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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors
used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
In Episode Five, Bloom reads an ad in his newspaper: “What
is home without / Plumtree’s Potted Meat? / Incomplete. / With it
an abode of bliss.” Bloom’s conscious reaction is his belief that
the ad is poorly placed—directly below the obituaries, suggesting
an infelicitous relation between dead bodies and “potted meat.”
On a subconscious level, however, the figure of Plumtree’s Potted
Meat comes to stand for Bloom’s anxieties about Boylan’s usurpation
of his wife and home. The image of meat inside a pot crudely suggests the
sexual relation between Boylan and Molly. The wording of the ad
further suggests, less concretely, Bloom’s masculine anxieties—he
worries that he is not the head of an “abode of bliss” but rather
a servant in a home “incomplete.” The connection between Plumtree’s
meat and Bloom’s anxieties about Molly’s unhappiness and infidelity
is driven home when Bloom finds crumbs of the potted meat that Boylan
and Molly shared earlier in his own bed.
The afternoon’s Gold Cup Horserace and the bets placed
on it provide much of the public drama in Ulysses, though
it happens offstage. In Episode Five, Bantam Lyons mistakenly thinks
that Bloom has tipped him off to the horse “Throwaway,” the dark
horse with a long-shot chance. “Throwaway” does end up winning the
race, notably ousting “Sceptre,” the horse with the phallic name,
on which Lenehan and Boylan have bet. This underdog victory represents
Bloom’s eventual unshowy triumph over Boylan, to win the “Gold Cup”
of Molly’s heart.
Stephen deliberately conceives of his Latin Quarter hat
as a symbol. The Latin Quarter is a student district in Paris, and
Stephen hopes to suggest his exiled, anti-establishment status while
back in Ireland. He also refers to the hat as his “Hamlet hat,”
tipping us off to the intentional brooding and artistic connotations
of the head gear. Yet Stephen cannot always control his own hat
as a symbol, especially in the eyes of others. Through the eyes
of others, it comes to signify Stephen’s mock priest-liness and
In Episode Fifteen, Bloom’s potato functions like Odysseus’s
use of “moly” in Circe’s den—it serves to protect him from enchantment, enchantments
to which Bloom succumbs when he briefly gives it over to Zoe Higgins.
The potato, old and shriveled now, is an heirloom from Bloom’s mother,
Ellen. As an organic product that is both fruit and root but is
now shriveled, it gestures toward Bloom’s anxieties about fertility
and his family line. Most important, however, is the potato’s connection
to Ireland—Bloom’s potato talisman stands for his frequently overlooked
maternal Irish heritage.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Ulysses!