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Apparently nothing much happens in the first chapter of the first part. However, parallels with Homerís Odyssey are most obvious. In the first book of the Odyssey Telemachus, surrounded by his motherís suitors, feels neglected and dispossessed, though he is the son and heir of Odysseus. Those intruders, eating his substance, rob him of his patrimony. Stirred from his childish ineffectuality by Athena, acting in disguise as messenger, he resolves to seek news of his missing father. In Joyceís novel, Stephen represents the sad and lonely Telemachus. He is also preoccupied with mother, father, home and self. Mulligan, the usurper (Antionus) and Haines are the suitors. The patrimony of which they rob Stephen is at once the tower, for which he pays rent, and Ireland. Athena is probably suggested by the milkwoman, "may be a messenger", and "lowly form of an immortal."
The biblical correspondences are very important. Stephen is Jesus at his baptism. Mulligan is John the Baptist. Haines is the Devil who is shortly to tempt Jesus. The chapter contains the opening phrase of the Latin Mass, "Introibo ad altare Dei", and various sections of the Mass are alluded to later in the chapter. Mulliganís word "Christine" implies a feminine version of Christís body. The Black Mass is traditionally celebrated over a womanís body lying on the altar. The key phrase in the New Testament for this chapter and indeed for the whole of Ulysses is: "this is my body." Jesus commanded his disciples to take and eat it at the Last Supper.
Buck Mulligan is modeled on Oliver St. John Gogarty, a young medical student, with whom Joyce had become friendly. Joyce was attracted by his irreverence, although he also suspected him. For a few days in early September 1904, Joyce stayed with him in the Martello Tower in Sandycove. Gogarty rented the tower as a kind of bohemian nucleus. He wanted to hellenize Ireland from an artistic colony there. Since Joyce was homeless, he accepted his hospitality. The third member of the group was a highly-strung Anglo-Irish man, Samuel Chenevix Trench. Haines is modeled on him. Like Haines, Trench suffered from nightmares. On the night of 14 September, he dreamt of being chased by a black panther. Half asleep, he reached for the loaded revolver he kept by his side and shot into the fireplace, narrowly missing Joyce. When he woke again, screaming about the panther, Gogarty took the gun from him and shouted, "Leave him to me." Joyce took this as notice to quit, got dressed and left, although it was the middle of the night. This incident provided the setting and atmosphere for the opening chapter of Ulysses.
One of the highlights of this chapter is a contrast between the two youths, Stephen and Mulligan. Mulligan is always preoccupied with the immediate future, e.g., he looks forward to a drinking bout at Stephenís expense. Stephen, on the contrary, is always haunted by his past, e.g., he is haunted by memories of his motherís death. Stephen is a character endowed with inwardness. Mulligan, in contrast to Stephen, is an extrovert who is always busy with things external. Stephen is a man of conscience. Mulligan is a man without conscience. He takes Stephenís money without any feeling of guilt. He goes to the extent of requesting Stephen to request Haines for a loan. The causes of Stephenís brooding, his mingled guilt and annoyance with Mulligan, are brought in slowly. We pick up the details of his life and personality from occasional, passing comments, just as though we have met him in real life. Stephen does not like Mulliganís arrogant and domineering manner. He rejects the conventional Irish society, which Mulligan represents.