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MonkeyNotes-Ulysses by James Joyce
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In Book 23 of the Odyssey, when Odysseus has conquered the suitors he still has to win the acceptance of his wife Penelope. She has been upstairs in bed during all the fighting, unaware that anything unusual has been taking place. Not having seen her husband for twenty years, she will naturally be suspicious of a stranger who claims the kingdom. So Odysseus has to convince her, by showing that he knows a secret that is otherwise known only to her husband. The secret is that he formed one of the four posts of the marriage bed out of a living tree that still grows through the room. When he tells her this, she accepts him as her true husband and grants him his marital rights. So at the end of Ulysses Molly accepts Bloom as her true love.

The Christian and Dantesque story also comes to an end in Paradise. Bloom has ascended the Mountain of Purgatory and reached the Earthly Paradise in his fantasy. Now he enters the Paradise of Molly’s mind. He achieves immortality and salvation because at the end she thinks well of him, and indeed only of him. He is also deified and is not only redeemed man but God in all three persons. Molly thinks much of roses, among other flowers. She repeats the words of a popular song, "Shall I wear a red rose, or shall I wear a white?" The red rose must be a reference to her menstruation, which begins halfway through her monologue. The red rose has of course a long history as a sexual as well as a religious symbol. It provides a pivot for the ironic see-saw of earthly and heavenly love, Eros and agape. Finally Eros (personified by Blazes Boylan) is vanquished by agape (personified by Bloom).


This chapter projects Molly’s meditative monologue. The thoughts of Stephen and Bloom have been throughout the book conditioned by their changing environment and the actions round them. Molly’s meditation, in bed with a sleeping husband, in the early hours of the morning, is unconfirmed by eternal incident. Her mind ranges widely over her past life and her expected future. The passage of time is marked only by her bodily functions, the whistle of a train and the chiming of a clock. In her monologue, she is concerned with time and human mutability. She looks back over her past life: her romantic Gibraltar girlhood and her present drab life married to the treacherous Bloom and courted by the brutal Boylan. The girlhood is seen sometimes in a nostalgic glow.

Through the whole novel Molly is projected as a fine singer and a remarkably attractive woman. Yet in her monologue she is delightfully unaware of her distinction in the concert hall and she tends to consider her physical attractiveness as something common to all women rather than something uniquely hers. She takes her singing and her amorous adventures for granted. Her roll call of lovers is presented without a feeling of guilt. Her speech makes use of the words of the songs she knows. So love and song are integrated into her personality. So she is free from anxieties, nightmares, guilty feelings or regrets that persistently affect Bloom and Stephen. She can even plot a seduction of Stephen without qualm of conscience.

Molly’s freedom from fear and guilt seems far removed from the glum introspection of her men folk. Yet this freedom is not altogether attractive. It is clearly shown to be a form of selfishness, even of arrogance. Molly’s triumph over Mrs. Breen or Mrs. Purefoy is certainly not pleasant. Her refusal to allow her lovers any dignity in her recollections shows a pettiness in her character. Molly has distaste for the sexual act. She refuses to encourage fertility. Like Gerty, she dislikes children. She dismisses the passing thought that she might bear another child although she is only 34. The appearance of her menstrual period stimulates the comment: "anyhow he didn’t make me pregnant."

Her thoughts constantly turn to Bloom. He has been the center of her life. She seems still fascinated with her curious private behavior and his occasional public manifestations of eccentricity. He is the only one who knows both sides of her, just as she is the only person who has experience of all his curiosities. That is why her hoped for reconciliation with him is so meaningful. She seems to be looking forward to a life in which her unsatisfactory relations with a chain of lovers is replaced by her love for this strange man whom we have come to know so well. Bloom to her is man in all his aspects: infant, lover, sympathetic understander, responsible husband, cuckold and an odd one, "mad on the subject of drawers." "He is beyond everything." Once he "wanted to milk me into the tea." "If I only could remember the one half of the things and write a book out of it." Plainly, she inspired someone else to do that eighteen years later.

Molly has the last word and that word is "Yes." Although some critics think her yes means "no", we may take her "Yes" to mean, "yes." This word, which D.H. Lawrence tried again and again to say, is the meaning of Ulysses. At once particular and general, Molly’s "yes" is an affirmation of life. Molly’s affirmation of life is one facet of a great complex whole wherein the forces of evil operate strongly too. The evil in Molly, as well as the evil in her environment, has already struck the reader. Right now the good in Molly and the real possible good in her environment seem to be dominant. Molly is as much a mystery as is reality. She has been fascinating, and she still is, and will always be, a woman of infinite variety.

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