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Ulysses (novel)

Ulysses by James Joyce is sometimes cited as the greatest novel of the 20th century and has been the subject of much scrutiny, criticism, condemnation and confusion. Ulysses was written over a eight-year period from 1914 to 1922 and chronicles the adventures of Leopold Bloom during an otherwise unremarkable day, June 16, 1904. The title alludes to the hero of Homer's Odyssey, and Joyce has mapped the many chapters of his Ulysses onto those of The Odyssey, for example Leopold Bloom as Odysseus, though the correlation is mostly implicit.

June 16 is now celebrated by Joyce's fans worldwide as 'Bloomsday' and is commemorated by activities such as academic symposia, re-enactments and readings from Ulysses, and general merriment.

Ulysses is a massive novel: 267,000 words in total from a vocabulary of 30,000 words, with most editions weighing in at sizes from between 800 to 1,000 pages long comprised of 18 chapters. At first glance the book may appear unstructured, chaotic and confusing. In fact, Ulysses is highly structured; what Joyce does is to make that structure invisible until one searches for it. Some time after publication Joyce released two schemata that make the links to the Odyssey, and much internal structure, explicit. To the confusion of all, these two schematas vary wildly in places.

Table of contents

The 18 chapters

Most chapters of Ulysses have an assigned organ and technic and, tellingly, correspondences between its characters and those of the Odyssey. Though most publications omit the chapter titles, they are crucial to understanding the novel and following the narrative of the Odyssey.

  1. Telemachus
  2. Nestor
  3. Proteus
  4. Calypso
  5. Lotus-Eaters
  6. Hades
  7. Aeolus
  8. Lestrygonians
  9. Scylla and Charybdis
  10. The Wandering Rocks
  11. Sirens
  12. Cyclops
  13. Nausicaa
  14. Oxen of the Sun
  15. Circe
  16. Eumaeus
  17. Ithaca
  18. Penelope


It is morning. The book opens inside Martello Tower on Dublin Bay[?] at Sandycove[?], where three young men, Buck Mulligan (a callous and boisterous medical student), Stephen Dedalus[?] (an Aristotlean author) and Haines (a nondescript Englishman from Oxford) are waking and preparing for the day. Stephen, brooding about the recent death of his mother, complains about Haines' hysterical nightmares. Mulligan shaves and prepares breakfast and all three then eat. Haines decides to go to the library and Mulligan suggests swimming beforehand; all three then leave the tower. Walking for a time, Stephen chats with Haines and smokes before leaving, deciding that he cannot return to the tower that evening for Mulligan has usurped his place.


Stephen is at school, attempting to teach bored schoolboys history and English, though they are unappreciative of his efforts. Stephen attempts to tell a riddle which falls flat before seeing the boys out of the classroom apart from one, who he then shows how to do a set of arithmetic exercises. Afterwards he visits the school headmaster, Mr. Deasy, from whom he collects his pay and a letter to take to a newspaper office for printing.


Next, Stephen finds his way to the strand and mopes around for some time, doing little more than thinking, reminiscing and walking about on the beach. He lies down among some rocks, watches a couple and a dog, writes some poetry ideas, and picks his nose.


The role of protagonist suddenly shifts to Leopold Bloom, a Jewish advertising canvasser living nearby in Eccles street preparing breakfast at the same time as Mulligan in the tower. He walks to a butcher to purchase a kidney for his breakfast and returns to finish his cooking. He takes his wife (Molly Bloom) her breakfast and letters and reads his own letter from their daughter, Milly. The chapter closes with his plodding to the outhose to defacate.


The final chapter of Ulysses consists of Molly Bloom's Soliloquy: eight enormous sentences (without punctuation) written from the viewpoint of Leopold Bloom's estranged wife, Molly[?] (who represents Penelope). Parts of the final sentence were used by Kate Bush as lyrics to her song The Sensual World[?].

The two schemata

Movie In 1967, a movie version of the book was produced.

Points to consider

  • Denis Breen's postcard (Lestrygonians)
    • Why is Denis Breen's postcard libellous?
    • Who sent it?
    • Is its text "U.P.: up" or merely just "U.P."?
  • Why did the Blooms' social life decrease so significantly after 1894?
  • Gerty MacDowell
    • How old is Gerty?
    • Does Bloom acknowledge her age or is he in denial?
    • Is Bloom's encounter with her just a fantasy?

External Link

ISBN 0590425994

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