and about the funeral he will attend at 11:00 A.M. While reading packet labels in the window of the Belfast and Oriental Tea Company, Bloom takes out the postal card for his pseudo-nym, Henry Flower. Inspired by the tea labels, Bloom imagines the heady atmosphere of the East. He surreptitiously walks into the post office and picks up a typed letter addressed to his pseudonym.
Outside the post office, Bloom opens his letter, but before he can read it, he is accosted by McCoy. Bloom makes small talk with McCoy while he tries to determine what is pinned to the letter, now in his pocket. While Bloom watches a sexy, upper-class woman across the street, McCoy makes small talk about Paddy Dignam’s death, which he heard about from Bantam Lyons. Bloom anticipates seeing the woman’s leg as she steps into her cab, but a tram blocks his view. Still chatting with McCoy, Bloom opens his newspaper and reads an ad: “What is a home without / Plumtree’s Potted Meat? / Incomplete. / With it an abode of bliss.” McCoy and Bloom speak about Molly’s upcoming concert tour (McCoy’s wife is an aspiring singer). Bloom thinks of Boylan’s letter this morning and skirts the topic of Boylan’s management of Molly’s tour. Taking leave of Bloom, McCoy asks him to put McCoy’s name down in the Dignam’s funeral register. As McCoy leaves, Bloom thinks of the inferior singing ability of McCoy’s wife.
Bloom sees an advertisement for the play Leah. Bloom remembers the story line, which involves the blind, dying Abraham recognizing the voice of his long-lost son, Nathan. This reminds Bloom of his own father’s death. Bloom finally pulls out his letter—it has a flower inside. The letter is from his erotic penpal, Martha Clifford. In it, she asks to meet her correspondent in person, calls him “naughty” for using a certain word in his last letter, and, finally, asks him what kind of perfume his wife uses. Bloom puts the letter back in his pocket. He will never agree to meet her, but he will push further with the wording of his next letter. Bloom pulls the flower pin out of the enclosed flower and contemplates the many pins of women’s clothes. A song comes to mind: “O, Mairy lost the pin of her drawers. . . .” He thinks of the names Martha and Mary, and of a painting of the biblical Martha and Mary.
Under a railway arch, Bloom tears up the envelope from Martha. Bloom steps into the backdoor of a church, reads the missionary notice, and ponders tactics for bringing religion to natives. Inside the church, a ceremony is in progress. Bloom considers that churches provide opportunities for sitting close to attractive women. He thinks of the power of Latin to stupefy. Sitting down in a pew, Bloom ponders the communal feeling that must come from taking communion.
He thinks about Martha acting indignantly respectable one minute about his diction, but asking to meet with him (a married man) the next minute. This discrepancy reminds Bloom of the turncoat Carey, who had a respectable, religious life, but was also involved with the “Invincibles” who committed the Phoenix Park murders. Bloom watches the priest rinse out the wine chalice and wonders why they do not use Guinness or another beverage. Looking at the choir loft, Bloom thinks of Molly’s performance of the Stabat Mater. As the priest finishes the ceremony, Bloom admires the effectiveness of the institution of confession and the idea of reform. The mass ended, Bloom gets up to leave before donations are requested. Bloom checks the time and heads toward Sweny’s to order Molly’s lotion, though he has left the recipe (along with his key) at home in his regular trousers.
At the chemist’s, Bloom thinks of alchemy and sedatives. While the chemist searches for the lotion recipe, Bloom thinks of Molly’s lovely skin and wonders if he has time for a bath. Bloom takes a lemon soap from the chemist and plans to return later to pick up the lotion and pay for both. As he leaves the shop, Bloom runs into Bantam Lyons. Lyons asks to see Bloom’s newspaper so he can check on a horse race. Bloom tells Lyons he can keep the paper since Bloom was only going to throw it away. Lyons, mistaking Bloom’s statement for a tip on a racehorse, hands the paper back to Bloom, thanks him and rushes off. Bloom thinks disgustedly about betting fever and begins to walk toward the public baths. He critiques an ineffective advertisement for college sports. He greets Hornblower, the porter, and thinks ahead to the moment when his body will be naked and reclined in a tub, his penis limp and floating like a flower.
Episode Five, “The Lotus Eaters,” is the first episode in which the thematic parallel to Homer begins to dominate the text. In The Odyssey, Odysseus’s men eat the flower of the Lotus Eaters and become drowsily complacent, forgetting about their quest to return home. In Episode Five, it is mid-morning and Bloom’s thoughts are lazy as he digests his breakfast and kills time before Paddy Dignam’s funeral at 11:00. Bloom’s attention wanders, yet the motif tying together many of his sentiments and observations is intoxication or drugged escapism. We are prepared for the motif from the opening page of the episode—Bloom imagines the Far East as a lazily intoxicating place. This motif then extends to other scenarios: Bloom notices the stupefied, effete horses drawing a tram; he thinks of the calming narcotic effect of smoking. Bloom spends a large section of the episode considering the stupefying power of religious ceremony—he assumes that religious missionaries have to compete with a lazy, narcotic lifestyle to win over a native population, and he appreciates the stupefying effect of Latin. The motif of intoxicated escapism sets the appropriate mood for an episode in which not much happens, and Bloom is largely alone. The motif also points to Bloom’s efforts to escape his own thoughts about Molly’s impending infidelity.
Indeed, the motif of lazy intoxication leads to a set of related motifs, most of which point implicitly back to Molly. Bloom associates exotic narcotics with the East, and his imaginations of the East, in turn, relate to Molly. We learned in Episode Four that Molly grew up in Gibraltar, where her father, Major Tweedy, was stationed. In Bloom’s mind, Molly’s childhood in Gibraltar links up with thoughts about Turkey and the Crimean War, with thoughts about model farms and land schemes in Palestine, and, here in Episode Five, with imaginings of the lands and people even farther east in Ceylon or China. Because Bloom’s varied mental pictures of the East connect with his sense of Molly’s exoticism and eroticism, Molly remains present even in an episode devoted to Bloom’s erotic correspondence with another woman—Martha Clifford.
Bloom’s covert correspondence with Martha Clifford offers us another perspective on the Blooms’ marriage. Instead of Molly being the adulterous one and Bloom the adoring husband, we begin to consider Bloom’s own part in the lapse of their relations. Yet Bloom seems more temporarily amused by Martha’s letter (spelling errors and all) than committed to having an affair with her. Our new perspective of Bloom in this episode also offers us glimpses of his more perverse tendencies: a desire to be punished, a fetish for women’s underclothing, his fantasies about meeting a woman during or after church.
The scenario of the Martha-Bloom correspondence offers another motif related to the drugged escapism of the Lotus flower eaters—the motif of flowers themselves. Bloom chooses the pseudonym “Henry Flower” (a kind of synonym for “Bloom”). Martha encloses a yellow flower in her letter to Bloom. Yet even this motif leads back to Molly. Martha’s flower has no scent, and the final question of her letter is about his wife’s perfume. Accordingly, Bloom’s imagination of a tryst with Martha segues through a dream of two biblical doting women, Mary and Martha, thus leading back to Molly, whose Christian name is Marion (Mary).
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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