Ulysses

by: James Joyce

Episode Two: “Nestor”

Summary Episode Two: “Nestor”

Stephen remembers the Jewish merchants standing outside the Paris stock exchange. Stephen again challenges Deasy, asking who has not sinned against the light. Stephen rejects Deasy’s rendering of the past, and states, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” Ironically, a goal is scored outside in the hockey game as Deasy speaks of history as the movement toward the “goal” of God’s manifestation. Stephen counters that God is no more than “a shout in the street.” Deasy argues first that all have sinned, then blames woman for bringing sin into the world. He lists women of history who have caused destruction.

Deasy predicts that Stephen will not remain at the school long, because he is not a born teacher. Stephen suggests that he may be a learner rather than a teacher. Stephen signals the end of the discussion by returning to the subject of Deasy’s letter. Stephen will try to get it published in two newspapers. Stephen walks out of the school, pondering his own subservience to Deasy. Deasy runs after him to make one last jab against the Jews—Ireland has never persecuted the Jews because they were never let in to the country.

Analysis

History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Episode Two, “Nestor,” takes place at the boys school where Stephen teaches. It is a half-day for the students and Stephen will leave for the day after he teaches his class and is paid by Mr. Deasy. The episode focuses on teaching and learning. We see Stephen positioned first as a teacher and then as a student in his conversation with Mr. Deasy. The subject of both educational scenes is history, and history as linked to memory. Stephen’s history lesson for his class relies on their memory of learned historical facts. Mr. Deasy’s impromptu history lesson for Stephen is anchored by Deasy’s own personal memories of historical events. Stephen himself resists the linking of history with memory. For Deasy to define history in terms of his personal recollections affords him too much control over the reconstruction of it (thus do Haines and Deasy use history to absolve themselves of responsibility). For Stephen, history is something that he cannot control: “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” Stephen’s statement refers both to his grappling with the circumstances of his own past, and to the philosophical problem of how history should be used to understand present circumstances.

Part of Stephen’s personal history that has nightmarishly, though subtly, plagued him through this episode and the first is his mother’s death. Stephen’s unsolvable riddle about the fox burying his grandmother suggests this personal pain. As he tutors Sargent, Stephen’s ruminations about a mother’s love and love for one’s mother also evoke her absence and stand in contrast to Deasy’s later misogyny. Stephen’s imagination of a mother’s love creates a moment of compassion and allows for an effective teaching between Stephen and Sargent. Otherwise, Stephen’s interactions with his students have been distracted and cryptic. Stephen himself credits Deasy with accuracy when Deasy intuits later in the chapter that Stephen was not born to be a teacher.

On the whole, Deasy seems pompous and self-righteous. We are prepared for the didactic nature of Deasy’s conversation with Stephen by our first glimpse of Deasy on the hockey field, yelling at the students without listening to them. Deasy is unperceptive—mistakenly assuming that Stephen is Fenian, he launches into a history lecture. The purpose of this lecture is less to teach than to assert authority, an authority that is undermined by several factual errors that Deasy makes. Like Haines, Deasy (a Unionist from the north) is pro-British as well as anti-Semitic. Just as Haines used history to clear himself of blame in Episode One (“It seems history is to blame”), so Deasy uses history to blame others, notably Jews and women.

This prelude of anti-Semitism will be evoked later in the day, as Jewish Leopold Bloom faces similar bigotry. Deasy’s anti-Semitism rests on his sense that the mercantile Jews have brought decay to England. According to Deasy, the Jews have sinned against “the light,” the light being those Christians who understand history as moving toward one goal—the manifestation of God’s plan. But the presentation of Deasy’s character undermines his own convictions. Instead of Christianity and light, Deasy himself deals in coins and material goods. His moralistic color scheme, in which good Christians are light and dangerous Jews are dark, is not to be the color scheme of Ulysses, in which the two heroes, Stephen and Bloom, are dressed in black, and the dangerous characters, such as Buck Mulligan, are associated with brightness.