Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Lecture Six--Leopold Bloom and the Lotus Eaters
(from "Joyce's Ulysses" by Professor James A.W. Hefferman of Dartmouth College)


Chapter 5 is named for the Lotus Eaters of l~lomer’s Odyssey, who
live off the fruit of the lotus, which is a kind of narcotic; when
some of Ulysses’s men take it during a visit to the Lotus Eaters,
they forget all about going home and he must force them to leave.
This chapter tests Bloom’s devotion to his home and his wife by
tempting him to forget both and savor the pleasures of doing
absolutely nothing. But Bloom cannot escape the pain of knowing
that his wife plans to commit adultery, or the pain of remembering
his dead father, who leaves him with a legacy of guilt for
abandoning Judaism. At the end of the chapter, not even the
prospect ofa luxurious bath can wholly dissolve these pains.


I. Reenacting the Homeric episode ofthe Lotus Eaters, this chapter
tempts Bloom to forget his devotion to his home and his Wife.

A. When Ulysses and his men visit the Lotus Eaters in The Odyssey
the men are drugged by the fruit of the lotus flower, and Ulysses
alone makes them move on.
1. The men forget all about their homeland. 
2. Ulysses must force them to leave. 
3. The episode shows Ulysses’s determination to get home.
B. Like Ulysses’s men, Bloom is tempted in various ways to forget
his devotion to his wife and home.
1. He thinks about “Flowers of idleness” and fantasizes about the
laziness of life in the Far East. 
2. He forgets his house key and several other things. 
3. He imagines that gelded horses might be happily free of
4. He sees Roman Catholic communicants “safe in the arms of
kingdom come.” 
5. As “Henry Flower,” he conducts a furtive correspondence
with a would-be “smart lady typist” named Martha.
II. But Bloom demonstrates his capacity to resist stupefaction and
lethargy~because he can never forget the pain bound up with
memories of home and his familial past.
A. His conversation with McCoy leads to the painful topic of Blazes
1. When Bloom tells McCoy that Molly is booked for a concert
tour, McCoy asks, “Who’s getting it up?”-a double-entendre
that alludes to Boylan’s sexual designs on Molly. 
2. Though Bloom avoids answering McCoy’s question directly,
he is forced to remember Boylan’s letter addressed to “Mrs.
Marion Bloom.”
B. A poster advertising a play reminds Bloom of his dead father and
their painful relation to Judaism.
1. In one scene of the play, an apostate Jew who returns to his
native Austrian village is recognized by a friend of his father,
who tells the young man that his father died of grief over his
son’s apostasy.  
2. Bloom recalls that his father was profoundly moved by this
3. Though his father converted to Christianity at the time of his
marriage, he seems to have wanted to make Bloom feel guilty
for leaving the God of Judaism.
III. Though Martha’s letter rouses him to “weak joy,” its cockeyed
language brings its own threat of punishment and pain.

A. The letter is a crazy mix of longing, self-pity, illiteracy, and
outrage, proving the “smart lady typist” to be superlatively dumb. 
B. The flower that comes with the letter has a pin in it. 
C. Its language of flowers is itself a thomy language of menace
threats to punish Bloom. 
D. Martha is both angry with Bloom and desperate to see him.

IV. Bloom unsentimentally resists the lotus-flower charms of Martha.

A. He foresees the quarrel that might break out if they met. 
B. From her reference to a headache, he guesses that she “has her
roses probably”~that is, she’s menstruating. 
C. The pin with the flower reminds him of a bawdy street song that
leads in tum to thoughts of Molly’s adultery.

V. Though Bloom finds the Mass mildly erotic, he focuses on its elements
of pain and suffering.

A. Seeing on the back of the priest’s vestments the letters INRI and
IHS, which refer to Christ, he mistakenly construes them as
meaning “Iron Nails Ran In” and “I Have Suffered.” 
B. Thus, he implicitly identifies his own suffering with that of
Christ-a point that will be developed later in the novel.

VI. In Bloom’s final vision of his body soothed and solaced by a bath of
pleasure, the limp phallus must remind him that he has no living son.

A. He plans to visit the Turkish bath before attending the funeral of
Paddy Dignam. 
B. He plans to masturbate in the bath. 
C. In saying to himself, “This is my body,” Bloom ironically recalls
the words of consecration in the Mass.
1. “This is my body” are words of consecration. When the priest
utters them in reference to a wafer of bread, he reenacts what
Christ said of bread at the Last Supper. 
2. implicitly, therefore, Bloom is once again identifying himself
with Christ. 
3. But he’s using the words to help him imagine a purely
physical pleasure.
D. The final vision of himself floating in the bath with his genitals as
a “languid” flower manifests his sexual indolence-his failure to
father a living son.
1. The mental picture of himself lying in water exemplifies the
lure of idleness. 
2. The flower has by now come to symbolize the indolence and
forgetfulness of the Lotus Eaters-and the would-be solace of
sexual gratification. 
3. But in foreseeing his penis in the bath as a “limp father of
thousands,” Bloom inevitably reminds himself that he has no
living son»a thought that will haunt him for the rest of the

Supplementary Reading:
van Caspel, “Father and Son in the Lotus-Eaters

Questions to Consider:
l. How would you compare Bloom’s thoughts about his father with
Stephen’s thoughts about his mother?
2. Why does the chapter end with a description of Bloom foreseeing
body in the bath?

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