Episode Eight: “Lestrygonians”
Bloom walks past a candy store. A man hands Bloom a throw-away flyer, advertising a visiting American evangelist. Bloom at first thinks his own name is on the flyer but then realizes it reads, “Blood of the Lamb.”
Bloom passes Dilly Dedalus. Bloom pities the now motherless Dedaluses. Dilly looks thin, and Bloom thinks about the inhumanity of the Catholic Church, which forces parents to have more children than they can feed. Bloom walks over O’Connell bridge and tosses the throw-away over the side. He buys two Banbury cakes to feed the seagulls. He notices an advertisement on a rowboat in the harbor. He thinks about other effective places for ads, like placing a doctor’s flyer about sexully transmitted diseases in a bathroom. Bloom suddenly wonders if Boylan has an STD.
Bloom thinks of an astronomy concept that he never fully understood—“parallax.” Bloom remembers this morning’s “metempsychosis” conversation. A line of men wearing advertising sandwich boards for Wisdom Hely’s walk by. When Bloom worked at Hely’s, his employers rejected his advertising idea of having women inside a transparent cart writing on Hely’s stationary. Bloom tries to remember where he and Molly were living at that time.
Bloom runs into Josie Breen, whom he once courted. She is now married to Denis Breen, who is mentally off-balance. Mr. Breen received an anonymous postcard this morning, which cryptically read, “u.p.: up.” Today, he is trying to take legal action against the joke. Bloom inquires after a mutual friend, Mina Purefoy, who has been in labor at the maternity hospital for three days. As Bloom and Mrs. Breen talk, another Dublin crazy man sashays by—Cashel Boyle O’Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell.
Bloom continues on, past the Irish Times office—he remembers the newspaper ad he ran for a lady typist that attracted Martha. He had another application—Lizzie Twigg—but she offered A.E. as a reference and thus seemed too literary, possibly ugly. His thoughts switch to Mina Purefoy and her perpetual pregnancies.
Passing a group of policemen, Bloom remembers watching a mounted policemen chase down a group of medical students who were shouting anti-British sentiments. Bloom guesses those medical students are probably now part of the institutions they were criticizing. He thinks about other turncoats—Carey of the Invincibles and house servants who inform on their employers.
A cloud blocks the sun, and Bloom thinks gloomily that the cycles of life—Dignam’s death, Mrs. Purefoy’s birthing—are meaningless. A.E. and a young, sloppily dressed woman, possibly Lizzie Twigg herself, pass Bloom.
Passing an optician’s shop, Bloom thinks again about parallax and eclipses. He experimentally holds up his little finger to blot out the sun. He remembers the night that he and Molly walked with Boylan under the moon—he wonders if Molly and Boylan were touching. Bloom passes Bob Doran, clearly on his annual drinking bender. Bloom thinks about how men rely on alcohol for social interaction.
Overwhelmed by hunger, Bloom enters the Burton restaurant. Bloom is immediately disgusted by the spectacle of many ill-mannered men eating. He leaves and heads toward Davy Byrne’s for a light snack instead.
Bloom enters Davy Byrne’s, and Nosey Flynn greets him from the corner. Flynn asks about Molly and her upcoming singing tour. Flynn mentions Boylan, and Bloom is unpleasantly reminded of Boylan’s impending visit to Molly. Flynn discusses the Gold Cup horserace. Bloom eats and is silently critical of Flynn.
Bloom looks above the bar at the tins of food. He ruminates about food: odd types, poisonous berries, aphrodisiacs, quirky personal favorites. Bloom notices two flies stuck on the window pane. He warmly remembers an intimate moment with Molly on the hill on Howth: as Bloom lay on top of her, Molly fed him seedcake out of her mouth, and they made love. Looking back at the flies, Bloom thinks sadly of the disparity between himself then and now.
Staring at the pleasing wood bar, Bloom contemplates beauty. He equates beauty with untouchable goddesses, such as the statues in the National Museum. He wonders if there’s anything under the statues’ robes and vows to sneak a look later today. Bloom finishes his wine and heads to the outhouse.
Davy Byrne is curious about Bloom. Flynn begins gossiping: he reports on Bloom’s career, his participation in the Freemasons, how rarely he is drunk, and his refusal to sign his name to any contracts. Paddy Leonard, Bantam Lyons, and Tom Rochford enter and order drinks. They discuss Lyons’s Gold Cup race bet. Bloom walks back through the bar and out. Lyons whispers that Bloom gave him the tip.
Out on the street, Bloom remembers to head toward the National Library to look up the Keyes ad. Bloom escorts a blind man across an intersection. Bloom thinks of how the other senses of blind people are heightened, like touch. He wonders what it would be like to be blind.
Bloom suddenly spots Boylan across the street. Panicked, he ducks into the gates of the National Museum.
Bloom is primarily alone in Episode Eight, “Lestrygonians.” He does not have any errands to run yet; he is merely strolling the city street and looking for lunch. In Episode Four, we were first introduced to Bloom as a preparer and eater of food, and, most notably in the opening lines, a meat lover. Yet, now, outside his own home, the prospect of getting and eating food is more overwhelming and problematic. Episode Eight corresponds to Odysseus’s visit to the island of cannibals in the Odyssey. Under this thematic menace, the meat-loving Bloom opts not to eat at the Burton, where men shove meat into their mouths, and heads instead to Davy Byrne’s for a vegetarian lunch.
The episode opens outside a candy shop, and food pervades Bloom’s thoughts and serves as a tie-in with many other disparate topics. Thoughts of food connect with thoughts of pregnant women, from Molly’s hunger for certain foods while pregnant to Mina Purefoy, currently in labor with many other mouths to feed at home. Food connects with sex, in Bloom’s memory of making love with Molly years ago on a hill as she fed him a seedcake out of her mouth, and in his thoughts of aphrodisiacal food. Food connects with politics as Bloom thinks of the lavish dinners used to make political converts and of the horror of eating in a communal society. Food connects with creativity as Bloom wonders if what A.E. and other poets eat effects their poetry. Finally, food ties into Bloom’s conception of types of “home.” Bloom repeats to himself the Plumtree’s ad he saw this morning in Episode Six (“What is a home without Plumtree’s potted meat? Incomplete. With it an abode of bliss.”), thus connecting this sinister-sounding meat product with marital bliss.
Finally, food connects with religious sacrifice. Religious sacrifice is connected to Bloom being cast as a Christ figure in the first lines of the episode, in which Bloom mistakenly reads his own name in the words blood of the lamb on an evangelist throwaway. Through a chain of further associations, Bloom is presented as a Christ-like martyr. His humanitarian acts that frame Episode Eight reinforce this alignment—Bloom produces Banbury cakes to feed thankless seagulls, and he helps a blind man across an intersection. If Bloom is set up as the sacrifice in this cannibalistic chapter, we might say that he is sacrificed to other Dublin men. Beyond the menacing eaters of the Burton, the men at Davy Byrne’s—first Nosey Flynn, then Bantam Lyons and company—exercise power over Bloom. Their gossipy dialogue eats up the narrative of Bloom’s inner consciousness as he goes to the outhouse. Instead of following Bloom’s thoughts, we are suddenly presented with others’ thoughts about Bloom, many of which are fallacious.
Episode Eight contains Bloom’s thoughts of the word parallax. Bloom has problems understanding this word, as Molly had problems with metempsychosis this morning. Parallax is an astronomical term that roughly refers to the way in which an object seems to be positioned differently when viewed from a different vantage point. Though Bloom does not quite understand this concept, it will continue to appear, and it offers a key to one of the ways in which Ulysses works. As the novel continues, our thoughts and opinions about events and people will become continually revised as we hear about the same events and people from a different character—thus Ulysses features three main characters instead of only one.
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.
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