Mrs. Dedalus in Telemachus

One thing I found interesting while I was reading Telemachus was the comments and discussion surrounding the death of Stephen’s mother.  She is mentioned several times throughout the section, and her death seems to be thought of in a few different ways by the characters.  Most prominently in the text is Dedalus’ view versus Buck Mulligan’s view of events.

From Mulligan’s opinions, expressed on page 7, we gather that he views death as a natural occurrence that has the power to reduce humans to animals. He sees “them pop off every day…” (7) and for him it has lost its emotional sway, as evidenced by his comments “It’s a beastly thing and nothing else.  It simply doesn’t matter” (7).  He was not directly connected to Mrs. Dedalus, and this also should have some effect on what his feelings are, but nevertheless exposes an aspect to his character that may not be the most appealing; he is incredibly insensitive to the thoughts of someone who is still wearing mourning clothes.

For Stephen, of course, his mother’s death is much more powerful.  He is haunted by her image “her wasted body within its loose brown graveclothes giving off an odour of wax and rosewood” (5) and he seems to feel some guilt over his actions at her deathbed.  Her absence seems to have affected his perspective.  There are many references to maternal figures throughout the selection, particularly the idea of the sea as a mother. Mulligan calls the sea “a great sweet mother… our mighty mother” (4-5).  It is interesting to see the sea presented in this way, especially by Buck Mulligan, who has proven to be incredibly insensitive to Stephen with a handful of comments spread throughout such as “he kills his mother, but he can’t wear grey trousers,” and “It’s just Dedalus whose mother is beastly dead.”  It almost seems to me as though the sea is being used to replace the maternal figure of Stephen’s real mother. I’m not sure how this theme will develop over the course of the novel, but I look forward to finding out.

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2 thoughts on “Mrs. Dedalus in Telemachus

  1. jsdrouin

    Yes, the scene in which Stephen looks at Dublin Bay and then switches to his memory of the vomit bowl by his mother’s deathbed is certainly intended to show us Stephen’s connection of his mother with “mother Ireland.” Let’s think about what other associations are packed into this image of Dublin bay, since it begins to develop in subsequent iterations in this episode. Hint: think of the girls/women Stephen and other young male characters fetishized in Portrait and Dubliners.

    Reply
  2. Will Boogert

    I also thought it was interesting that Stephen’s mother came up so often in his imagination during this episode. I think he regrets refusing to pray for her while she was dying more than he is willing to admit. On the surface he’s always witty and ready with a retort, but I think he is too sensitive to certain pieces of his environment that remind him of his mother or things he regrets to the extent that he needs to hide that sensitivity.

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