Tag Archives: antisemitism

Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 12

CyclopsPolyphemus

This episode corresponds to the section of Homer’s Odyssey where Odysseus and his men are captured by Polyphemus, the Cyclops.

In Homer’s epic, Odysseus lands on the island of the Cyclopes (Sicily) during his journey home from the Trojan War and enters a cave filled with provisions with some of his men. When the giant Polyphemus returns home with his flocks, he blocks the entrance with a great stone and, scoffing at the usual custom of hospitality, eats two of the men. Next morning, the giant kills and eats two more and leaves the cave to graze his sheep.

After the giant returns in the evening and kills two more of the men, Odysseus offers Polyphemus some strong and undiluted wine given to him earlier on his journey. Drunk and unwary, the giant asks Odysseus his name, promising him a guest-gift if he answers. Odysseus tells him “Οὖτις”, which means “no one” and Polyphemus promises to eat this “Nobody” last of all. With that, he falls into a drunken sleep. Odysseus had meanwhile hardened a wooden stake in the fire and now drives it into Polyphemus’ eye. When Polyphemus shouts for help from his fellow giants, saying that “Nobody” has hurt him, they think Polyphemus is being afflicted by divine power and recommend prayer as the answer.

In the morning, the blind Cyclops lets the sheep out to graze, feeling their backs to ensure that the men are not escaping. However, Odysseus and his men have tied themselves to the undersides of the animals and so get away. As he sails off with his men, Odysseus boastfully reveals his real name, an act of hubris that was to cause problems for him later. Polyphemus prays to his father, Poseidon, for revenge and casts huge rocks towards the ship, which barely escapes.

(Source: Wikipedia)

In Joyce’s novel, the Cyclops is represented by an unnamed person who is presented in this section as a first-person narrator. It is therefore from the “I” perspective, a singular and myopic view of the events that unfold. The events take place within a pub, the Dublin equivalent of a cave, dark and enclosed. Throughout the episode, there are lots of puns and wordplay associated with the word “eye.”

—Ay, says I. A bit off the top. An old plumber named Geraghty. I’m hanging on to his taw now for the past fortnight and I can’t get a penny out of him.

(p. 292)

The narrator is not a pleasant person. He seems to have an issue with everyone. He is totally self-centered (focused on his I) and, in my humble opinion, kind of a jerk. But then again, we all have our own egos inside and often think things about others which we keep to ourselves.

Since Odysseus blinded Polyphemus, the metaphor of blindness appears throughout the chapter.

—Some people, says Bloom, can see the mote in others’ eyes but they can’t see the beam in their own.

Raimeis, says the citizen. There’s no-one as blind as the fellow that won’t see, if you know what that means.

(p. 326)

There is a lot of symbolism tied in to this short quote. On one hand, the narrator is blind to the opinions of others. He is solely concerned with his own opinions. Bloom is blind to the hostile anti-Semitic feelings that the people around him are feeling towards him. The people of Ireland, represented by the citizen, are blinded by their intense desire to establish a national identity. Finally, the mention by the citizen of “no-one” is an allusion to the name that Odysseus used when he fooled the Cyclops.

As the episode continues, the environment becomes more and more hostile towards Bloom. This is especially evident through the citizen, who gets so worked up he starts verbally attacking Bloom as he makes his exit from the pub with Martin Cunningham. The citizen follows him out to the street, hurling anti-Semitic insults at Bloom, who responds by naming famous Jews from history, including Jesus, which enrages the citizen even more.

—Mendelssohn was a jew and Karl Marx and Mercadante and Spinoza. And the Saviour was a jew and his father was a jew. Your God.

—He had no father, says Martin. That’ll do now. Drive ahead.

—Whose God? says the citizen.

—Well, his uncle was a jew, says he. Your God was a jew. Christ was a jew like me.

Gob, the citizen made a plunge back into the shop.

—By Jesus, says he, I’ll brain the bloody jewman for using the holy name. By Jesus, I’ll crucify him so I will. Give us the biscuitbox here.

(p. 342)

The episode concludes in a similar manner to the corresponding section in the Odyssey. As Bloom is escaping in the carriage (symbolic of Odysseus’ ship), the citizen, who is blinded by rage, throws the biscuit tin (symbolic of the boulder) at Bloom, but misses his mark.

Begob he drew his hand and made a swipe and let fly. Mercy of God the sun was in his eyes or he’d have left him for dead. Gob, he near sent it into county Longford. The bloody nag took fright and the old mongrel after the car like bloody hell and all the populace shouting and laughing and the old tinbox clattering along the street.

(pp. 343 – 344)

We are nearing the halfway mark in the novel. My next post will cover Episode 13 which in my book ends on page 382 with the word “Cuckoo.”


 

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


 

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyphemus

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ulysses/section12.rhtml

14 Comments

Filed under Literature

“The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare

MerchantOfVeniceWhile in college, I wrote my senior honor’s thesis on the subject of “Order and Authority in Shakespearean Comedy.” As a result, I had read The Merchant of Venice many times and analyzed the importance of written law during the Elizabethan period. But, it had been quite a long time since I read the play, hence I decided to read it again.

If you are not familiar with the play, the first thing you should know is that it’s not very funny. Comedy, in the Shakespearean sense, is based upon structure, not humor. Pretty much, if people get married at the end, it’s a comedy; if everyone dies, it’s a tragedy. In this play, no one dies and there is marriage at the end, but don’t expect to laugh while reading this. It’s not at all like A Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Comedy of Errors.

As I read it this time, I really focused on Shylock and how he is portrayed in the text. There is ambiguity here. On one hand, it appears that Shakespeare was presenting Shylock in a way that would make the audience pity him; on the other hand, he also portrays him as despicable. The result is that if one is prejudiced against Jewish people, Shylock will fit the stereotype and support that person’s antisemitic ideas. Conversely, if one feels that Jews are mistreated, that person will also find support in the text.

First, I will cite an example that supports the negative stereotype. In the following passage, Shylock is depicted as caring more about his money than his daughter.

Why, there, there, there, there! a diamond gone,
cost me two thousand ducats in Frankfort! The curse
never fell upon our nation till now; I never felt it
till now: two thousand ducats in that; and other
precious, precious jewels. I would my daughter
were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear!
would she were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats in
her coffin!
Act III: scene i

Contrast that to the way the Christians in the play treat Shylock. First off, they rarely call him by his name, but generally address him as “the Jew” with a derogatory slur attached. There are also examples of abuse that Shylock suffers by the Christians.

Signior Antonio, many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances:
Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,
And all for use of that which is mine own.
Well then, it now appears you need my help:
Go to, then; you come to me, and you say
‘Shylock, we would have moneys:’ you say so;
You, that did void your rheum upon my beard
And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur
Act I: scene iii

There is one last quote I would like to point out. During the trail where Shylock seeks his pound of flesh, he is urged to show mercy and forgive the bond. Shylock then points out the hypocrisy of the fact that the Venetians in the court are slave owners who do not practice the same forgiveness that they are urging from him.

What judgment shall I dread, doing no wrong?
You have among you many a purchased slave,
Which, like your asses and your dogs and mules,
You use in abject and in slavish parts,
Because you bought them: shall I say to you,
Let them be free, marry them to your heirs?
Why sweat they under burthens? let their beds
Be made as soft as yours and let their palates
Be season’d with such viands? You will answer
‘The slaves are ours:’ so do I answer you:
The pound of flesh, which I demand of him,
Is dearly bought; ’tis mine and I will have it.
Act IV: scene i

While I have read this play numerous times, I have not seen it performed. This summer, a local Shakespeare troupe — The Montford Park Players — will be putting on the play. I am curious to see how they will interpret this controversial play. I will certainly be in attendance.

3 Comments

Filed under Literature

Antisemitism in “The Sun Also Rises”

This was my second time reading this book. I read it many years ago as a teenager and remembered very little about the book. In fact, the only thing that I remembered was that it had something to do with bull fighting.

The first thing that I noticed while reading this book was Hemingway’s writing style, particularly the dialogs. For me, this is Hemingway’s strong point as a writer, the way he uses dialog to drive a story and makes that dialog appear fluid and believable. I had the impression I was reading an extended version of “Hills Like White Elephants,” where I had to figure out the parts of the story that were intentionally omitted from the discussions amongst the characters.

The aspect of the story, though, that really struck me was the antisemitism, generally directed toward Robert Cohn but occasionally toward Jews in general. Because Hemingway was such a masterful wordsmith, I couldn’t figure out whether he was expressing his feelings about Jews or  just trying to accurately portray the anti-Jewish sentiment of that time. Regardless, as a modern reader, I found it unsettling, particularly since the tale was set in 1920’s Europe just prior to the rise of Nazism.

The passage that best expresses the antisemitic mentality of the characters is one in which Mike expresses his feelings about Cohn having sex with Brett: “No, listen, Jake. Brett’s gone off with men. But they weren’t ever Jews and they didn’t come and hang around afterwards.” (p. 108) So although Brett is depicted as an “easy” woman who has had many amorous relationships, that does not seem to bother anyone, except when one of those relationships is with a Jew. For some reason, that is crossing a moral line in what is socially acceptable.

Ultimately, this is a very well-written book that earns its place among the “classics” of literature, if for no other reasons than the excellent use of dialog to drive the story and the vivid depictions of Europe in the 1920’s.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature