Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 18

Statue of Molly Bloom: Wikipedia

Statue of Molly Bloom: Wikipedia

This is the final episode and is a long internal soliloquy depicting Molly Bloom’s thoughts as she is in bed after Leopold returns home. The episode is comprised of eight long sentences and is all stream of consciousness. Much of Molly’s thoughts are sexual: memories of past affairs, her current liaison with Blazes Boylan, her suspicions regarding Leopold Bloom’s clandestine sexual encounters, and her early days with Bloom. The language is beautiful and should really be read to be felt. I am not going to attempt to analyze the text from this episode; instead, I will discuss the structure of the episode, its symbolism, and how it ties in to the overall structure and larger theme of the book. I will preface this by saying that these are my interpretations. Feel free to use them, just include me in the citation.

The first thing to note about Episode 18 is that it opens and closes with the same word: “Yes.” I see this as symbolic for a circle, implying that there is an eternal cycle associated with the episode. Considering that Joyce employs the same technique in Finnegan’s Wake, where the book begins mid-sentence and ends with the first half of the sentence, I would argue that he is doing the same here. In fact, I would take this a step further and assert that Episode 18 is a circle within a circle and that the entire book is intended to be viewed as cyclical. Remember back to the beginning with the large S. The letter S is also the last letter in the book. I feel that Joyce structured the book to represent the eternal circle of existence: birth, life, death, rebirth. There are certainly an abundance of references and allusions throughout the text hinting at this, whether it is all the talk about metempsychosis or the circles cast upon the ceiling as Bloom and Molly lay together, or the circles of stars. Images of circles and cycles permeate this book.

Gustave Dore

Gustave Dore

The myth is eternal. The story which Homer put forth in the Odyssey is one that has been repeated throughout history and will continue to be repeated as long as humans exist. It is an archetypal story and Joyce knew that. With that in mind, he made his version a modern interpretation of the myth.

In addition to the cyclical structure of the book, I believe that Joyce also included number mysticism within the structure of the book. Let’s break this down a bit. The book is split into 3 sections and contains 18 chapters. First we will consider the importance of the number 3. Obviously, 3 would represent the trinity. It also represents the three stages of life: birth, life, death. It symbolizes the father (Bloom), mother (Molly), and child (Stephen). In addition, each section begins with a large letter: S, M, and P, respectively. I see here another mystical trilogy: Spirit, Mortal, Psyche (although, some scholars have also associated with the three main characters: Stephen, Molly, and Poldy [nickname for Bloom]). I could go on like this for a long time, but I think you get the idea.

Now let’s think about the number 18. First off, if we were to apply kabbalistic numerology to this (and remember, Bloom is Jewish), we get 1+8 which equals 9, which in turn is 3×3, or a double trinity. At this point you may be thinking that this is a stretch, but stay with me, because it gets deeper. In the Jewish faith, the number 18 has another important aspect. It is the numeric representation of the Hebrew word chai (pronounced “hi”). The English translation for chai is “life.” I believe that Joyce consciously chose to make Ulysses 18 episodes because the book is the perfect representation of life, with all its recurring themes.

I have to say that I feel somewhat sad that I am finished. I feel like I’ve gotten to know Bloom and Stephen personally. I also really got a lot more out of the book reading it a second time. So will I read it a third time? Maybe. I’ll certainly keep my copy. I hope you enjoyed the posts and if you haven’t read along, I encourage you to spend the effort and read it one day. I personally think it is worth it.



Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Episode 11

Episode 12

Episode 13

Episode 14

Episode 15

Episode 16

Episode 17


Filed under Literature

6 responses to “Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 18

  1. I’ve always wanted to read the book. It’s still on the list. 🙂

    Thanks for this wonderful series, it does inspire me to attempt reading it.

    • Hi Debra! I’m glad that you enjoy the series of posts. As a writer, I am overjoyed when something I write inspires others. I do hope you read the book some day. Not all things in life are worth the effort, but I think that this book is worth the effort it takes to read it.

      I hope you have a blessed and inspired day!!


  2. Hi Jeff, thank you for the whole series. It is a wonderful coincidence today because the meaning of the letter S has also been on my mind. Maybe you have noticed this pattern in the background of my blog. I love the letter S in the yin and yang symbol. I received this amazing interpretation from one of the readers of my blog: ” In ruminating more on the ‘S’ symbol that you visually background on your blog…I think of it less as a signum than I believe it an expression of the element Air, the lightening message of grace, the sigh in a prayer that flows in your soul, it is breath. It is revealed within the figure S as the distillation of a deeply felt message in luminescent prose to express harmony and unity in the manifestation of two simultaneous and opposing thoughts solidified in space and time in contemplation of Spiritus Dei…the rhythmic pulse of ingress and egress in the breathing of God-consciousness. I think it a graceful form to choose.”
    Thank you for UlySSeSS, Jeff!

    • Hi Monika. Thank you for following the series of posts. You comments have always been enlightening and inspiring, as is this one. I had never made the connection between S and the yin/yang symbol, but now that I see it, I will forever see it. I hope you have a wonderful day. — Jeff

  3. Better late than never– After several interruptions, I finally finished it last night. Molly’s monologue is one of the sections I like it best when Joyce is just doing straight stream of consciousness (1st 3 episodes–Telemachios; 1st Bloom episode (Calypso?); Nausica; and of course Molly’s monologue). Of the experimental sections, I thought Sirens really worked on so many levels and retained my interest throughout. Some of the other experimental sections, however, were rough going for me.

    I was also surprised to see that the main (2nd) section isn’t all Bloom, as I had assumed it would be.

    It appears to me that Joyce’s experimentation — beyond that of stream of consciousness — is all about simultaneity. Sirens does this very successfully, IMO; Wandering Rocks felt less so, although I liked the final section where everything was tied together and liked the way Sirens begins with the barmaids watching the procession that ends at Wandering Rocks. With Oxen in the Sun, he expands the idea of simultaneity to history of styles.

    Thanks so much for doing this, Jeff. I appreciate your insights!

    • Hi Nancy! Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I have to say that it has meant a lot to me to have you reading along and sharing your thoughts. You are a wonderful and gifted person and it is my honor to know you. All the best!!