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MonkeyNotes-Ulysses by James Joyce
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Notes

The Homeric correspondences are again in this chapter symbolic rather than narrative. One of the perils Odysseus has to undergo is to sail through a narrow channel. On one side is a six-headed monster called Scylla who lives on a rock and is able to snatch sailors from their ships if they get too close. On the other is Charybdis, a raging whirlpool. Circe advises Odysseus to keep to the side of Scylla, which he does and escapes, though not without some loss of men. Scylla represents materialism, Aristotle’s philosophy and the biographical kind of literary criticism. Charybdis represents idealism and mysticism, Plato and the theory that literature consists of "formless essences." Stephen argues for the first, Russell for the second. Each has its perils, but the biographical-materialist has fewer. A second set of correspondences consists of the equations Stratford = Scylla, Charybdis = London. It may have been more boring for Shakespeare to retire to Stratford, but it was safer than getting lost in the whirlpool of London.

The Biblical correspondences are rather obscure. Since it is Stephen’s chapter, we return to the life of Christ. His ministry finished, Jesus enters Jerusalem, riding on a donkey and greeted by the populace. This is liturgically Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. The service for this day includes the opening of the west door of the church and a procession through it. This is reflected in the business with doors in the chapter, as the librarian comes and goes. The donkey appears in Stephen’s use of the Commandment.


The subject-matter of this chapter is Shakespeare and very little else. It describes a discussion in the National Library on this subject between Stephen, Lyster the Librarian, Magee (‘John Eglinton’) the assistant librarian, Best, another assistant and George Russell the mystic poet (AE). Later Buck Mulligan joins in briefly. Most of this discussion is a highly non-spontaneous lecture by Stephen on the biographical interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays. But it is vital to the central ideas of Ulysses. The core of the theory is that all literature is in a very real sense autobiography and that the father-son relationship is as important in Hamlet as in Homer and the Bible.

The conversation must be taken as a nearly real one. The things the speakers say are either reported verbatim or are wholly characteristic of them. Frank O’Connor told AE in his later years what Joyce had made him say in this chapter, "The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring." To this AE replied, "How clever of Joyce: I might have said something like that." "He said it every day," O’Connor comments. The discussion is forthright but hardly ever rude. The technique is dialectic, i.e. thesis, antithesis and synthesis as the three stages of the quest for truth.

In this chapter we have the crucial discussion to the father-son theme in Hamlet and in Shakespeare’s own life. Stephen expressly relates his theoretical consideration to the personal life of Eglinton and himself. The reader will realize the involvement of Bloom here. Bloom, like Shakespeare, has suffered the death of a son. As Stephen relates his personal life to that of Shakespeare, so Bloom’s personal life and the powerful influence of Molly Bloom become clear. The chapter ends with a moment of connection between Bloom and Stephen. The reader will see for the first time the approaching contact between this particular father and son. To the extent that Molly is identifiable with Anne Hathaway as a wife, so she may be equated with her as the middle-aged seducer of youth, and specifically the youthful poet. The connection between Molly and Stephen, never made explicit in the novel, is for the first time suggested here.

Mulligan, with his obscene play, is apparently travestying masturbation. He seems to represent the forces of fruitlessness and sterility in Dublin life. Mulligan speaks throughout in a jumble of parodied styles: classical heroic and what was, for Joyce, the fake accent of the Irish Renaissance represented by Synge, Yeats and A.E. himself. His play is medieval. He parodies Burns’s song, "John Anderson, my Jo." The original song is about the weakness of old age. So here, Mulligan stands for a worn-out, tarnished and infertile society. It is the Ireland from which Joyce exiled himself, as Shakespeare exiled himself in London.

There is no evidence in Shakespeare’s life and plays to support the general direction of Stephen’s theory. The whole technique of psychoanalytical guesswork, which Stephen flourishes, is at best unreliable. He appears, therefore, as a quaint rather than an impressive figure. The reader feels that Russell and Eglinton are more insightful than Joyce’s hero.

Joyce portrays Stephen. He in his turn portrays Shakespeare, who portrays himself in his plays. So Stephen portrays himself in his theories, and Joyce himself in Stephen. Implicit through the chapter is the assumption that incidents from a writer’s own life will find their vital expression in the writings.

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