Ulysses’ serialization begun in 1918, but then was stopped because the novel was found obscene; it was published in Paris in 1922. In England was banned for obscenity until 1936.
The wanderings and tribulations of Homer’s epic hero, his adventures through different realms and seas and the final return home to his wife are used in Ulysses as a parallel to the events in the common life in modern Dublin. Joyce uses the epic model to stress the lack of heroism, of ideals, of love and trust in the modern world. Ulysses is one of the greatest examples of the reworking of myth in modernist literature.
To convey the life of an individual in a single day, and in the absence of a dramatic plot, Joyce chose to give the minutest details of that day and especially the characters’ process of thinking with the stream of consciousness technique
Ulysses tells the story of a day (16 June 1904) in the life of Leopold Bloom, a Dubliner of Jewish origin who works as an advertising agent. He is the Ulysses of the title.
What happens to Bloom is, however, far less heroic; it is quite banal and common: he gets up, attends the funeral of a friend, has lunch, buys things and in the end meets, in a brothel, Stephen Daedalus and takes him home with him.
Stephen Daedalus is a sensitive young man with literary ambitions who feels frustrated by Irish provincial life. He is in search of a father figure, which he eventually finds in Bloom: he corresponds to Telemachus, Ulysses’ son.
Molly, Bloom’s wife corresponds to Ulysses’ wife Penelope but she is a sensuous woman who is unfaithful to her husband; she has not slept with Bloom since the death of their little son Rudy.
Their relationship is typical of the lack of passion and strong family ties of modern life.
The passage from Molly’s monologue presents the extreme of Joyce’s stylistic experimentation: there is no punctuation, no sentence or paragraph division; words appear to flow without a logical sequence, the only criterion being the free association of ideas. She remembers the Gibraltar days and the first time she and Bloom made love together.
Ulysses is closely modeled on the Odyssey. The novel’s eighteen episodes correspond to as many incidents in Homer, and the way the ancient epic is ironically played against the modern.
In a way, Joyce was being traditional; the change operated by Joyce is from the universality of the ancient to the limitations and lack of heroism of the modern novel.
In the first episode, called Telemachus, Stephen is evicted from his home by his housemates, just as Ulysses’ son is forced to leave his home.
In the second episode, called Nestor, Stephen teaches a history class at a boys’school and gets some good advice from the schoolmaster, Mr Deasy, who is the counterpart of Nestor, the wise Greek king who gives Telemachus advice.
In the episode called Hades Bloom goes to a funeral at Dublin’s cemetery: this is a reference to Ulysses’ descent to the underworld where he speaks with the souls of great dead heroes.
In the Circe episode, Boom and Stephen meet at a brothel. Just as Ulysses’ companions are turned into swine by the witch Circe. Bella Cohen, the owner of the place, is a grotesque version of the mythical Circe.