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Over the course of the novel, we get a very clear picture
of Bloom and Stephen because we witness their interactions with
many different people and see what they are thinking throughout
all of these interactions. For most of the novel we only see Molly
Bloom through other people’s eyes, so it may be tempting to dismiss
her as a self-centered, unfaithful woman. The way we decide to view
her will require us to reevaluate the understanding we have thus
far formed of Leopold Bloom. If we focus on the “vulgarity” and
physicality of her monologue, our built-up sympathies with Bloom
as the well-meaning husband of a loose woman are ratified. But a
more nuanced understanding of her involves seeing her as an outgoing woman
who takes a certain pride in her husband, but who has been feeling
a lack of demonstrative love. This idea yields a reevaluation of
Bloom as being unfaithful in his own ways and complicit in the temporary
breakdown of their marriage.
Like Bloom, Molly is a Dublin outsider. She was raised
in the military atmosphere of Gibraltar by her father, Major Brian
Tweedy. Molly never knew her mother, who was possibly Jewish, or
just Jewish-lo-oking. Bloom associates Molly with the “hot-blooded”
Mediterranean regions, and, to a lesser degree, the exoticism of
the East. Yet Molly considers her own childhood to have been normal,
outside the dramatic entrances and exits of young, good-looking
soldiers going off to war. Molly seems to organize her life around
men and to have very few female friends. She enjoys being looked
at and gains self-esteem from the admiration of men. Molly is extremely self-aware
and perceptive—she knows without looking when she is being looked
at. A man’s admiration of her does not cloud her own negative judgments
about him. She is frank about topics that other people are likely
to sentimentalize—intimacy, mourning, and motherhood, for example.
She is also frank about the extent to which living involves adaptations
of different roles. Her sense of this truth—which is perhaps related
to her own career as a stage singer—aligns her with Stephen, who
is also conscious of his outward existence in terms of a series
of roles. Molly and Stephen both share a capacity for storytelling,
scene-setting, and mimicry. Molly’s storytelling and frankness about
role-playing evinces her sense of humor, and it also mediates our
sense of her as a hypocritical character. Finally, it is this pragmatic
and fluid adoption of roles that enables Molly to reconnect with
Bloom through vivid recollections, and, indeed, reenactments, of
the past, as in her final memory of the Howth scene at the end of Ulysses.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Ulysses!