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The narrative technique of Episode Fourteen is meant to
represent the gestation of the English language. The prose styles
of many different time periods, along with the styles of their most
famous authors, are replicated and at times parodied in chronological
Latinate prose, and then alliterative Anglo-Saxon, situate
us at the Holles Street maternity hospital, run by Sir Andrew Horne. Bloom
arrives at the hospital gates, having come to check on Mrs. Purefoy.
Nurse Callan, an acquaintance of Bloom’s, opens the gate and leads
him inside. Their conversation about Mrs. Purefoy, who has been
in labor for three days, is described in moralizing medieval prose.
The emergence of Dixon, a medical student, from a noisy room down
the hall is described in medieval-romance style. Dixon, who once
treated Bloom for a bee sting, invites Bloom inside, where Lenehan,
Crotthers, Stephen, Punch Costello, and medical students Lynch and
Madden are boisterously gathered around a spread of sardines and
beer. Dixon pours Bloom a beer, which Bloom quietly deposits in
his neighbor’s cup. A nun comes to the door and asks for quiet.
The men discuss medical cases in which the doctor must
choose between saving the mother or the baby—Stephen discusses the
religious aspect of this question while others joke about contraception and
sex. Bloom is somber, thinking of Mrs. Purefoy and of Molly’s labor
with Rudy. Bloom considers Stephen, imagining that he is wasting
time with these men.
Stephen’s pouring of more beer and consideration of the
quibbles of Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus are described in Elizabethan
prose. Punch Costello interrupts with a bawdy song about a pregnant woman.
Nurse Quigley comes to the door and shushes them. The men’s teasing
Stephen about the piety of his youth is described in early seventeenth-century
prose. A thunderclap erupts. Bloom notices that Stephen is truly
frightened at this evidence of God’s anger, and he attempts to calm
Stephen by explaining the science of thunder.
Buck Mulligan’s meeting with Alec Bannon on the street
nearby is described in seventeenth-century diary style. Alec tells
Buck about a girl he is dating in Mullingar (Milly Bloom). The two
men walk together to the hospital on Holles street.
The good-for-nothing characters of Lenehan and Costello
are described in the prose style of Daniel Defoe. The subject of
Deasy’s letter and cattle health is broached. A long, allegorical
joke ensues about papal bulls, Henry VIII, and England’s relationship
to Ireland. Buck’s arrival is described in Addison’s and Steele’s
essay style. Buck jokes about his new occupation as a “fertiliser”
for all female comers. A side conversation between Crotthers and
Bannon about Milly, and Bannon’s intent to purchase contraception
in Dublin, is described in Lawrence Sterne’s style. The men euphemistically
discuss different contraceptive methods.
The eighteenth-century style of Oliver Goldsmith follows.
Nurse Callan summons Dixon: Mrs. Purefoy has borne a son. The men licentiously
discuss Nurse Callan. Eighteenth-century political prose style is
used to describe Bloom’s relief at the news of Mrs. Purefoy’s baby,
and his disgust with the young men’s manner. The satirical style
of Junius queries Bloom’s hypocritically self-righteous attitude
toward the medical students.
Edward Gibbon’s style is used to describe the men’s conversation about
various topics related to birth: Caesarean sections, fathers who
die before their wives give birth, cases of fratricide (including the
Childs murder case, mentioned in Episode Six), artificial insemination,
menopause, impregnation by rape, birthmarks, Siamese twins. Gothic
prose is employed to describe Buck telling a ghost story.
Charles Lamb’s sentimental style is utilized to describe
Bloom reminiscing about himself as a young man, then feeling paternal toward
the young men. The hazy, hallucinatory style of Thomas DeQuincey
manifests the pessimistic turn Bloom’s thoughts suddenly take. Walter
Savage Landor’s prose style is incorporated to describe how Lenehan
and Lynch manage to offend Stephen by broaching the topics of his
fruitless poetic career and his dead mother. Conversation switches
to the Gold Cup race, then to Lynch’s girlfriend Kitty; we learn
that Lynch and Kitty were the couple caught by Father Conmee this
afternoon (in Episode Ten).
Nineteenth-century historical and naturalist styles follow.
The conversation turns to the mysterious causes of infant mortality. Charles
Dickens’s sentimental style is used to describe Mrs. Purefoy, joyous
Cardinal Newman’s religious prose style is employed to
describe how past sins can haunt a man. Walter Pater’s aestheticist
style follows. Bloom ponders Stephen’s aggressive words about mothers and
babies. Bloom remembers watching Stephen, as a child, exchange reproachful
glances with his mother. John Ruskin’s style is used to describe
Stephen’s spontaneous suggestion to proceed to Burke’s pub. Dixon
joins them. Bloom lags behind, asking Nurse Callan to say a kind
word to Mrs. Purefoy. Thomas Carlyle’s prose style hails the virility
of Mr. Purefoy.
The narrative breaks into a chaotic rendering of various
twentieth- century dialect and slang as the men hurry to Burke’s.
Stephen buys the first round. The Gold Cup race is discussed, Stephen
buys another round of absinthe, and Alec Bannon finally realizes
that Bloom is Milly’s father and nervously slips away. The barman
calls time, and someone gossips about the man in the macintosh in
the corner. The barman kicks them out as the Fire Brigade passes
on its way to a fire. Someone vomits. Stephen convinces Lynch to
come with him to the brothel district. A nearby poster advertising
a visiting minister (the same ad that Bloom received in Episode
Eight) inspires a final switch to the style of American sales-pitch
The style of Episode Fourteen, one of the most difficult
in the novel, consists of imitations of chronological stages in
the growth of the English language, beginning with Latinate and
Middle English prose up to the chaos of twentieth-century slang.
The progression of language is, in turn, meant to correspond to
the nine-month gestation period leading to human birth. The imitations
of the styles of different time periods and prominent writers seem
parodic because the styles are somewhat exaggerated (some more so
than others). The ultimate effect is to drive home the point that
has been made more subtly in Episodes Twelve and Thirteen: narrative
style contains built-in ideology that effects what is reported and
how it is reported. Joyce shows this by allowing each different
style to gravitate toward its normal subject matter. Thus, the moral-allegorical style
of John Bunyan explores Stephen’s move away from the piety of his
youth; Defoe’s passage is spent describing the no-gooders Lenehan
and Costello; and the sentimental style of Charles Dickens narrates
the commendably maternal thoughts of Mina Purefoy. The differing
moral judgments expressed by various styles are also highlighted—Bloom’s
compassion is venerated in the Middle English prose section, while
the hypocrisy of Bloom’s disapproval (of the young men) is harshly
revealed in the satirical prose style of Junius.
Episode Fourteen, “Oxen of the Sun,” corresponds to Odysseus’s
visit to the island of Helios in the Odyssey. Odysseus
warns his men not to touch the cattle that are sacred to Helios,
but the men slaughter the cattle for food while Odysseus is asleep.
Zeus avenges Helios—only Odysseus lives, and his voyage home to
Ithaca is further delayed. Joyce highlights the correspondence in
part through a host of cattle imagery and mainly through the theme
of profaning the sacred. Joyce’s Episode Fourteen, which takes place
in a maternity hospital during the birth of Mina Purefoy’s son,
concentrates on fertility. The theme of the profaning of the sacred
is thus represented by the blasphemous discussion of pregnancy and
In the larger setting of the maternity hospital, as well
as the smaller setting of the revelrous gathering of medical students
and friends, the personal, private, and female aspects of pregnancy
and birth are obscured, while the social, clinical, political, legal,
and economic aspects are highlighted. Though their conversation
centers on mothers and birthing, the young men ignore the off-stage
travails of Mina Purefoy. Bloom alone respects the sacred quality
of the birthing hour and remains on the sidelines of the merrymaking.
The theme of crimes against sacred fertility is highlighted in the
controversial topic of birth control.
In Episode Fourteen, for the first time, we see Stephen
and Bloom together in a social situation. The two men are both sidelined
from the rest of the group. Stephen’s musings on religious doctrine
are as out of place as Bloom’s sincerity and scientific explanations.
Both refuse to go home even at this late hour. Bloom is haunted
by Molly’s actions of the day, while Stephen is haunted by Buck,
who shows up halfway through this episode, as he did in Episode
Nine, mocks Stephen’s philosophizing and captures the attention
of the group for himself. Though Stephen and Bloom are equals in
their ostracization, we are invited to see them as son and father.
Bloom’s consciousness is more fully rendered than Stephen’s in this
episode, and we see that he feels paternal and protective toward
Stephen. While questions of birth and labor lead Stephen’s mind
to sacred versions of creation, the same questions lead Bloom’s
mind to personal memories of his own dead son. A substitute for
Rudy comes not in the guise of Milly (who is figured in this episode
as a future mother, not a present daughter), but in the guise of
Stephen, about whose emotions Bloom becomes increasingly perceptive
in this episode.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Ulysses!