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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 4


This episode corresponds with Calypso in Homer’s Odyssey. It is also where we first meet Mr. Leopold M. Bloom, the “hero” of Joyce’s novel. For those of you who need a refresher, “Calypso was a nymph in Greek mythology, who lived on the island of Ogygia, where she detained Odysseus for several years.” In this episode, it is Molly Bloom, Leopold’s wife, who symbolizes Calypso.

The episode begins with the giant letter M beginning the phrase “Mr Leopold Bloom.” One must assume that there is some symbolism here. It may be that the M represents that Part II of the book is the main or middle section (note that there are three parts). It may also represent Leopold himself, M being the first, last, and middle letter in his full proper name: Mr. Leopold M. Bloom. If you remember back to the first part, which began with a giant S, the main figure in that part was Stephen Dedalus, whose name also begins and ends with the oversized letter. And yes, there is another very intriguing interpretation for which I will abstain from sharing at this point until after we complete the book, since it ties in with greater themes and the overall structure which is better addressed later on. Anyway, something to keep in the back of your mind as you read the book.

As I mentioned earlier, Molly is the archetype of the nymph. She is depicted as very sensual and it appears that she is involved in a clandestine affair with Blazes Boylan. To add to this imagery of Molly, there is a painting above their bed of the Bath of the Nymphs and Leopold likens Molly to the naked nymphs in the painting.

The Bath of the Nymphs over the bed. Given away with the Easter number of Photo Bits: Splendid masterpiece in art colours. Tea before you put milk in. Not unlike her with her hair down: slimmer. Three and six I gave for the frame. She said it would look nice over the bed. Naked nymphs: Greece: and for instance all the people that lived then.

(p. 65)

Painting by Gérard de Lairesse

Painting by Gérard de Lairesse

There is also some triple goddess symbolism in this episode. The triple goddess symbolizes the three stages of the female life cycle which combined form the Divine Feminine. The three stages are Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Leopold interacts all three aspects of the goddess. He encounters the Maiden at the butcher shop and silently lusts after your youthful beauty.

A kidney oozed bloodgouts on the willowpatterned dish: the last. He stood by the nextdoor girl at the counter. Would she buy it too, calling the items from a slip in her hand. Chapped: washing soda. And a pound and a half of Dennny’s sausages. His eyes rested on her vigorous hips. Woods his name is. Wonder what he does. Wife is oldish. New blood. No followers allowed. Strong pair of arms. Whacking a carpet on the clothesline. She does whack it, by George. The way her crooked skirt swings at each whack.

(p. 59)

The Mother aspect of the Goddess is obviously Molly. The Crone Leopold encounters after leaving the butcher shop.

No, not like that. A barren land, bare waste. Vulcanic lake, the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth. No wind would lift those waves, grey metal, poisonous foggy waters. Brimstone they called it raining down: the cities of the plain: Sodom, Gomorrah, Edom. All dead names. A dead sea in a dead land, grey and old. Old now. It bore the oldest, the first race. A bent hag crossed from Cassidy’s clutching a noggin bottle by the neck. The oldest people. Wandered far away over all the earth, captivity to captivity, multiplying, dying, being born everywhere. It lay there now. Now it could bear no more. Dead: an old woman’s: the grey sunken cunt of the world.

(p. 61)

On pages 64 and 65, there is discussion regarding metempsychosis, or the transmigration of the soul. Simplified, this is the Greek philosophical version of the concept of reincarnation, where the soul, being divine, continues to exist after physical death and can be reborn in a new physical form. As I read this section, which is too long to include here, I thought about how this ties in with the book. I believe that Joyce is implying that the soul, like an archetype or a trope, is destined to be resurrected as it migrates along the path of human existence. The souls, the symbols, and the stories that originated with Homer continue to be reborn and in Joyce’s case are manifest in his book. If I remember correctly from when I read this book 20 years ago, I think this is a theme that recurs throughout the book.

I want to end this post by saying that I found this episode to be pretty funny. There are lots of sexual puns woven in, which work well with the episode’s theme of the nymph. For example, there is the image of the woman “whacking it” that appears in one of the previous quotes. Another example is when Molly makes a sexual joke about someone’s name.

—Yes. Get another of Paul de Kock’s. Nice name he has.

(p. 64)

For those of you reading along, next week I will cover episode 5, which ends on page 86 in my version with the phrase: “…a languid floating flower.” Read on!!

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3







Filed under Literature

Symbolism in “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman

OceanEndOfLaneI purchased this book almost as soon as it came out, but since I was deep into other books, it sat atop the pile on my dresser. Last week I had to travel for work, so I packed the book, and since I spent a lot of time sitting around airports, I managed to finish it. It’s a short book, right around 175 pages, so I’m going to go on the assumption that you will read it and hence I will not summarize the story. Instead, I’ll focus on some of the symbolism that struck me in the book and my interpretations.

Early in the book, the protagonist states: “I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.” (p. 53) I completely agree. The power the myths is that they transcend normal narrative storytelling and express truths that cannot be expressed in ordinary language. There used to be a television version of Witchblade some years back and one of the characters said: “Gods come and go, but the myth is eternal.”

One of the prevalent symbols in creation mythology is that of using words to create. I have read books that assert that there are divine languages or words which have an effect on reality and can even be used to create existence from the void. This use of language is referred to in the book:

I have dreamed of that song, of the strange words to that simple rhyme-song, and on several occasions I understood what she was saying, in my dreams. In those dreams I spoke that language too, the first language, and I had dominion over the nature of all that was real. In my dream, it was the tongue of what is, and anything spoken in it becomes real, because nothing said in that language can be a lie. It is the most basic building block of everything. In my dreams I have used that language to heal the sick and to fly; once I dreamed I kept a perfect little bed-and-breakfast by the seaside, and to everyone who came to stay with me I would say, in that tongue, “Be Whole,” and they would become whole, not be broken people, not any longer, because I had spoken the language of shaping. (p. 43)

Another common symbol in mythology is the quest. In all hero myths that I can think of, the hero must undertake a quest and face incredible challenges, but the hero takes on the quest because of a longing, a void within that cannot be fulfilled within the realm of the ordinary. Gaiman incorporates the quest symbol into the story, including the deep longing that drives the hero forward on his or her quest.

How can you be happy in this world? You have a hole in your heart. You have a gateway inside you to lands beyond the world you know. They will call you, as you grow. There can never be a time when you forget them, when you are not, in your heart, questing after something you cannot have, something you cannot even properly imagine, the lack of which will spoil your sleep and your day and your life, until you close your eyes for the final time… (p. 139)

The symbol of the ocean is the one that appears the most throughout the book. For me, the ocean symbolizes the divine source and cosmic consciousness. There is a great passage where the protagonist is submerged into the ocean, or the divine consciousness, and the symbols of the egg and the rose are incorporated, the egg symbolizing the birth of all existence and the rose the continual unfolding of reality.

The second thing I thought was that I knew everything, Lettie Hempstock’s ocean flowed inside me, and it filled the entire universe, from Egg to Rose. I knew that. I knew what Egg was–where the universe began, to the sound of uncreated voices singing in the void–and I knew where Rose was–the particular crinkling of space on space into dimensions that fold like origami and blossom like strange orchids, and which mark the last good time before the eventual end of everything and the next Big Bang, which would be, I knew now, nothing of the kind. (p. 143)

There are many more myths and symbols woven into this short book, such as the Triple Goddess (maiden, matron, crone), but I will leave the rest of those for you to discover on your own. Half the fun of reading a book such as this is discovering which symbols and myths resonate most with you. There is a lot here. Feel free to share any symbolism that struck you. Enjoy!!


Filed under Literature