Reading the first three episodes of Ulysses is a completely different experience, in many ways, from reading the episodes that follow. Although I cannot speak for any of the episodes after 5, it is clear immediately that things are going to be different in the episodes where Leopold Bloom is our central character. The biggest difference to me, as I switched from Stephen’s narrative to Bloom’s is the connection and reaction to the physical world.
Stephen certainly takes in the physical world around him, but it immediately seems to be caught up in his mind and in his world of associations, where it quickly changes into something else. Although there is some of that happening in Bloom’s mind as well, it seems to me that he has a more immediate connection with the physical world. For example, the way in which Bloom observes people, particularly women, when he is out buying a kidney showed me how he reacted to things that he saw. He waits behind a woman in line, wanting to be able to “catch up and walk behind her if she went slowly, behind her moving hams. Pleasant to see first thing in the morning” (49). This kind of observation is completely different than anything we saw in the first three episodes with Stephen. Bloom’s connection with his own body also seems to be very central in this episode, the most obvious example being the scene when he goes to the bathroom. He is definitely aware of what his body is doing, and although he is reading and thinking of other things as well, the physical world and the actions of his body clearly have a role in his mind.
I am not entirely sure what to make of this switch, and I think I will understand it better as I read on more. I do think it is necessary, however, if Joyce is trying to show us as truly and as accurately as he can what it is like to think. To me it felt like a logical next step after Dubliners and Portrait. In Dubliners he presents us with lots of different characters, who share the experience of living in Dublin. Portrait does the same thing, but with an individual (basically Joyce himself), and then in Ulysses we start out with that individual, but switch to an individual that thinks very differently. I am not sure exactly how to fit it into Joyce’s aesthetic ideals, other than to say that for me it seems to comply, because he is realistically portraying another point of view of someone also living in Dublin. I wonder if the many differences between Stephen and Bloom are perhaps to highlight the differences between people in general. They’re different, but all still living and thinking in this world.