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Ulysses

James Joyce

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

1.

Describe Dublin as it appears in Ulysses. How does it figure into the novel?

In one sense, Dublin appears as a metropolis in Ulysses. It has the trappings of a large city—a public transportation system, a marketplace district, a harbor, several newspapers, a library, a museum, a court system, a university and so on. These elements all appear in Ulysses, and in episodes such as Episode Seven they serve to emphasize the institutional systems that play into Dubliners’ daily lives, instead of local or rural concerns. Joyce also emphasizes the feel of the urban space by carefully incorporating the geography of the city. The progress of the characters is relentlessly tracked by street and building names. This technique reaches its climax in Episode Ten, in which the progression of many characters in disparate parts of the city is briefly tracked. Episode Ten creates a sense of the large spatial area of Dublin and the bustle of modern life.

In another, sense, however, Dublin appears to be a small town, especially socially. As Bloom moves around the city all day, he constantly runs into friends and acquaintances, and his acquaintances all seem to know, or know of, each other. News and gossip travel quickly, by word of mouth rather than mechanical means. Politics and press seem to intersect with the personal sphere, for example, when Stephen uses his connections to get Mr. Deasy’s letter printed in the evening newspaper. Dublin appears to be not a modern, urban space of anonymity and isolation but a community run by personal interaction and influence.

2.

Describe how the narrative styles of the first six episodes of Ulysses differ from the rest of the novel. How does this effect how one interprets the text?

The first six episodes of Ulysses feature a third-person narrator, with dialogue and interior monologue interspersed. The narrative is realistic and straightforward, but is sometimes hard to distinguish from the interior monologues. The interior monologues attempt to realistically render bits of the stream-of-consciousness of the two main characters, Stephen and Bloom. The focus seems to be on developing and depicting the characteristics of each of these individuals through the ways in which their thoughts work. Thus, several episodes, such as Three and Five, consist mainly of Stephen’s or Bloom’s thoughts with very little dialogue or narrative. As the novel progresses, however, the narrative becomes increasingly ambiguous. Some of the later episodes feature first-person narrators with distinctive styles (as in Episode Twelve) or a self-conscious third-person narrative that gestures to the text as a text by referencing phrases from earlier episodes (as in Episode Eleven). Narrative devices, such as the genealogy of English literary style in Episode Fourteen, or the question-and-answer technique of Episode Seventeen can somewhat obscure what is “actually” happening with the plot. Consequently, our attention shifts from the characters and their individual trials and motivations to an interpretation of narrative style. We are forced to realize the extent to which style effects what can be narrated.

3.

Ulysses is a novel in which few women appear and even fewer speak. Consequently, much of the thinking about women comes from male viewpoints in the novel. How are Stephen’s and Bloom’s treatment of women different? How are they similar?

Stephen’s and Bloom’s different treatments and understandings of women seem to follow the basic differences in their ages and temperaments. Youthful Stephen does not seem to have much experience with women. We see Stephen interact only with the prostitutes at Bella Cohen’s brothel, and we hear of his past relations with the prostitute Georgina Johnson and, possibly, the “virgin” at Hodges Figgis’s bookstore whom he remembers in Episode Three. The mature Bloom, on the other hand, is at ease with women and converses with several in a friendly way in Ulysses. Bloom thinks of women in a physical way—he often perceives Molly in terms of how she feels or smells. Bloom is attentive to women’s appearances, and his sightings of women often spark sexual fantasies or physical reactions. Stephen, on the other hand, thinks of women more often in the course of his aesthetic or religious arguments than in sexual fantasies. The women of his arguments fit easily into “types” (Eve and Ann Hathaway as betrayers, for example) and are defined by those roles, rather than by their appearances.

The two men are similar in their sense of women being mysterious and powerful. Bloom’s idea of putting two women writing on a cart as an advertisement and Stephen’s story about the woman at the Queen’s hotel mysteriously writing words on paper (both in Episode Seventeen) both depend on an innate curiosity about what women hide. Stephen’s crediting of Ann Hathaway’s role in Shakespeare’s artistic life and Bloom’s understanding of the sacred nature of childbirth suggest that both men regard women as powerful, if in limited ways. Their parallel appreciations of women as mysterious and powerful are, in fact, not that surprising given that both men are “haunted” by women—Stephen by the ghost of his mother and Bloom by the idea of Molly’s infidelity. Finally, both men seem to consider women as subjects of art. In Episode Three, Stephen’s memory of the Hodges Figgis “virgin” and his view of a female cocklepicker on the beach combine to form the female subject of the poem he composes. Similarly, Bloom, at the end of Episode Four, considers writing a short story for Titbits based on Molly’s sayings.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. Often, the three protagonists of Ulysses are understood in terms of a spectrum, with Stephen and Molly on either end and Bloom’s personality combining elements of each. In what ways might Stephen and Molly be similar?

2. If Bloom and Stephen are the “heroes” of Ulysses, which characters are their “enemies” and why?

3. Discuss how teaching and learning figure into the novel. Can you pinpoint specific scenes that seem to be about teaching? Does Ulysses have an argument about how teaching and learning should work?

4. Can you make a case for Bloom as an artist?

5. How does the concept of home work in Ulysses? How do the main characters relate to their real and their ideal homes? Does “home” have a political import?

More Help

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No Fear

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.

2 Comments

11 out of 16 people found this helpful

No Fear and Video

by barty567, February 06, 2013

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!

0 Comments

1 out of 1 people found this helpful

perplexed

by Nordwall, September 22, 2014

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.

3 Comments

2 out of 2 people found this helpful

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