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MonkeyNotes-Ulysses by James Joyce
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Chapter 15

Circe Summary

The time is midnight. Bloom follows Stephen and Lynch into the area of brothels and slums. He is able to perform some kind of rescue when the drunken young Dedalus is assaulted. The action begins at the Mabbot Street entrance to Nighttown, a strange and dreadful land of sordid, drunken, crippled men, women and children. They are all living in this modern slum. Stephen and Lynch stagger in, drunk from the tavern. They are mocked by the chorus of passersby and bystanders as poor, randy medical students. Bloom rushes in. He has followed Stephen out of some vague desire to protect him from his debauchery. He is almost knocked down by a passing sander (which is servicing the tram tracks). He summons to his recollection other escape from danger and violence. The Caffrey twins seem to collide against him. They bring to mind his adventure with Gerty MacDowell. They stimulate a visionary, guilt-laden interview with his father and mother. Molly appears in a vision, fantastically dressed, to join the reproachful group around him. Bloom is anxiously discussing Italian pronunciation with his vision of Molly. The real world intrudes, as a bawd approaches him. Images of guilt and frustration come in the forms of Gerty and Mrs. Breen, who recalls episodes from the past when she and Bloom were close friends.

Bloom gives a pig’s trotter he has bought to a passing dog. He is arrested by the watch for committing a nuisance. In a fantasy trial Bloom tries first to conceal his identity, then to identity himself as a respectable, decent man. But images and characters from his past appear as witnesses and jurymen, to confront him. The trial focuses on Bloom’s obsession with aristocratic ladies and his perverse desire to abase himself to them. Before the fantasy trial can lead to an execution, Bloom abruptly returns to reality.


Bloom confronts Zoe Higgins who has information about Stephen’s whereabouts. Bloom speaks with her. His mind is half busy with reality, half busy with sentiment dream-world of beauty. His reception by Zoe stimulates his thwarted desire for recognition and affection. It produces a massive imaginary triumph. Bloom becomes the leader of men, the judge and the giver of gifts. Again, figures from his past life reappear in strange guises. But now the generous, all-powerful Bloom receives them like a Divinity. Not only is he an Irishman, he is the accepted successor to Parnell. But the glorious image is soon sullied again by Bloom’s guilts and fears. Men rise up to refute Bloom-worship. Dr. Dixon speaks of him as a pathological case, womanly and pregnant. His miracles are not accepted. He is executed in a farcical crucifixion. So even his failures are deified in his feverish imagination. Zoe brings him to reality again.

Bloom enters the brothel in search of Stephen who is in the Music-Room talking elaborate drunken nonsense. His evangelical cast of mind predominates. The prostitutes confess their sins to him who is like Elijah. Bloom, like his own grandfather Virag, shows interest in technological insights, which he apparently feels come from his ancestors. At the same time, his romantic idealism is given a free play. His imagination relives the entire gamut of his love affairs. A dialogue develops between the twin sides of his nature: Virag and Henry Flower.

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