Episode Five, “The Lotus Eaters,” is the first episode in which the thematic parallel to Homer begins to dominate the text. In The Odyssey, Odysseus’s men eat the flower of the Lotus Eaters and become drowsily complacent, forgetting about their quest to return home. In Episode Five, it is mid-morning and Bloom’s thoughts are lazy as he digests his breakfast and kills time before Paddy Dignam’s funeral at 11:00. Bloom’s attention wanders, yet the motif tying together many of his sentiments and observations is intoxication or drugged escapism. We are prepared for the motif from the opening page of the episode—Bloom imagines the Far East as a lazily intoxicating place. This motif then extends to other scenarios: Bloom notices the stupefied, effete horses drawing a tram; he thinks of the calming narcotic effect of smoking. Bloom spends a large section of the episode considering the stupefying power of religious ceremony—he assumes that religious missionaries have to compete with a lazy, narcotic lifestyle to win over a native population, and he appreciates the stupefying effect of Latin. The motif of intoxicated escapism sets the appropriate mood for an episode in which not much happens, and Bloom is largely alone. The motif also points to Bloom’s efforts to escape his own thoughts about Molly’s impending infidelity.
Indeed, the motif of lazy intoxication leads to a set of related motifs, most of which point implicitly back to Molly. Bloom associates exotic narcotics with the East, and his imaginations of the East, in turn, relate to Molly. We learned in Episode Four that Molly grew up in Gibraltar, where her father, Major Tweedy, was stationed. In Bloom’s mind, Molly’s childhood in Gibraltar links up with thoughts about Turkey and the Crimean War, with thoughts about model farms and land schemes in Palestine, and, here in Episode Five, with imaginings of the lands and people even farther east in Ceylon or China. Because Bloom’s varied mental pictures of the East connect with his sense of Molly’s exoticism and eroticism, Molly remains present even in an episode devoted to Bloom’s erotic correspondence with another woman—Martha Clifford.
Bloom’s covert correspondence with Martha Clifford offers us another perspective on the Blooms’ marriage. Instead of Molly being the adulterous one and Bloom the adoring husband, we begin to consider Bloom’s own part in the lapse of their relations. Yet Bloom seems more temporarily amused by Martha’s letter (spelling errors and all) than committed to having an affair with her. Our new perspective of Bloom in this episode also offers us glimpses of his more perverse tendencies: a desire to be punished, a fetish for women’s underclothing, his fantasies about meeting a woman during or after church.
The scenario of the Martha-Bloom correspondence offers another motif related to the drugged escapism of the Lotus flower eaters—the motif of flowers themselves. Bloom chooses the pseudonym “Henry Flower” (a kind of synonym for “Bloom”). Martha encloses a yellow flower in her letter to Bloom. Yet even this motif leads back to Molly. Martha’s flower has no scent, and the final question of her letter is about his wife’s perfume. Accordingly, Bloom’s imagination of a tryst with Martha segues through a dream of two biblical doting women, Mary and Martha, thus leading back to Molly, whose Christian name is Marion (Mary).