Molly’s Story

Joyce’s transition from the men to Molly at the end of Ulysses is very interesting and I think it is appropriate to end the novel in this way. Molly’s thoughts tend to follow along Bloom’s in some ways, especially how both of their thoughts change from one subject to another. I am not sure what I am supposed to think about Molly’s behavior. While Bloom only thinks about infidelity Molly actually commits the act. Are we supposed to feel sorry for Molly because she doesn’t get what she needs from Bloom? Does that make her infidelity okay? I am not sure. I agree with Amy that Molly dominates the relationship between herself and Bloom. In that way it makes me feel less sorry for her especially for the way she seems to treat Bloom, and also because of that word, “yes”. It makes me wonder how much Molly loved Bloom, or if she ever did because of her statement, “and I thought well as well him as another” (LN 1604-05). Maybe Molly chose Bloom because she could dominate him.

I also wonder what I am supposed to think of Molly because of the technique Joyce uses in the final episode. The writing reminds me of rambling because there are very few sentences. It sounds like she just talks and talks without taking a breath. At least with Bloom he has more of a pause in his thoughts were Molly’s just keep going. I enjoyed the other female perspective, but I do still wonder what point Joyce was really trying to make by switching up the final episode? I also agree with Amy that maybe the episode is supposed to be just as complicated, if not more, than the previous episodes. That could be one point, that both Bloom and Molly’s thoughts are complicated and therefore the transition into the novel is just as complicated.

The Final Voice

Honestly, I am not sure why Joyce ends Ulysses with an episode in Molly’s voice. At the same time, I don’t think I would have been satisfied if had ended with the Bloom in the previous episode. Although I don’t exactly know why, giving voice to Molly just makes sense in a way. The novel has been such a “man novel.” We’ve lived inside the heads of the men for almost the entire time, and although women have been an important part of the novel, they’ve been presented from the perspective of men. So it is almost odd that after everything, Molly, a woman, would get the final word. It does something to reverse the gender roles, I think. Bloom, the husband, is denied the final episode.

There are a lot of ways in which I think these gender roles might be reversed. For example, Molly seems to dominate the relationship. Bloom cowers before her, lets her treat him poorly, and is passive about anything that bothers him. He has an affair on paper only, with his erotic pen pal, while Molly actually has affairs with other men. Several times throughout the book, Bloom is identified as being the husband to Molly. At the end of “Ithaca” we learn that Bloom and Molly have not had sex since Rudy died. Bloom is essentially impotent, while Molly, at the end of the episode, is described as “fulfilled, recumbent, big with seed” (606). When I think about all of these things, it only makes sense that Molly would get to end the novel instead of Bloom. I am not exactly sure what that means though. I’m also unsure as to how we are supposed to feel about this episode. Jack and Will both make good arguments, and I can see both of them. On the one hand, Molly did choose Bloom. And her “yes” to him is romantic in someways, and I’d like to think that she loves him. On the other hand, now that time has gone by, they are no longer happy in their marriage and we have learned more and more about that throughout all of Ulysses. So I am conflicted about how this ending is supposed to make me feel. But I wonder if that is what Joyce intended. Nothing else about this book has been easy, so why should the ending be? I also wonder what this ending says about the novel as an art form, since that has been so important. But I’m not exactly sure about that either.

 

Love in the Vale of Tears

It’s possible to imagine a Ulysses that ends with “Ithaca.” The weary wanderer returns home, he and his spiritual son form a tenuous bond, he climbs into his marriage bed to join the wife he still loves, he regards her infidelity with envy, jealousy, abnegation, and equanimity, he narrates his day (with the omission of his “omission” on the strand), our remaining questions about the characters’ histories are mostly answered, he drifts to sleep, the manchild in the womb. It would conclude the journey and leave us with an appropriately wistful, ambivalent set of reflections. But Joyce realizes that this sleepy consummation is somehow not enough, that there is more yet to be said, and he ends the novel with a last great surprise, a truly beautiful coup. The book of the day has already become the book of the night, anticipating Finnegans Wake. Now, too, this consummate novel of movement through space, tracing perambulations across Dublin, becomes one of physical stasis combined with temporal drift. And the story of Leopold Bloom becomes the story of his wife, who revises much of what we’ve already read. An epic of fathers and sons, a book largely centered – like its Homeric counterpart – around the tangled material aspirations and struggles of men in groups, gives way to the inner life of a woman, a mother, whose distinctively candid and unpretentious voice also replaces the various guises of the narrative “arranger.” Essentially, the final episode of Ulysses is a new voyage, not an Odyssey, or a Telemachiad, or a Nostos, but its own Penelopiad. Though the narrative technique seems less experimental and obscure than that of “Sirens,” “Oxen of the Sun,” “Circe,” or “Ithaca,” it is in some ways the most radical departure from the rest of the text. It must have come as a wonderful surprise to readers in 1922, unexpected but utterly right, heartfelt. As Gilbert notes, Molly’s thoughts lend new dimensions to much of the rest of the novel. It is probably difficult, if not impossible, to precisely define how this final episode alters the book’s meanings (especially on a first reading). But Ulysses seems to me a more compassionate work than it would be without Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, a wiser one, a more open-ended one, and – I wish to argue, although I’m sure not everyone feels this way – a more hopeful and affirmative one.

Throughout Ulysses, situations and motifs from Dubliners occasionally seem to return in altered form. Appropriately, the final chapter of Ulysses centers on some of the major themes of “The Dead,” the concluding story in Dubliners: the past loves and inner life of a wife whose husband does not understand her, the gulf between two people who ostensibly share one life, the differences between men and women, the vastness of the past, the force of memory. But Ulysses is distinguished by Joyce’s determination to do what Gabriel Conroy cannot in “The Dead,” by imagining his way into the consciousness of the wife, the female, allowing us to perceive the world as she does. It’s difficult to say to what extent Molly is meant to be a representation of universal “feminine” subjectivity. Gilbert, at times, seems to make this implication, and certainly one of the underlying ideas of “Penelope” (and perhaps of Ulysses itself) is that the interior lives of men and women are fundamentally, enigmatically differentiated. This leads us into thickets of social and gender theory, but I feel that the power of this episode stems partly from this presumption of difference. But we do an injustice to Joyce if we suggest that Molly Bloom is meant to stand for all women. Or, more precisely, one of the major tensions of the episode is between the representation of Molly as a universal voice of the Feminine, “the Great Mother of gods, giants and mankind” as Gilbert says, and as a humble, individuated human portrait. In this respect she is a final embodiment of the dialectic, ubiquitous in Ulysses, between the epic and the mundane, the metaphysical and material, cosmic and quotidian, transcendence and immanence.

As Molly drifts toward sleep, and the novel toward its close, her thoughts about her husband, about men, about life in general, are frequently angry and resentful. As in “Ithaca,” a marriage’s worth of petty and profound grievances are revealed, not carefully cataloged and scrutinized as in the previous “scientific” chapter but instead cascading forth from deep within. There is a real sadness conveyed in the loss of passion and communication between these two people, the paralysis of their relationship since Rudy’s death, the inability of each to meet the other’s needs. But at times, their thoughts are more harmonious than either realizes. Both see Boylan for what he is. Both carry deep wounds from the death of their son. Both find Stephen intriguing, so much so that Molly in fact seems cheerfully open to the program of cultural education which her husband has in mind. Even their reflections on the adultery are not so different. Among the passages from “Ithaca” which moved me deeply was the explanation for Bloom’s feeling of “equanimity” regarding his wife’s infidelity: “As natural as any and every natural act of a nature expressed or understood… As not as calamitous as a cataclysmic annihilation of the planet in consequence of collision with a dark sun. As less reprehensible than theft, highway robbery, cruelty to children and animals… arson, treason, felony, mutiny on the high seas… practice of unnatural vice… criminal assault, manslaughter, wilful and premeditated murder. As not more abnormal than all other altered processes of adaptation to altered conditions of existence… As more than inevitable, irreparable.” For me, the masterstroke in this great, sad song of love is “mutiny on the high seas.” It’s a romantic, swashbuckling image, within the realm of Odysseus’ experience but worlds away from the life of Leopold Bloom, from the banal, mechanical crime of adultery, the inevitable ennui of marriage. Bloom’s exotic imagination, constantly at work throughout the book, is the pool from which he draws this litany of sins, which is in fact an enumeration of arguments for forgiveness, each of them an affirmation of his weary wounded love, a metamorphosed “Yes.”

Molly, like Bloom, defends her conduct as the product of “nature.” And although she has her own grievances, she too chooses to give him another chance. The Odyssey celebrates Penelope’s faithfulness to her husband, but the adulterous Molly is not an ironic subversion of the Queen of Ithaca. Joyce wishes to suggest to us that she is faithful, not physically but at a deeper, emotional level, that her Poldy remains the great fact of her life, as she is of his. Although most of what I think I know about love comes from books, films, and observations of others, this strikes me as a very humane, progressive, realistic portrait of marriage. This is why that final “Yes” seems, to me, to sound a sincere note of affirmation. It’s hope earned, not undermined, by recognition of our own imperfections, of the fact that love is time’s fool. Ulysses doesn’t suggest that we can erase the past, or perfect it, but it suggests that we can perhaps learn to live with it, even draw strength from it. That perhaps the memory of all that we’ve lost is something which gives us meaning, rather than depriving us of it. And I find that to be a very hopeful thought.

Molly Bloom’s Point of View

Having peeked at the last page of the book and knowing that it contained the word “yes” over and over again, I must have been assuming, going into Penelope, that Ulysses would end with a sort of universal affirmation, and that I’d feel good after finishing it. But this isn’t what I felt like at all. The episode does end with the word “Yes” but that affirmation is tempered by the rest of her narration, in my opinion mostly because she says that she “made” Bloom propose to her and that she might as well marry him because he would be as good as any other man. The “yes” that ends the episode and novel is therefore not a universal, open-armed embrace of Bloom and all he stands for, and it is surely not an embrace of the world as a whole. Her perspective sets off Bloom’s in a striking way, too. It both redeemed him after his seedy actions in Nausicaa and condemned him for his ordinariness and his dreamy, idealistic intelligence.

It’s hard for me to say exactly why I think Joyce decided to end the novel in Molly’s voice. Somehow it makes sense to me, and it’s hard to imagine the novel ending any other way. I think it helps the novel to cycle back to where it begun: it started on a tower looking out to the sea, and it ends with a memory of Bloom’s proposal on Howth Head next to the sea. I think the punctuation-less somehow is supposed to imitate or serve as a symbol of the sea, which in turn is a symbol of femininity traditionally. Something about the formlessness of the narration and how Molly’s memories seem to come in waves evokes the idea of the sea and water. But overall, I think Penelope was one of the sadder chapters of the book. It reveals how essentially unhappy Molly is in her marriage and how much she would like to return to her home. It also shows her trying to justify her adultery and coming to terms with how important her sexual desires are in her life. I didn’t feel trapped in Molly’s mind like I thought I might feel. It wasn’t quite the same suffocating effect that came up in the carriage in Hades. Instead, I felt like I was a sympathetic listener to  Molly’s thoughts about her life, most of which I thought were very sad. So instead the “Yes” at the end being a rousing final note, I thought it was more of a resignation, a pragmatic decision, that fit in with the fragmentation and questions of identity that modernity raises in general and that Ulysses addresses.

Mr. Bloom on Trial

The “Circe” episode reminds me irresistibly of the dazzling sequence in 8 1/2 (a film I love enormously) where our hero Guido, a philandering and narcissistic film director (portrayed by Marcello Mastroianni but in fact a self-portrait of Federico Fellini, director of 8 1/2), imagines himself as the lord of a harem populated by all the women of his erotic fantasy life, including those buried in the recesses of his unconscious memory. Guido is something like Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom folded into one: a mass of sexual obsession, religious guilt, haughty arrogance, rich humor, flighty imagination, and fetal artistic urges. Many of his fantasies and dreams in the film suggest “Circe” (as when he imagines his dead father and mother, who undergoes a Freudian transformation into his wife), but most important is the episode of the harem, in which the women of Guido’s imagination move from servile, exaggerated adulation to militant, emasculating revolution. This scene helps me to imagine the intended tone of parts of “Circe,” for it is similar to the trial of Leopold Bloom, and the various crises and permutations of identity which he experiences. It’s also one of the most hilarious moments ever put on film, both as an outrageous lampooning of the “battle of the sexes” and as self-criticism, a nicely-polished looking class which Fellini holds up to himself, both exposing and skewering his own tendency toward masculine self-aggrandizement, as well as his objectification, theatrical manipulation, and (perhaps most pertinent to Ulysses), his fear of women.

Virginia Woolf pretty memorably described the effect of Ulysses upon a reader as that of “a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples.” It is not difficult to imagine that one element of her objection to Joyce was perceived naivete in his portrayal and understanding of women. (Let me stress that I don’t mean to suggest this to be the sole or primary basis for her complaint. To shoehorn Woolf, a complex artist, into this box of gender politics would be unfair, reductive… and very male.) We’ve mentioned that the book has a predominantly masculine atmosphere and flavor, but it is something more to say that it has a myopic, limited, or simply misogynistic perception of women, which at times may appear to be the case. Because I like Ulysses, and Leopold Bloom, I have an impulse to attempt to defend both from charges of sexism, but it’s worth acknowledging that this impulse originates in my fondness for the text and character, because it seems this very tension is part of Joyce’s intent and meaning. Dr. Latham suggested that Joyce grew less concerned with asking us to “like” or identify with Bloom as he continued to write the novel. Certainly something of this kind occurred with Stephen Dedalus. Joyce, in Ulysses, seems to have moved beyond the desire he showed in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to secure our sympathy for his alter-ego. It seems to me that a reader who grows to dislike Leopold Bloom in the course of Ulysses most likely does so on the basis of his lecherous attitude toward women. And indeed the “Nausicaa” episode threatens to completely alienate us from him (and probably does, if one is not already among Mr. Bloom’s admirers by that point).

In “Circe,” still more serious charges are brought against Bloom. I suggested in class that some of these are accusations describe transgressions committed only in fantasy. I doubt that Mr. Bloom actually openly lauded Mrs. Bellingham’s nether extremities, or sent The Honourable Mrs. Mervyn Talboys an obscene photograph. By suggesting that these particular cases of misbehavior may be imagined, however, I do not wish to dismiss the genuinely troubling questions raised by this section, or to minimize Bloom’s sexual assault of Mary Driscoll (as he attempts, weakly, to do). What interests me is the fact that I want to salvage and forgive Bloom, the fact that I am upset by certain things that he does or thinks, because I now have an investment in his personality. This, it seems to me, is the means by which Joyce, like Fellini, answers the charge of sexism: by confronting it in an honest, comically self-effacing manner which denies us the luxury of moral complacency or pure identification. More directly than any of the other episodes that we’ve read, “Circe” demands that we grapple with the gendered limitations of Bloom’s consciousness, and perhaps of Joyce’s artistry as well, casting us as the jury in Bloom’s psychic trial. In addition to his intense erotic fascination with them, Bloom both fears and feels alienated from women. But Ulysses, even as it weaves this attitudes into the text in a way which threatens to repel readers, also responds to them, and continually works toward compassionate, nuanced portraits of women. (Obviously the largest such attempt, the one most concerned with inner life, is still to come). All the while, the book acknowledges the author’s uncertainties about precisely how to imagine female subjectivity, as well as his wish to transcend these uncertainties. This is where the atmosphere of sexual experimentalism, metamorphosis, and polyvalence in “Circe” comes from. Bloom is transformed – temporarily, imperfectly – into a woman just as Joyce is working (with his deflations of masculine pretense and illusion, his portrayal of Gerty, his revelations of sexual guilt) toward imagining his way into the undiscovered country of a feminine consciousness (that of Molly Bloom), thereby crossing the unbridgeable gulf felt between Gabriel and Greta Conroy in the conclusion of “The Dead.” I believe that this is an important aspect of Joyce’s artistic project in Ulysses. I suggest that Bloom’s lechery, and his self-absorbed fear of women, exposed so thoroughly in “Circe,” are not merely unpleasant traces of authorial misogyny, but part of Joyce’s own confession, just as Stephen’s sinfulness was in Portrait. And that the partial sacrifice of our sympathies for these men is part of Joyce’s ongoing urge to go beyond his characters, to expand his own range of vision. In “Circe,” we sense the author’s striving toward metamorphosis, the transcendence of identity – sexual identity included.

Hallucinations

I thought the “Circe” episode was very interesting, but at times a little confusing between the transitions from one dream to the next. The flirtation between Bloom and Mrs. Breen shows that Bloom has some sexual guilt, but also some wishful fulfillment. The guilt seems heavy when they talk about Molly. Right away the hallucinations change. They continue to do this throughout the episode. Bloom and Stephen also seem to become closer in this episode starting in the beginning when Bloom follows Stephen to Nighttown. In many ways there is more confusion in this episode, but the confusion also makes it more interesting. There are a few scenes that were a little funny, especially with the Navvy and the watchmen.

I also agree with Katie’s post that Bloom does not seem to be troubled with the sudden changes between one hallucination and another. One second he is talking with Mrs. Breen and the next he is in another dream passing the whores and interacting with The Navvy. The episode is very accurate in how dreams work, they are sometimes fuzzy and confusing. I liked this more than some of the others.  

A Convincing Portrayal of Dreams

Like Amy, I enjoyed “Circe” far more than I anticipated. (This is not to say that I understood what was all going on. I merely enjoyed my confusion a bit more than usual.)  I particularly enjoyed Joyce’s attempt to craft this episode into a dream, because of how convincing he made it. So many elements of “Circe” mirrored my own experience of bizarre dreams that I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself while reading. “Circe” is probably the most accurate depiction of the dream state that I have ever read.

One element of this episode that made it especially convincing was the way various items, people, and ideas from Bloom’s day kept popping up in his hallucinations. On a single page in the middle of the episode, the reader encounters mentions of metempsychosis, buttermilk, and the House of Keys, all things that have popped up at least once before in Ulysses (386). This is just on one single page. References to earlier happenings in the day litter the entire episode, just as a person’s dreams are often filled with fragments of experiences from the previous day. Things that seemed completely unimportant, such as Paddy Dignam asking for a glass of buttermilk upon his arrival in heaven (248), reappear in dreams for no apparent reason.

The other convincing element of this episode was the way in which Joyce transitions from one scene of a hallucination to another. The transitions are sudden and bizarre, yet Bloom does not seem to be troubled by them. He is far too involved in his nightmares to worry about how they are functioning. During the scene in which Bloom is put on trial, the stage directions describe the change of scene as such: “A panel of fog rolls back rapidly, revealing rapidly in the jurybox the faces…” (383). Awake, sane readers obviously know that courtrooms do not employ fog to hide juries. However, in a dream, most of us probably would not question it. It’s simply how dreams work.

As a side note, I’m fairly certain that Joyce borrowed some Freudian ideas regarding dreams to craft this episode. I don’t know much about Freud’s dream theories, though, so if anyone would like to shed some light on the subject, that would be lovely!