Molly Bloom’s Point of View

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.

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One thought on “Molly Bloom’s Point of View

  1. jww92

    I guess my response is that Molly’s “Yes” does not have to be an absolute embrace of Bloom or of humanity in order to be an expression of love and positive energy, and that even if it were we would likely find that unconvincing in a book which is often so ruthlessly honest about frailty and disappointment. Indeed, the final message would actually be sadder if Molly was remembering a time when she was so naive as to find in Bloom an image of perfection, or to universally embrace the world. Her disillusionment would then be that much greater. The Molly who accepts Bloom’s proposal of marriage was perhaps more idealistic and romantic than the one who lies next to him in bed in 1904, but as you say this is tempered by realism. It’s possible to interpret “well as well him as another” as an expression of dissatisfaction, or “resignation” as you say, but to me it is more a warm acknowledgment of what the older Molly has forgotten, a lover’s willingness to take the good with the bad. “As well him as another” may not sound “romantic” to us, it’s nothing you’ll hear in “Romeo and Juliet,” but it’s actually a pretty generous sentiment: “He’s not perfect, but then again who is? I could do a lot worse but I won’t likely do better. Yes, he will do. I love him enough to want to spend the rest of my life with him.” Maybe I’m putting a rather warm spin on it, but I feel that the ending of the book is so wonderful precisely because it avoids any hint of saccharine idealism yet still manages to be unabashedly romantic.

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