The first thing that I noticed in this opening episode was the conflation between Buck Mulligan and the sea, both when they are on top of the parapet and at the end of the episode when Buck actually begins to swim, and of how the gray-green color palette used to describe the sea is used in conspicuous contrast to Stephen Dedalus in his mourning-clothes. Buck Mulligan’s voice and presence is ubiquitous in this episode, as are his songs, quotations of poetry, and various allusions from foreign languages, literature, and almost everything else from popular and historical culture. I thought his comment on death was interestingly correlated with the passive indifference of the water in the bay: “And what is death, he asked, your mother’s or yours or my own?…It’s a beastly thing and nothing else. It simply doesn’t matter” (204-207).
Given that Joyce describes Buck’s eyes in the same visual field as the sea (“Stephen turned his gaze from the sea and to the plump face with its smokeblue mobile eyes” (125-126)) and draws attention to their sameness in color, there is a division being set up between the all-encompassing, passive greyness of the culture at large and the hard, uncompromising absoluteness of Stephen Dedalus, as symbolized by his black mourning attire, “in cheap dusty mourning between their gay attires” (570-571). It is hard to see exactly what the purpose of this symbolic distinction is, and it is a relatively minor thing to notice, and yet I feel as though seemingly subtle details like colors and where Joyce puts them for us to find will be an important step in trying to unravel larger themes across the rest of the novel.