By James Joyce (1882-1941)
A Study Guide
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Guide to Homer
Divisions of Ulysses
Plot Summary
Dates of Publication
Type of Work
Style, Stream of Consciousness
Flawed Technique?
Assessment of the Novel
Mockery of Religion
Fascinating Fact
Questions and Essay Topics
Biography of Joyce
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Introduction: Joyce and Homer

The plot and theme of James Joyce's Ulysses center on life as a journey. Joyce based the framework of his novel on the structure of one of the greatest and most influential works in world literature, The Odyssey, by Homer. In this epic poem of ancient Greece, Homer presented the journey of life as a heroic adventure. The protagonist of this epic tale, Odysseus (Roman name, Ulysses), encounters many perils–including giants, angry gods, and monsters–during his voyage home to Ithaca, Greece, after the Trojan War. In Joyce's 20th Century novel, the author also depicts life as a journey, in imitation of Homer. But Joyce presents this journey as humdrum, dreary, and uneventful. Joyce's Ulysses is a Jew of Hungarian origin, Leopold Bloom, who lives in Dublin, Ireland. His adventure consists of getting breakfast, feeding his cat, going to a funeral, doing legwork for his job, visiting pubs or restaurants, and thinking about his unfaithful wife. His activities parallel in some way the adventures of Homer's Ulysses. An example is Bloom's attendance at a funeral in a chapter entitled "Hades." This chapter parallels an episode in The Odyssey in which Ulysses visits Hades, the land of the dead (or Underworld) in Greek mythology. Bloom's unfaithful wife, Molly, represents the faithful wife of Ulysses, Penelope. A young aspiring writer, Stephen Dedalus, represents the son of Ulysses, Telemachus, who searches for his father. Although Dedalus is not Bloom's son, Dedalus nonetheless is depicted as searching for a father figure to replace his own drunken father. 

Guide to Homer's Odyssey

If you are unfamiliar with The Odyssey, a plot summary and an analysis of the work appear on a page on this web site. Click here to go to the page. 


The action in Joyce's novel takes place in Dublin, Ireland, and the shore east of Dublin on the Irish Sea. The entire story unfolds on June 16, 1904, except for a few hours on the morning of June 17. Joyce chose June 16 as the date for most of the action in the novel as a kind of commemoration of the day when he met his inamorata, Nora Barnacle.

Divisions of the Novel

Ulysses has three main sections, as follows:

Section 1 (Chapters 1-3): The focus is on Stephen Dedalus, a young aspiring writer who has just returned from Paris. This section presents Stephen's life on a typical day in which he finds Dublin depressing. He is pessimistic about realizing his dream to become a published author.
Section 2 (Chapters 4-15): The focus is on Leopold Bloom, a Jewish advertising representative. This section presents his voyage through an ordinary day in Dublin. Joyce describes in detail both Dublin and Bloom, presenting his free-flowing thoughts–many of them either about his unfaithful wife, Molly, or other women.   
Section 3 (Chapters 16-18): The focus is on Leopold, Stephen, and Molly. Bloom and Dedalus meet each other. Dedalus goes to Bloom's home and talks with him for several hours. The novel ends with a chapter on Molly. It consists of more than 30 pages occupied by seven sentences with no punctuation except for the period at the end of the novel.  

The Chapters

Telemachus: The narrator introduces Stephen Dedalus, representing Homer's Telemachus, along with friends of Dedalus. 
Nestor: Stephen teaches a lesson in Greek at a school where an elderly man, Garrett Deasy, is headmaster. Deasy represents The Odyssey's King Nestor of Pylos (or Pílos), a wise advisor to the Greeks during the Trojan War. Telemachus visits Nestor in quest of information about his father, who has not returned from Troy. Joyce uses Deasy to parody The Odyssey, for Deasy is anything but wise. He even needs Stephen's help with a letter to the editor of The Evening Telepgraph on foot-and-mouth disease.   
Proteus: In Greek mythology, Proteus could change his physical form at will. In Joyce's novel, the language in the "Proteus" chapter exhibits many forms. 
Calypso: The narrator introduces Leopold Bloom, the protagonist, who is preparing breakfast in his home while his wife sleeps. In The Odyssey, Calypso is an immortal nymph and daughter of the Titan Atlas. She lives on an island on which she holds Ulysses as a love captive. Bloom's wife, Molly, represents Calypso in that she holds her husband captive in a marriage even though she is unfaithful to him. 
Lotus Eaters: This chapter centers in part on mind-altering substances and on religion (which Marx called "the opium of the people"). In The Odyssey, the crewmen from the ship of Ulysses eat lotus plants after they arrive on the northern coast of Africa (present-day Libya). They then lapse into euphoria.
Hades: Leopold Bloom attends a funeral. His confrontation with death parallels the voyage of Ulysses into the Underworld.
Aeolus: In The Odyssey, Aeolus was king of the winds and ruler of an island. He gives Ulysses a bag of winds to speed his ship on its journey. In Joyce's novel, the island of the winds is a newspaper office. Bloom and Dedalus are both there at the same time--Bloom to purchase an advertisement and Dedalus to submit Deasy's letter ("Nestor" chapter). In various conversations, there are references to wind. For example, Professor MacHugh says, "The tribune's words, howled and scattered to the four winds." Other references by different characters include the following: "Reaping the whirlwind," "Gone with the wind," "The sack of windy Troy, "Funny the way those newspaper men veer about when they get wind of a new opening," and "Enough of that inflated windbag."  
Lestrygonians (variant spellings: Laestrygonians, Laistrygones): The Lestrygonians were giants who ate many of Ulysses' men. In this chapter in Joyce's novel, eating also takes place: Bloom eats a gorgonzola cheese sandwich and drinks a glass of burgundy at Davy Byrne's pub. There are also references to cannibalism in a paragraph about food:

    Sardines on the shelves. Almost taste them by looking. Sandwich? Ham and his descendants mustered and bred there. Potted meats. What is home without Plumtree's potted meat? Incomplete. What a stupid ad! Under the obituary notices they stuck it. All up a plumtree. Dignam's potted meat. Cannibals would with lemon and rice. White missionary too salty. Like pickled pork. Expect the chief consumes the parts of honour. Ought to be tough from exercise. 
Scylla and Charybdis: In The Odyssey, Scylla is a six-headed monster poised on a rock on one side of a strait. It eats men from the ship of Ulysses as it passes by. Charybdis is a whirlpool near the opposite side that will swallow the ship if it veers too close. At the National Library, Stephen discusses Shakespeare's relationship with his wife, claiming she was unfaithful. Her activity, he says, influenced Shakespeare's writing, notably in Hamlet. Dedalus's friends challenge his views (perhaps the way Scylla and Charybdis challenged Ulysses). Dedalus also challenges their views, like a a monster such as Scylla. Bloom is elsewhere in the library conducting research.
Wandering Rocks: This chapter focuses on characters who wander through Dublin.
Sirens: While Bloom dines in the Ormond Hotel, he ogles attractive barmaids representing the Sirens in The Odyssey
Cyclops: In a pub, a man called "the citizen" insults Bloom with anti-Semitic language. Because of his stupidity and blind prejudice, he parallels The Odyssey's cyclops, a one-eyed giant.
Nausicca: In this chapter, Bloom encounters a lame young girl, Gerty MacDowell, who solicits him. She represents–in a mundane, ordinary way–the beautiful maiden Nausicaa, who escorts Ulysses to the court of her father,  Alcinous, the king of the Phaeacians. The lameness of Gerty may symbolize what Joyce believes is the lameness of organized religion.
Oxen of the Sun: Bloom goes to the National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street to check on his friend, Mrs. Mina Purefoy, who gives birth. There, he encounters Dedalus. Dedalus and Buck Mulligan are having a drink with medical students who are friends of Mulligan. The language Joyce uses in this chapter ranges from Old English to modern English as Joyce traces the English language from gestation to birth. A reference to oxen (which include domesticated cows and bulls) occurs in this chapter when discussions of a newspaper account (Deasy's letter) say that diseased cattle may have to be killed. " 'Tis all about Kerry cows that are to be butchered along of the plague," says a character named Frank. Also, a newly born calf is spoken of in the same paragraph in which the birth of a human is discussed:  
    It should perhaps be stated that staggering bob in the vile parlance of our lowerclass licensed victuallers signifies the cookable and eatable flesh of a calf newly dropped from its mother. In a recent public controversy with Mr L. Bloom (Pubb. Canv.) which took place in the commons' hall of the National Maternity Hospital, 29, 30 and 31 Holles street, of which, as is well known, Dr A. Horne (Lic. in Midw., F. K. Q. C. P. I.) is the able and popular master, he is reported by eyewitnesses as having stated that once a woman has let the cat into the bag (an esthete's allusion, presumably, to one of the most complicated and marvellous of all nature's processes--the act of sexual congress) she must let it out again or give it life, as he phrased it, to save her own. At the risk of her own, was the telling rejoinder of his interlocutor, none the less effective for the moderate and measured tone in which it was delivered.
Circe: Dedalus and Bloom visit a brothel operated by Bella Cohen, the parallel of The Odyssey's Circe, a sorceress-temptress. 
Eumaeus: Bloom and Dedalus go to a cabman's shelter to eat. There, they encounter a drunken sailor, D. B. Murphy of Carrigaloe, who has traveled the world, like Ulysses, and is expected soon to reunite with his wife.
Ithaca: Dedalus goes with Bloom to the latter's home, where they continue their conversation. In Homer's Odyssey, Ithaca is the home of Ulysses, to which he returns after many years at sea. Among the major events in this chapter are conversation and a urination scene in the back yard. Although Bloom invites Dedalus to stay for the night, Dedalus goes home. The chapter is written in the style of a Roman Catholic catechism. 
Penelope:This chapter enters the mind of Bloom's wife, Molly, and presents her thoughts in 24,195 words and only one punctuation mark, a period at the end of the chapter. 


Leopold Bloom: Jewish advertising representative.
Stephen Dedalus: Young aspiring writer.
Marion Tweedy (Molly) Bloom: Wife of Leopold Bloom.
Buck Mulligan: Irritating freind of Stephen Dedalus.
Simom Dedalus: Father of Stephen.
Garrett Deasy: School headmaster.
Mina Purefoy: Woman undergoing labor; a friend of Bloom.
Gerty MacDowell: Young girl who propositions Bloom. 
Blazes Boylan: Man having an affair with Bloom's wife.
Haines: Oxford student visiting Mulligan and Stephen Dedalus.
Richie Goulding: Stephen's Uncle.
Mina Kennedy, Lydia Douce: barmaids.
Lynch: Friend of Mulligan
D.B. Murphy: Sailor. 
The Citizen: Man who insults Bloom with anti-Semitic remarks.
Bella Cohen: Operator of a brothel.
Priests, Newspapermen, Bar Patrons, Businessmen, Other Residents of Dublin

Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2004

Note: The following summary presents only the highlights of Joyce's long, complicated novel. The book is too vast and too complex to encapsulate all the significant details.

.......At 8 a.m. on June 16, 1904, three young men go through their morning rituals in Martello Tower, just east of Dublin on the shore of Dublin Bay in the Irish Sea. They are Stephen Dedalus, an English teacher who would rather write for a living; Malachi “Buck” Mulligan, a medical student; and Haines, a visiting Oxford student.
.......While shaving shortly after rising, Mulligan–outgoing and given to quips, taunts, and iconoclasm–elevates his bowl of lather in mimicry of a priest at Mass, then makes the sign of the cross in a mock blessing of the tower, the countryside, and Dedalus (whom Mulligan sometimes refers to as “Kinch”), who is approaching him. 
.......Mulligan, in a playful mood, says it’s absurd that Dedalus has the name of an ancient Greek. (Dedalus, or Daedalus, was the Athenian architect who designed the famous Labyrinth for King Minos of Crete.) While lathering his face, he also says his own name, Malachi Mulligan, is absurd, noting that it has two dactyls. (A dactyl is a metrical foot with a long syllable followed by two short syllables.) Mulligan then observes:  “But it has a Hellenic ring, hasn't it? Tripping and sunny like the buck himself. We must go to Athens.”
.......Dedalus asks how long Haines, who annoys both of them, will be staying with them at the tower. Mulligan replies: “God, isn't he dreadful? A ponderous Saxon. He thinks you're not a gentleman. God, these bloody English. Bursting with money and indigestion. Because he comes from Oxford. You know, Dedalus; you have the real Oxford manner. He can't make you out.”
.......Dedalus complains that all night long Haines was “raving and moaning to himself about shooting a black panther.” When Mulligan borrows a handkerchief from Dedalus, he looks at the mucus on it and comments: “The bard's [Dedalus’s] noserag. A new art colour for our Irish poets: snotgreen. You can almost taste it, can't you?” Looking out at the bay, Mulligan uses the words of the poet Swinburne–grey sweet mother–to describe water and then words of his own: snotgreen sea.
.......The word mother prompts Mulligan to scold Dedalus for refusing his mother’s request for him to kneel down and pray for her when she was dying. At that, Dedalus begins musing about his mother:

    Silently, in a dream she had come to him after her death, her wasted body within its loose brown grave-clothes giving off an odour of wax and rosewood, her breath, that had bent upon him, mute, reproachful, a faint odour of wetted ashes. Across the threadbare cuffedge he saw the sea hailed as a great sweet mother by the well-fed voice beside him. The ring of bay and skyline held a dull green mass of liquid. A bowl of white china had stood beside her deathbed holding the green sluggish bile which she had torn up from her rotting liver by fits of loud groaning vomiting.
.......Dedalus then chides Mulligan: “Do you remember the first day I went to your house after my mother's death?” Mulligan can’t recall so Dedalus reminds him that when Buck’s mother asked who was with him, he replied, “O, it's only Dedalus whose mother is beastly dead.” Stephen says the remark offended him.
.......Later downstairs, the two young men eat breakfast with Haines–bread, honey, tea, and eggs. An old woman comes in and pours milk from a can. After she and Mulligan talk for awhile, Dedalus feels a bit slighted that she ignores him, answering only to Mulligan’s loud voice. When it’s time to pay her, Mulligan comes up short and they wind up owing her two pence. He tells Dedalus to “hurry out to your school kip and bring us back some money” even though Dedalus is the one who pays the rent (12 quid a month) at the tower. 
.......As they finish breakfast, Mulligan suggests that they take a swim and continues to pick on Dedalus when he says, “Is this the day for your monthly wash, Kinch?” Turning to Haines, he adds, “The unclean bard makes a point of washing once a month.” 
.......Outside, while the three young men walk along the beach, Haines asks Dedalus to discuss a theory about Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, referred to earlier by Mulligan. Mulligan interrupts and says, “He proves by algebra that Hamlet's grandson is Shakespeare's grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father.” He turns to Stephen and says, “O, shade of Kinch the elder! Japhet in search of a father!” (Shade of Kinch the elder is a reference to the ghost of old King Hamlet, who appears on the battlements of Elsinore Castle in Hamlet. Japhet is a reference to Japheth, one of Noah’s sons in the Bible.) 
.......Stephen parts company with the other two, but they all agree to meet at a bar, the Ship, later on. Stephen gives them the key to the tower and goes away feeling isolated by Buck’s earlier taunts. 
.......Stephen teaches a lesson in ancient Greek literature to spoiled rich kids at a school like the one Joyce taught at (Clifton School in Dalkey), thinks again about his mother, and receives his pay from the headmaster, Garett Deasy, an anti-Semite who pretends to be a scholar. He asks Stephen to help him get a letter published in The Evening Telegraph on foot-and-mouth disease, which afflicts cattle and other cloven-footed animals. The letter is poorly written. Shortly after 11, Stephen walks along Sandymount beach, annoyed that he must take Deasy’s letter to the newspaper. He sits down and edits it, then thinks about visiting his mother’s relatives but decides against that idea after realizing his father would disapprove. He muses about life in a kind of philosophical soliloquy–with his thoughts coming partly in bits and pieces of foreign languages, including French, Latin, German, and Italian–that focus on his college days, his shortage of money, the depressing atmosphere of Dublin that militates against his dream of becoming a great writer, and his father, who is given to drinking bouts. He then decides not to meet Mulligan and Haines at the bar at 12:30 as planned.
.......The scene changes and the time reverts back to 8 a.m., when the novel’s protagonist–Leopold Bloom, an advertising representative–serves milk to his cat and prepares breakfast at his home at 7 Eccles Street. Customarily, he serves breakfast in bed to his wife of 16 years, Molly (Marion Tweedy Bloom), making sure her tea and toast are just the way she likes them. He reads a letter from his 15-year-old daughter, Milly, who is away studying photography and has a boyfriend who may try to take advantage of her. The letter brings back memories of his other child, Rudy, who died when he was 11 days old, and of his father, Rudolph, who committed suicide. The following passage later in the novel describes events surrounding the death of Bloom’s father:
    The Queen's Hotel, Ennis, county Clare, where Rudolph Bloom (Rudolf Virag) died on the evening of the 27 June 1886, at some hour unstated, in consequence of an overdose of monkshood (aconite) selfadministered in the form of a neuralgic liniment composed of 2 parts of aconite liniment to 1 of chloroform liniment (purchased by him at 10.20 a.m. on the morning of 27 June 1886 at the medical hall of Francis Dennehy, 17 Church street, Ennis) after having, though not in consequence of having, purchased at 3.15 p.m. on the afternoon of 27 June 1886 a new boater straw hat, extra smart (after having, though not in consequence of having, purchased at the hour and in the place aforesaid, the toxin aforesaid), at the general drapery store of James Cullen, 4 Main street, Ennis.
.......Bloom interrupts his preparations to go to the butcher’s shop for a pork kidney he’ll fry for himself. He then returns and serves breakfast to Molly, a professional singer of only modest talent, while his pork kidney burns on the stove. When he returns to the kitchen, he eats and enjoys the kidney. Bloom treats Molly well even though he knows she is having an affair with Blazes Boylan, who is arranging a series of concert performances for her, and hasn’t had relations with Leopold for years. 
.......After leaving home, Bloom sits through part of a mass at a Roman Catholic Church, then attends the funeral of his friend, Paddy Dignam. On the way to the church, he rides in a carriage with Simon Dedalus, Stephen's father, and two others. They make make small talk about death and about a tramline. It is a "paltry funeral," the narration says: "coach and three carriages. It's all the same. Pallbearers, gold reins, requiem mass, firing a volley. Pomp of death. Beyond the hind carriage a hawker stood by his barrow of cakes and fruit. Simnel cakes those are, stuck together: cakes for the dead. Dogbiscuits. Who ate them? Mourners coming out." 
.......During the funeral, presided over by Father Coffey, Bloom thinks about the gas that corpses fill up with:
    What swells him up that way? Molly gets swelled after cabbage. Air of the place maybe. Looks full up of bad gas. Must be an infernal lot of badgas round the place. Butchers, for instance: they get like raw beefsteaks. Who was telling me? Mervyn Browne. Down in the vaults of saint Werburgh'slovely old organ hundred and fifty they have to bore a hole in the coffins sometimes to let out the bad gas and burn it. Out it rushes: blue. Onewhiff of that and you're a doner.
Afterward, he stops by The Evening Telegraph to arrange for the printing of an advertisement. There, he crosses paths with Stephen Dedalus, although they do not speak to each other. Later, Bloom continues his odyssey through Dublin, first stopping for a cheese sandwich at a pub, then at the National Library to research newspaper documents relating to the publication of the ad at the newspaper. Again, he crosses paths with Stephen Dedalus, who is there with Buck Mulligan and others discussing Shakespeare. 
.......In the afternoon, Bloom has a lunch of liver and cods' roes at the Ormond Hotel. With him is Richie Goulding, Stephen's uncle. A lively group of others–including Stephen's father, Simon–sings at a piano while Bloom eyes two attractive barmaids, Mina Kennedy and Lydia Douce. He just misses seeing Blazes Boylan, who is leaving the same hotel to rendezvous with Bloom's wife, Molly, at 4:30. 
At another pub, Barney Kiernan’s, a drunken man identified by the narrator as "the citizen" insults Bloom with anti-Semitic taunts. Bloom defends himself, and another man, Martin, joins the fray. Here is the dialogue:

--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.

The Citizen
--Whose God? says the citizen.

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

When Bloom leaves, the drunk hurls a tin container at him. So Bloom becomes an outcast who, like so many other Jews before him and like Ulysses in Homer’s Odyssey, must endure a diaspora.
.......In the evening, Bloom slips his hand into his pocket when he observes young Gerty MacDowell, "as fair a specimen of winsome Irish girlhood as one could wish to see," the narrator says of her. She propositions him and reveals her underwear. But Bloom has already spent himself and ignores her. 
.......At around 10 o'clock, the wanderer next visits the National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street to check on the condition of his friend, Mrs. Mina Purefoy, who has been in labor for three days. For the third time, he crosses paths with Stephen Dedalus, who is drinking with Buck Mulligan and his friends. Bloom is disappointed to see that the son of his friend, Simon Dedalus, is allowing alcohol and questionable companions divert him from gainful intellectual pursuits. After Mrs. Purefoy has her child, Bloom follows Stephen and his friends to a pub, Burke's, where Stephen boozes on absinthe. Bloom then continues to follow when Stephen and one of the young men–Lynch, a medical student–visit a brothel. The experience makes Bloom think of Boylan and Molly together. Stephen has a disturbing thought of his own: He imagines he sees his dead mother asking him to pray for him, as she did before she died. 
.......Out on the street, drunk, Stephen gets into a fight with two soldiers. After one of the soldiers, knocks Stephen down, Bloom comes to his aid as a crowd watches and policemen come to the scene. One of the soldiers, Private Carr, steps forward and tells one of the policemen that Stephen insulted his girlfriend. Bloom, however, defends Stephen, saying, " You hit him without provocation. I'm a witness. Constable, take his regimental number." Another man, Corny Kelleher, says he knows Bloom and says he won money at the races thanks to a tip Bloom gave him on a horse named Throwaway. The police disperse the crowd and agree to forget the incident, and Bloom shakes the hands of both policemen, saying, "Thank you very much, gentlemen. Thank you. We don't want any scandal, you understand. Father [Simon Dedalus] is a wellknown highly respected citizen. Just a little wild oats, you understand." One of the policemen, referred to as the "Second Watch," confirms that he will not have to report the incident, saying, "It was only in case of corporal injuries I'd have to report it at the station."
.......Bloom and Dedalus then go to a cabman's shelter to get something to eat. There, they encounter a drunken sailor, D. B. Murphy of Carrigaloe, who has traveled the world, like Ulysses. He tells Bloom and Dedalus:

    I've circumnavigated a bit since I first joined on. I was in the Red Sea. I was in China and North America and South America. We was chased by pirates one voyage. I seen icebergs plenty, growlers. I was in Stockholm and the Black Sea, the Dardanelles under Captain Dalton, the best bloody man that ever scuttled a ship. I seen Russia. GOSPODI POMILYOU. That's how the Russians prays.
Murphy also presents this picture of his travels:
    I seen a Chinese one time . . . that had little pills like putty and he put them in the water and they opened and every pill was something different. One was a ship, another was a house, another was a flower. Cooks rats in your soup . . .  the chinks does.
Later, while Bloom converses with Dedalus, the subjects of violence, hatred, and prejudice come up, and Bloom says, "I resent
violence and intolerance in any shape or form. It never reaches anything or stops anything. A revolution must come on the due instalments plan. It's a patent absurdity on the face of it to hate people because they live round the corner and speak another vernacular, in the next house so to speak." People tend to accuse Jews of creating trouble, Bloom says, adding, " Not a vestige of truth in it, I can safely say. History, would  you be surprised to learn, proves up to the hilt Spain decayed when the inquisition hounded the jews out and England prospered when Cromwell, an uncommonly able ruffian who in other respects has much to answer for, imported them. Why? Because they are imbued with the proper spirit. They are practical and are proved to be so.
.......Eventually, Bloom takes Stephen home with him. He has to break in because he has forgotten the key. After he serves cocoa to Stephen, they talk about science, art, and Judaism. Bloom asks Stephen to stay at his residence, but Stephen rejects his offer and leaves.
.......After Bloom goes to bed, Molly remains awake. She muses about Blazes Boylan and her younger days. Her thoughts then shift to food, wine, sex, other married couples (including a husband who goes to bed with his boots on), her singing of Gounod's "Ave Maria," war, soldiers passing in review, bullfighting, and Stephen–how it would be if he did stay at the Bloom home. She also recalls the days when she met Leopold. The passage that ends the novel focuses on acceptance of her husband: 
    the old windows of the posadas 2 glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

Every human goes on a journey, just as the mythical Odysseus (Roman name, Ulysses) did in his heroic adventures in Homer’s Odyssey. But in the real life of modern man, this journey is generally humdrum and uneventful, as in Joyce's Ulysses, rather than heroic. The novel presents many other themes, or sub-themes. Examples are the following:

    Infidelity (Molly Bloom and Blazes Boylan)
    Guilt (Stephen Dedalus and His Mother)
    Anti-Semitism (The Citizen Insulting Bloom)
    The Influence of Shakespeare (Dedalus and His Shakespeare Theory)
    Sexual Temptation (Bloom Ogling Gerty Macdowell and Others)
    The Cycles of Life From Birth to Death (Mina Purefoy's and the Death of Paddy Dignam)
    Religion as a Nefarious Influence (Numerous References and Allusions)
    Camaraderie (Bar Scenes, Bloom and Dedalus)
Dates of Publication

Magazine: Between 1918 and 1920, several installments appeared in The Little Review, a U.S publication, but American authorities banned publication of additional installments, declaring the book obscene. 
Book: After Sylvia Beach, owner of a Parisian bookstore called Shakespeare & Co., agreed to sponsor publication of the novel, the first copies were placed on sale on February 2, 1922, Joyce's birthday. On August 7, 1934, an American appeals court ruled in favor of publication of the complete novel by Random House.

Type of Work 

Ulysses is an experimental novel in the modernist tradition. It uses parody in its imitation of The Odyssey. It also uses satire and burlesque in ridiculing religion, culture, literary movements, other writers and their styles, and many other people, places, things, and ideas. 

Style and Technique

The author writes in third-person point of view with frequent use of allusions, symbols, Jungian archetypes, literary archetypes, pastiche,  and the stream-of-consciousness technique, all of which make the novel difficult to comprehend for even the most intelligent and informed readers. In stream of consciousness, a term coined by American psychologist William James (1842-1910), an author portrays a character’s continuing “stream” of thoughts as they occur, regardless of whether they make sense or whether the next thought in a sequence relates to the previous thought. (See the last paragraph of the plot summary for an example.) These thought portrayals expose a character’s memories, fantasies, apprehensions, fixations, ambitions, rational and irrational ideas, and so on. In the last chapter of the novel, consisting of eight long paragraphs, Joyce omits punctuation entirely in order to mimic the uninterrupted flow of naked thoughts. Joyce also uses numerous sentences and phrases from Latin, French, German, Spanish, Russian (transliterated), Italian, and other languages. In addition, he uses refined language, vulgar language, slang and demotic dialogue, gibberish, coined words such as noctambules for night walkers (noctural ambulators) and circumjacent for surrounding closely, passages in all-capital letters, unpunctuated sentences, and abbreviations (such as H. R. H., rear admiral, the right honourable sir Hercules Hannibal Habeas Corpus Anderson, K. G., K. P., K. T., P. C., K. C. B., M. P, J. P., M. B., D. S. O., S. O. D., M. F. H., M. R. I. A., B. L., Mus. Doc., P. L. G., F. T. C. D., F. R. U. I., F. R. C. P. I. and F. R. C. S. I.  Another technique he uses is to combine two words into one to create a single adjective and sometimes a noun. Examples are the following: dangerouslooking, hocuspocus, fifenotes, jogjaunty, deepmoved, muchtreasured, dogbiscuits, snotgreen, rosegardens, shrilldeep, canarybird, freefly, allimportant, gigglegold, candleflame, and grassplots.He also writes one chapter in the format of a stage play, another in the format of a Roman Catholic catechism, and another in language ranging from Old English to modern English. 
At times, he includes poetry, like the following triplet written in capital letters:

Repetition also occurs frequently, as in the following passage:
    Love loves to love love. Nurse loves the new chemist. Constable 14A loves Mary Kelly. Gerty MacDowell loves the boy that has the bicycle. M. B. loves a fair gentleman. Li Chi Han lovey up kissy Cha Pu Chow. Jumbo, the elephant, loves Alice, the elephant. Old Mr Verschoyle with the ear trumpet loves old Mrs Verschoyle with the turnedin eye. The man in the brown macintosh loves a lady who is dead. His Majesty the King loves Her Majesty the Queen. Mrs Norman W. Tupper loves officer Taylor. You love a certain person. And this person loves that other person because everybody loves somebody but God loves everybody.
Joyce's bag of tricks also includes the following passage that associates members of a wedding with trees, in response a barroom discussion about the necessity to preserve the forests:
    The fashionable international world attended EN MASSE this afternoon at the wedding of the chevalier Jean Wyse de Neaulan, grand high chief ranger of the Irish National Foresters, with Miss Fir Conifer of Pine Valley. Lady Sylvester Elmshade, Mrs Barbara Lovebirch, Mrs Poll Ash, Mrs Holly Hazeleyes, Miss Daphne Bays, Miss Dorothy Canebrake, Mrs Clyde Twelvetrees, Mrs Rowan Greene, Mrs Helen Vinegadding, Miss Virginia Creeper, Miss Gladys Beech, Miss Olive Garth, Miss Blanche Maple, Mrs Maud Mahogany, Miss Myra Myrtle, Miss Priscilla Elderflower, Miss Bee Honeysuckle, Miss Grace Poplar, Miss O Mimosa San, Miss Rachel Cedarfrond, the Misses Lilian and Viola Lilac, Miss Timidity Aspenall, Mrs Kitty Dewey-Mosse, Miss May Hawthorne, Mrs Gloriana Palme, Mrs Liana Forrest, Mrs Arabella Blackwood and Mrs Norma Holyoake of Oakholme Regis graced the ceremony by their presence. The bride who was given away by her father, the M'Conifer of the Glands, looked exquisitely charming in a creation carried out in green mercerised silk, moulded on an underslip of gloaming grey, sashed with a yoke of broad emerald and finished with a triple flounce of darkerhued fringe, the scheme being relieved by bretelles and hip insertions of acorn bronze. The maids of honour, Miss Larch Conifer and Miss Spruce Conifer, sisters of the bride, wore very becoming costumes in the same tone, a dainty MOTIF of plume rose being worked into the pleats in a pinstripe and repeated capriciously in the jadegreen toques in the form of heron feathers of paletinted coral. Senhor Enrique Flor presided at the organ with his wellknown ability and, in addition to the prescribed numbers of the nuptial mass, played a new and striking arrangement of WOODMAN, SPARE THAT TREE at the conclusion of the service. On leaving the church of Saint Fiacre IN HORTO after the papal blessing the happy pair were subjected to a playful crossfire of hazelnuts, beechmast, bayleaves, catkins of willow, ivytod, hollyberries, mistletoe sprigs and quicken shoots. Mr and Mrs Wyse Conifer Neaulan will spend a quiet honeymoon in the Black Forest.
All of these stylistic and technical devices, and many more, help Joyce to depict his world as multifarious, like the motley-coated world of Homer's Odyssey, with all of its strange peoples and unfamiliar climes. But, of course, Joyce's world is mundane Dublin, reductio ad absurdam. These devices also enable Joyce to show the world what a clever fellow he is. However, at times, his language games and obscure allusions, many of which he admittedly designed to confound "the college professors," mar the novel, and many readers abandon it after plowing through a chapter or two.      

Is Stream of Consciousness a Flawed Technique?

Stream of consciousness (described above) attempts to present the unedited, uncensored, free-flowing thoughts of a person. However, Joyce and other writers who use this technique do so with forethought and calculation. They are creating the thoughts of fictitious characters, not brain-scanning the thoughts of real humans. The thoughts these writers present to the reader are shaped to the theme of a literary work or the mindset of its characters. Consequently, one may argue, they are not really presenting true stream of consciousness. 


The structure of Ulysses parallels symbolically the structure of Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. In both works, a man goes on a journey, encountering a variety of people and situations along the way. However, the journey in Homer’s work lasts ten years, whereas the journey in Joyce’s work lasts about 18½ hours. The main characters in Ulysses also parallel the main characters in The Odyssey. Thus, Joyce’s Leopold Bloom becomes Homer’s Odysseus (Roman name, Ulysses); Stephen Dedalus becomes Telemachus, the son of Odysseus; Molly Bloom becomes Penelope, the wife of Odysseus; and Blazes Boylan becomes a representative of all the suitors wooing Penelope. Joyce’s characters are ordinary and unheroic in contrast to Homer’s extraordinary and heroic characters. For an analysis and summary of Homer’s Odyssey, click here.


Besides passages entirely of his own invention, Joyce based the content of Ulysses mainly on episodes from his own life, on episodes in Homer’s Odyssey, and on Shakespearean characters and dialogue. In terms of style, Joyce imitated the stream-of-consciousness method as pioneered by other writers, notably Édouard Dujardin (1861-1949).

Assessment of the Novel 

Opinions of the novel range across the spectrum. Some readers insist that Ulysses is a superior novel, a tour de force marking a turning point in modern literature. Others insist that it is an inferior novel, an extremely boring work featuring long passages with a chaos of strange words that are a penance to read and a hell to fathom. There can be no gainsaying, though, that Joyce has been highly influential. Through stream of consciousness–and through sometimes manipulation of language–he allows readers to view the complicated, perplexing, and sometimes irrational workings of the human mind. His display of this technique inspired later writers to use it in their own literary works. Unfortunately, because of its mission and its experimental nature, Ulysses tasks the reader like no other novel before it, making him plod through jungles of obscure symbols, perplexing allusions, and boring portraits of ordinary Dublin life. Admirers of Joyce acknowledge that the novel is difficult. Passages like the following (part of a chapter in which Joyce writes in various idioms that evolved during the development of the English language) make it so:

    A liquid of womb of woman eyeball gazed under a fence of lashes, calmly, hearing. See real beauty of the eye when she not speaks. On yonder river. At each slow satiny heaving bosom's wave (her heaving embon) red rose rose slowly sank red rose. Heartbeats: her breath: breath that is life. And all the tiny tiny fernfoils trembled of maidenhair.
Since its publication, many scholars, distinguished writers, and average readers have exalted Ulysses as a work of enormous significance and brilliance. Probably just as many scholars, distinguished writers, and average readers have dismissed it as an unremittingly dull, tedious, and tiresome work–a waste of time. The verdict: The novel needs another century or two to ferment, marinate, or whatever literary works do when they go through the "test of time" (as literary tastes change and standards evolve) to reveal itself in all of its fullness to an unbiased judge. This much can be said for certain about the novel: Except in academia, not many people read Ulysses. Those who do decide to have a go at the thick, allusion-laden, language-bending tome frequently put it down after reading a few chapters, never again to pick it up. 


Mockery of Religion

In Ulysses, Joyce relentlessly mocks the Roman Catholic Church and its rites and pokes fun at the Jesuits, an order of Roman Catholic priests who educated him, nurturing his writing talent and sparking his curiosity and imagination. A devout Catholic when he was growing up, Joyce abandoned his faith as a young adult because he felt oppressed by its strict rules of morality and because he resented its influence on Irish society. His ridicule of the Jesuits and his childhood religion, rarely executed with subtlety and nuance, comes across as petty and self-indulgent. 

Fascinating Fact

The name Shakespeare occurs 50 times in Ulysses. References to Shakespeare by another name, as well as to his works and style, occur hundreds of other times. It may well be that Joyce wanted to be another Shakespeare in stature. If so, his hope outran his talent. 

Study Questions and Essay Topics

  • Do you agree with some critics that Ulysses is one of the greatest novels ever written? Or do you agree with other critics that it is mostly balderdash? Whatever your view is, write an argumentative essay defending your position. Include in your essay the views of at least three authoritative sources to support your position. In addition, include the views of at least three authoritative sources that hold the opposing position, then attempt to refute their views. 
  • What is the most important message in the novel? 
  • Write an informative essay explaining the structure of the novel. 
  • Write an informative essay comparing and contrasting the events in Joyce's novel with the events in Homer's Odyssey. 
  • Ulysses faced censorship when it was published in the U.S. in The Little Review. Would you ever support banning a literary work, a speech, an advertisement, a television program, a movie, etc.? Examples: an advertisement for pornography in a daily newspaper, a scheduled speech at a university that advocates a racist point of view, a TV news program showing terrorists torturing a captive American soldier, an essay published in the U.S. that advocates the violent overthrow of the American government, a top-secret government document that identifies by name covert American intelligence agents in foreign countries, a magazine article that explains in detail how to construct an atomic bomb.