Hope in Ulysses

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Ulysses challenges its readers to keep up with changing narrators, perpetually modulating language and constantly evolving characters whose inner monologues and reminiscences depict a psychologically rich journey. This groundbreaking novel, if viewed as a traditional narrative, walks slowly, giving the reader time to establish his or her own relationship with the story. What emerges is whatever the reader puts of herself into it or seeks to get out of it. Though the action is little there is so much richness in the imagery and in the evolution of the main characters that the novel itself seems to affirm both the complexity of the intellect and the necessities of the senses. The character of Leopold Bloom makes the journey of Ulysses most compelling for me because of his ability to face adversity with both a capacity for hope and a charitable faith in the goodness of life. He has a fundamental optimism. The messages of hope and hospitality are also symbolically by depicted by food and bread in Ulysses, signifying to me that Bloom’s journey is to reconcile his soul and to come to terms with the loss of his son and the changes inherent in the relationship with his wife Molly. We see Bloom’s hope primarily through two events. First, Bloom like Telemachus in The Odyssey, has lost his son Rudy. Where Odysseus has the hope of finding Telemachus again, Bloom knows that Rudy has died, and yet seeks reconciliation and peace in order to move forward. Second, Bloom discovers that his wife may be having an affair with the enigmatic Blazes Boylan, a character who represents all that Bloom is not. Bloom seems to appear out of nowhere in the Calypso chapter, moving purposely and slowly about the kitchen, and talking to only the cat. Boylan, in contrast, is the dandy whose presence can be heard and felt before he is ever actually in the room. When Bloom becomes aware of the correspondence between his wife and Boylan he chooses to ponder it rather than face it head on. Whether he hopes that the affair will dissipate before it occurs or whether he is patently curious as to whether Molly will carry through with meeting Boylan is unclear. Joyce hints that in any case, Bloom cares a great deal for Molly and seems to understand her lure and attractiveness to men. He may sense that he has lost his wife because of his own inadequacy as a husband. He knows that since the death of their son things have been different between them. In either case, he serves Molly her breakfast as before and goes out to get her lotion as if nothing has changed. As the day progresses, he consistently feels the bar of soap in his back pocket, a reminder of the visit to the chemist for Molly. To me, the simplicity of the bar of soap which Bloom purchases and carries with him throughout the novel is one of the hopeful images which Joyce assigns to this character who is never described by his physical appearance but mainly by his actions and thoughts. The soap is a symbol of his ability to cleanse his soul and his body when he is ready. Even the scent when inhaled brings him into another world as he is always wishing to travel to exotic places and the aroma would carry him momentarily out of Dublin. So, not only does it remind him of his duty to his wife, this simple object carries possibilities. Joyce constructs his narration along the lines of the epic journey of Odysseus, a hero who seeks to know his own mind and to find his way home to Penelope and to Ithaca. Odysseus is beset by death and the loss of his comrades, going about his journey alone. Bloom, like Odysseus, is a man without a home but he makes his journey without the aid of the proverbial goddess. Bloom’s goddesses are mere mortal women to whom he may be occasioned the glimpse of leg from afar. What purpose does it serve for Bloom to be the wanderer in the midst of a seemingly foreign place? He is a solitary figure who refuses to partake of the drinking and gambling in which the...
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