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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary
devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
The traditional associations of light with good and dark
with bad are upended in Ulysses, in which the two
protagonists are dressed in mourning black, and the more menacing
characters are associated with light and brightness. This reversal
arises in part as a reaction to Mr. Deasy’s anti-Semitic judgment
that Jews have “sinned against the light.” Deasy himself is associated
with the brightness of coins, representing wealth without spirituality.
“Blazes” Boylan, Bloom’s nemesis, is associated with brightness
through his name and his flashy behavior, again suggesting surface
without substance. Bloom’s and Stephen’s dark colors suggest a variety
of associations: Jewishness, anarchy, outsider/wanderer status.
Furthermore, Throwaway, the “dark horse,” wins the Gold Cup Horserace.
While Odysseus is away from Ithaca in The Odyssey, his
household is usurped by would-be suitors of his wife, Penelope.
This motif translates directly to Ulysses and provides
a connection between Stephen and Bloom. Stephen pays the rent for
the Martello tower, where he, Buck, and Haines are staying. Buck’s
demand of the house key is thus a usurpation of Stephen’s household
rights, and Stephen recognizes this and refuses to return to the
tower. Stephen mentally dramatizes this usurpation as a replay of
Claudius’s usurpation of Gertrude and the throne in Hamlet. Meanwhile,
Bloom’s home has been usurped by Blazes Boylan, who comes and goes
at will and has sex with Molly in Bloom’s absence. Stephen’s and
Bloom’s lack of house keys throughout Ulysses symbolizes
The motif of the East appears mainly in Bloom’s thoughts.
For Bloom, the East is a place of exoticism, representing the promise
of a paradisiacal existence. Bloom’s hazy conception of this faraway land
arises from a network of connections: the planter’s companies (such
as Agendeth Netaim), which suggest newly fertile and potentially
profitable homes; Zionist movements for a homeland; Molly and her
childhood in Gibraltar; narcotics; and erotics. For Bloom and the
reader, the East becomes the imaginative space where hopes can be
realized. The only place where Molly, Stephen, and Bloom all meet
is in their parallel dreams of each other the night before, dreams
that seem to be set in an Eastern locale.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Ulysses!