Ulysses was published in Paris in 1922. It was considered a scandal for his age because of its sexual frankness and it was censured in America and England until 1936.
The novel is set in Dublin on June 16th, 1904 (the day of Joyce’s first walk with his wife). The book covers the events of that single day and describes the stories of the main characters: Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly Bloom, and the artist Stephen Dedalus.
The novel has no traditional plot.
It is modeled on the Odyssey: the 24 hours of Bloom’s day correspond to the 24 books of the classical epic. The Ulysses is divided into 3 books and 18 chapters. Each chapter revolves around a particular element, such as a color, an organ of the body, a sense, a symbol and so on.
The second part is dominated by the figure of Leopold Bloom, a Jewish advertising agent, who wanders around Dublin as Ulysses wandered around the Mediterranean.
The third part focuses on Molly Bloom, a sensuous woman, unfaithful to her husband. She represents the eternal female principles of sex and reproduction.
PARALLEL WITH THE ODYSSEY
The novel is highly symbolic.
First of all, Leopold Bloom represent Ulysses, while the young and lonely Stephen Dedalus plays the part of Telemachus, who like him is about to set off to find his father Ulysses.
Moreover, its 18 chapters correspond in some way to the episodes in Homer’s Odyssey. In fact, Bloom’s wanderings around Dublin in the course of the day reminds us of Ulysses’s adventures on his journey to Itacha. Examples of this are the two attractive barmaids in Dublin that remind us of the sirens, but also Bloom and Stephen’s meeting, that can be seen as the reunion of Telemachus and his father.
This meeting is important in the novel because it is the meeting of two different kinds of modern man: on one hand we have Bloom, an average man and husband; on the other hand we have Stephen, the cynical artist. Even though these two seems to have nothing in common, they exist in mutual need: the artist’s aim is to raise the common man from his everyday life to permanence, and the common man exists at the artist’s inexhaustible material.
One of the most interesting aspects of the novel is the use of the mythical method: Joyce wanted to reflect the chaos of human life and modern world, but also to find a coherence in this chaos. So he used the myth as the framework of the novel and also as a unifying element. In this way, the myth is used to make an ordinary man in Ireland (such as Bloom) a universal man, which means someone that held in himself every aspect of mankind: he is both a coward and a hero, weak and strong, father and son, husband and lover. In the same way, Dublin can be seen as a sort of microcosm of the world.
Under the influence of Vico’s theory of cycles in human history (the divine – the heroic – the human), Joyce believed that what we are now living is the last phase of this cycle, characterized by a dull, mediocre society. This is why the epic model is also used to stress the lack of heroism, of ideals, of love and trust in the modern world, like we can see in Molly and Leopold’s relationship.
STREAM OF CONCIOUSNESS
In the same paragraph, Joyce seems to move from the description of a character’s action to the character’s mental response to that action, which means the feelings and thoughts that arise in the character because of that action. This response derives partly from the contemporary situation and partly from his memories of his past history. This is why past and present coexist in Joyce’s prose, because they coexist in the character’s mind.
In Leopold’s stream of consciousness associations are inconsequential, he creates links between words of similar sound or meaning and so on.