“Ithaca” from Joyce’s Ulysses

May 2, 2009 at 3:06 am (Critical Writing, Prose)

I stumbled across this the other day. It’s a brief analysis of the “Ithaca” chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Not really one of my better essays, as it is an early one, but I thought I’d share all the same.

     In Ulysses, Bloom is attributed his closing thoughts on the day in the penultimate chapter, “Ithaca.” This is appropriate, since Molly is given even a greater say and sway in the concluding chapter.

     Bloom’s chapter, chapter 17, uses a duality of forms, while staying true to Bloom. Bloom is very scientific and the questioning approach mirrors his thought patterns from earlier chapters. It mirrors it so closely in fact that we see the same types of avoidance: when asked if Bloom accepts asylum, a number words indicating acceptance premiere before we see “declined.” This impresses the idea that even upon arriving at home, Bloom has much to be wary of and to avoid. This cut and dry form of inquiry also mirrors the religious catechism, which appeals to Stephen’s appearance in the chapter. In regards to the homecoming theme, it reminds us that Bloom is a Jew in a Catholic country. He remains ever foreign, even at home.
     Speaking of Stephen, it seems apparent that he is meant to be Bloom’s Telemachus. We see them united in their description as “Blephen and Stoom,” as well as with their mutual displacement, and both are alack for a key. Bloom comes home with a son to complete the family he has conceivably lost, but eventually Stephen leaves, and it seems a fruitless endeavor. Bloom in the bedroom is seen to now understand his lot in life and that it would be too hard to change. This shows how Bloom is incomplete. He has completed his journey, the day and voyage are over, but he does not come back whole, nor does his home complete him.
     The key, as mentioned, is of great significance. Bloom doesn’t even have open access to his own home–he has to break in like a robber. He is once again foreign to this place he calls his own. And in some ways he seems unwelcome, or at least the place he should be welcome in has changed enough that he does not truly recognize it. The key can also be seen as phallic, and Bloom losing his key is akin to Boylan having it, in light of the affair with Molly. Bloom is removed by his abstraction from his marriage. Molly is the only one left who lives with him, so if he doesn’t have her, his home is bereft of real human relationships for him. We get a stranger impression of this relationship malfunction when Molly “interrogates” him about his day. Home is a dangerous place for Bloom to return to, much in the way home was a dangerous place for Ulysses to come back to.
     Of course, with Ulysses it was the suitors, and we do get a list of the men, or suitors, to enter the Bloom household, the last one being Boylan. Other legend relations occur in this chapter, setting up Bloom’s return like a trager version of Ulysses’s return. An important one includes the following: “Womb? Weary? / He rests. He has traveled.” Bloom, like Ulysses, is worn by his voyage, but unlike the legendary hero who conquers the adversities at home, Bloom accepts them. In this way, Bloom’s return home is as an everyman who cannot change his stars. He does not play the epic hero–changing things would be too difficult. He is resigned. But like Ulysses, it seems he has been gone a very long time, indicating that perhaps he has not truly been present since Rudy died. We see this in how Bloom’s home, though familiar, is described in detail with little emotion, and in some ways, Bloom does not seem to recognize his home. The concluding question of “Where?” goes unanswered, and a large period (.) concludes the active portion of the novel. Where is Bloom? We’d assume he is at home, but we can’t be sure, metaphorically. Maybe his real home is in his dreams–the dream house he imagined.
     Overall, Bloom’s homecoming is absent of the comforts a person would hope to find. And readers must wonder if anything will change, or if Bloom will remain forever foreign.

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