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!


One thought on “A Convincing Portrayal of Dreams

  1. Will Boogert

    I agree that Circe is very dreamlike, and seems to let go of logic just enough while still holding onto the basic elements of Bloom’s life to make it really feel like a dream. I just wonder why Joyce decided to write this episode in a play format. It doesn’t seem like the first genre that would come to mind, and yet it makes a certain weird kind of sense. Maybe it has something to do with the suspension of disbelief that the playwright asks of the audience. Your brain probably forces a similar kind of suspension of disbelief when you dream, so that you don’t question anything, even though it’s complete nonsense when you think about it afterwards.


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