Reactions to Death

Seeing as this issue of The Little Review was published only a few short months before the end of World War I, it is not surprising that death is a major topic. Taking place at a funeral, Episode VI of Ulysses, a loose parallel of “Hades” in the Odyssey, fits right in. Though nearly every piece in this issue deals with death, the various authors write about it in different ways, many of which parallel Bloom’s reactions throughout the chapter.

                 For example, Yeats’ “In Memory of Robert Gregory” deals with the nearly unspeakable grief that comes with the death of a young person. Though Robert Gregory, an Irish pilot in World War I, was not nearly as young as Bloom’s son Rudy when he died, Yeats expresses similar anguish to that which Bloom experiences when thinking about his son. In the final line of the poem, Yeats states that writing about Robert Gregory’s recent death, “took all my heart” (4). In many ways, it seems like Rudy’s death took away Bloom’s heart. When he sees the child’s coffin pass ahead of their carriage, Bloom goes through a series of halting thoughts that demonstrate the deep heartbreak he still experiences as a result of Rudy’s death: “Our. Little. Beggar. Baby. Meant nothing. Mistake of nature” (79). Though it has been years, Bloom still experiences intense emotional pain.

                 In his poem “Whispers of Immortality,” T.S. Eliot writes about Webster and Donne, two long dead poets who are nevertheless remembered. Interestingly, Eliot seems to think that it was their portrayals of death in their poetry that earned them a place in Western memory. Though physically dead, their writing is immortal. Similarly, the men’s visit to Parnell’s grave proves that he has attained a “whisper of immortality,” just like the poets. In fact some people even wonder if he actually died. Mr. Power states, “Some say he is not in that grave at all. That the coffin was filled with stones. That one day he will come again” (93). Even though Hynes abruptly shoots down this possibility, Parnell retains his place in Irish memory. As long as people remember those who have died, they maintain a glimmer of life, even if it is only in the memory of others. 

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2 thoughts on “Reactions to Death

  1. Will Boogert

    I think you’ve hit on something that was there under the surface in this episode, but that your post made m realize on the surface, is the very clear connection between death and memory that is going on in Bloom’s head throughout Hades. In some ways it would be easier if Bloom could just forget about Rudy altogether now that he’s gone, because the way that he holds onto the “glimmer of life”, which is his memory of his son, is only painful to him. And all of the hopes he had for Rudy are now just painful aspirations that have been taken from him, since it is only in life we can have hope for people, or through people, in the case of Parnell. So there’s a pretty clear connection between the shades that are being represented in this episode, and how we live on with “shades” of people we have known in our minds after they have died. It’s very sad, when I think about it that way.

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  2. bookiegirl

    I read Hamlet’s “To be or not to be ” solilloquy today and I couldn’t help thinking of Bloom’s silent grieving for his father and his son. Hamlet speaks of, ” …The heartache and the thousand natural shocks/That the flesh is heir to,” when contemplating whether to continue to live with his tortured mind or to commit suicide and end his misery. Hamlet is paralyzed by his uncertainty about what to expect from his chaotic life or the sleep that awaits him after such a death. So is Bloom.
    Bloom like Hamlet is tortured by his thoughts and feels heartache mourning the death of his baby son, Rudy, and his father, Rudolf, of whom he is reminded by the talk of how DIgnam died from the failure of his “old rusty pump.” Bloom mentions that Dignam went in the best way, quickly. Unlike Bloom’s father Rudolf, who committed suicide by poisoning himself, agonizing like Hamlet but choosing death to the suffering of life. But it is the living Leopold Bloom whose heart is broken and is left to suffer when his loved ones die or commit suicide. Bloom’s sufferings play out in his life as a paralysis. He has not been able to make love to Molly since Rudy’s death causing her to take a lover. Each selection of The LIttle Review, Sept. 1918 edition, contemplates the heartache of life which birth and death of loved ones cause the living. Ben Hecht’s, “Decay,” shows the stark contrast of parental reaction to the death of a child, in a family too large for its income, as the drunken father kills his baby son, the mother’s agony and the father’s laughter. Bloom’s lengthy grief over his child is quite a contrast. Yeat’s, poem, ” In Memory of Robert Gregory,” memorializes the young soldier son of his friend and benefactress, Lady Gregory, who has lost her only son in a heroic death. Yet that death has left a gaping hole in the small family/friend circle to which Yeats belonged. He remembers several lost friends and the unique characteristics of each. Grieving causes a kind of paralysis, beautifully expressed as only Yeats can, even if it is just that one pauses every now and then to remember the one who is no longer with us and miss him/her.

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