Having peeked at the last page of the book and knowing that it contained the word “yes” over and over again, I must have been assuming, going into Penelope, that Ulysses would end with a sort of universal affirmation, and that I’d feel good after finishing it. But this isn’t what I felt like at all. The episode does end with the word “Yes” but that affirmation is tempered by the rest of her narration, in my opinion mostly because she says that she “made” Bloom propose to her and that she might as well marry him because he would be as good as any other man. The “yes” that ends the episode and novel is therefore not a universal, open-armed embrace of Bloom and all he stands for, and it is surely not an embrace of the world as a whole. Her perspective sets off Bloom’s in a striking way, too. It both redeemed him after his seedy actions in Nausicaa and condemned him for his ordinariness and his dreamy, idealistic intelligence.
It’s hard for me to say exactly why I think Joyce decided to end the novel in Molly’s voice. Somehow it makes sense to me, and it’s hard to imagine the novel ending any other way. I think it helps the novel to cycle back to where it begun: it started on a tower looking out to the sea, and it ends with a memory of Bloom’s proposal on Howth Head next to the sea. I think the punctuation-less somehow is supposed to imitate or serve as a symbol of the sea, which in turn is a symbol of femininity traditionally. Something about the formlessness of the narration and how Molly’s memories seem to come in waves evokes the idea of the sea and water. But overall, I think Penelope was one of the sadder chapters of the book. It reveals how essentially unhappy Molly is in her marriage and how much she would like to return to her home. It also shows her trying to justify her adultery and coming to terms with how important her sexual desires are in her life. I didn’t feel trapped in Molly’s mind like I thought I might feel. It wasn’t quite the same suffocating effect that came up in the carriage in Hades. Instead, I felt like I was a sympathetic listener to Molly’s thoughts about her life, most of which I thought were very sad. So instead the “Yes” at the end being a rousing final note, I thought it was more of a resignation, a pragmatic decision, that fit in with the fragmentation and questions of identity that modernity raises in general and that Ulysses addresses.