. . . each contemplating the other in both mirrors of the reciprocal flesh of theirhisnothis fellowfaces.See Important Quotations Explained
Episode Seventeen is narrated in the third person through a set of 309 questions and their detailed and methodical answers, in the style of a catechism or Socratic dialogue.
Bloom and Stephen walk home chatting about music and politics. Arriving home, Bloom is frustrated to find that he forgot his key. He jumps over the fence, enters through the kitchen, and re-emerges at the front gate to let Stephen in. In the kitchen, Bloom puts the kettle on. Stephen declines Bloom’s offer to wash, as Stephen is a hydrophobe. The contents of Bloom’s kitchen are reviewed, including those that betray Boylan’s presence earlier in the day—a gift basket and betting tickets. The latter remind Bloom of the Gold Cup, and the misunderstanding between himself and Bantam Lyons (in Episode Five) dawns on him.
Bloom serves cocoa for them both, and they drink in silence. Bloom, watching Stephen think, considers his own youthful forays into poetry. The narrative reveals that Bloom and Stephen have met twice before—once when Stephen was five, and another time when he was ten. On the latter occasion, Stephen invited Bloom to dinner at the Dedalus’s, and Bloom politely declined. Their personal histories are compared, as well as their temperaments—Stephen’s is artistic, while Bloom’s tends toward applied science through his interest in invention and advertising.
The two men trade anecdotes, and Bloom considers the possibility of publishing a collection of Stephen’s stories. They recite and write Irish and Hebrew for each other. Stephen senses the past in Bloom, and Bloom senses the future in Stephen. Stephen goes on to chant the anti-Semitic medieval story of “Little Harry Hughes,” in which a Christian boy is beheaded by a Jew’s daughter. Stephen’s exposition of the story suggests that he could see both himself and Bloom as the Christian child of the story. But Bloom has mixed feelings and immediately thinks of his own “Jew’s daughter,” Millicent. Bloom remembers moments from Milly’s childhood and, thinking of a potential union between Stephen and Milly (or Molly), invites Stephen to stay the night. Stephen gratefully declines. Bloom returns Stephen’s money to him, rounded up one pence, and suggests a variety of future interactions. Stephen seems noncommittal, and Bloom becomes pessimistic. Stephen seems to share Bloom’s sense of dejection.
Bloom shows Stephen out, and they urinate together in the yard while looking at the night sky, where a shooting star suddenly appears. Bloom lets Stephen out, and the two shake hands as the church bells ring. Bloom listens to Stephen’s footsteps and feels alone.
Bloom goes back in. Entering the front room, he bumps his head on furniture that has been moved. He sits down and begins to disrobe. The contents of the room and Bloom’s budget for the day (omitting the money paid to Bella Cohen) are catalogued. Bloom’s ambition to own a simple bungalow in the suburbs is described. Bloom deposits Martha’s letter in his locked cabinet drawer and thinks pleasantly about his favorable interactions today with Mrs. Breen, Nurse Callan, and Gerty MacDowell. The contents of the second drawer include several family documents, including Bloom’s father’s suicide note. Bloom feels remorseful, mostly because he has not upheld his father’s beliefs and practices, such as keeping kosher. Bloom is grateful for his father’s monetary legacy, which saved him from poverty—here Bloom daydreams of his unrealized vagrant self, traveling all over the globe, navigating by the stars.