Lecture Two--Telemachus at the Martello Tower
(from "Joyce's Ulysses" by Professor James A.W. Hefferman of Dartmouth College)
Chapter 1 presents to us one ofthe three principal characters of
Ulysses. He is Stephen Dedalus, a fictionalized version of .loyce’s
younger self, a 22-year-old schoolteacher of Roman Catholic
background, lofty intellect, and brooding, brilliant wit. Chapter l
reveals Stephen’s preoccupation with his dead mother and his
deeply conflicted relation to the two young men with whom he
lives in a Martello Tower on the Irish coast: Buck Mulligan, an
Irish medical student of mocking wit and rollicking sensuality, and
Haines, a condescending Englishman. Because Stephen cares
nothing for his father, he scarcely seems to recall Homer’s
Telemachus, who sets out to find his father at the beginning of The
Odyssey. But thanks to Mulligan and Haines, he feels something
like the sense of usurpation that Telemachus endured from the
suitors who occupied the house of his long-absent father.
I. The first chapter of Ulysses is named for Telemachus because it
introduces us to Stephen Dedalus, his counterpart in the world of
Joyce. But the two seem to have little in common.
A. At the beginning of Homer’s epic, Telemachus is moved to seek
news of his long-absent father.1. Suitors have occupied his father’s house and are pressing his
mother to many.
2. They are plotting to kill Telemachus and Ulysses, too, if he
3. ln disguise, the goddess Athene prompts Telemachus to seekB. Stephen seems at first quite different from Telemachus.
news of his father from his old comrades-in-arms.1. He’s not living at home but with two friends in a Martello Tower.
2. His mother is dead.
II. Different as they seem to be, Stephen shares with Telemachus a sense3. He has no wish to see his father.
A. The Manello Tower itself signifies England’s usurpation of
Ireland.1. It was built in 1804 to defend the British Isles against a French
2. A few years earlier, the French had come to help the Irish
launch an abortive rebellion against English rule.
3. The tower expressed England’s refusal to let the Irish regainB. In spite of his captivating charm, Buck Mulligan is a usurper
possession of their own land.1. He recalls Homer’s Antinous.
2.He threatens to usurp Stephen’s place at the center of his
3. He threatens to tum Stephen from an aspiring writer into a
4. In mockingly celebrating a black Mass, he usurps the role of
the priest and father.
5. He treats Stephen’s wit as a commodity to be traded forC. Haines embodies England’s usurpation of Ireland.
English coin.1. He wants to study Ireland as an anthropologist might study a
tribe of aborigines.
2. In expecting bacon for his breakfast, he recalls the ravenous
suitors of Homer’s epic.
III. Charged with mythic significance, the old milkwoman exemplifies3. He has taken possession ofthe Irish language, which not evenD. As “the cracked looking glass of a servant,” Mulligan’s shaving
the old milkwoman can recognize.
mirror reflects England’s usurpation of Ireland.
Joyce’s fusion of ancient and modern.
A. Like the goddess Athene, who comes to Telemachus in disguise,
she is said to be the “lowly form of an immortal” and a “messenger
from the secret morning.”
B. Described with epithets traditionally applied to Ireland itself, she
secretly reminds us of an Ireland all but obliterated by the English
C. Like Penelope, she is made to serve those who have usurped herIV. Though Stephen rejects the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church,
he yearns to be a priest ofthe imagination, consecrating ordinary things
by immortalizing them in his art.
A. He takes the legendary Dedalus as his model.1. In Portrait ofthe Artist, Stephen discovers the mythic father
signified by his own name, Dedalus.
2. As the legendary ancient Greek artisan who made wings for
himself and his son Icarus to escape the labyrinth at Crete,
Dedalus symbolizes the flight of the artist’s imagination.
3. Taking Dedalus as his model, Stephen yeams to ily past all
the things that might hold him back.
4. He also sees himself as a new kind of priest, a priest of theB. He resents Mulligan for mockingly assuming the role ofthe priest
imagination in his art.
father, and Christ himself.1. He is not amused by Mulligan’s jokes about the miracles of
Christ and the ritual of consecration at Mass.
2. He sees that 1,900 years of tradition cannot be laughed away.
3. He also sees that Mulligan is implicitly mocking Stephen’s
literary ambition, his yearning to consecrate ordinary
experience in art.
V. Stephen’s memories of his mother mingle pity with resentment.
A. Mulligan charges Stephen with killing his mother by refusing to
kneel down and pray for her when she was dying.
B. Stephen is haunted by the memory of his recently dead mother,
who appeared to him in a dream.
C. The memory of his dying mother and the fearfulness ofthe sea
contrast sharply with Mulligan’s description ofthe sea as a “great
sweet mother.”1. The bay is “a dull green mass of liquid” resembling the bowl
of green bile that she vomited up from her rotting liver.
2. The sea is “a bowl of bitter waters” because Stephen knows
that a man recently drowned in it.
3. Like Icarus, the original son of Dedalus, who drowned whenD. Though he pitied his dying mother and sang to her at her bedside
he fell into the sea, Stephen fears drowning.
he desperately yearns to break the stranglehold of guilt that she
and Mulligan have tried to thrust upon him.l. Ironically, he calls himself the servant of two masters--the
British empire and Roman Catholicism.
Supplementary Reading:2. From both, he yearns to be free.
Kemmer, Ulysses, chapters 2 and 4, pp. 34-38.
Benstock, “Telemachus,” in Hart and Hayman, pp. 1-16
Questions to Consider
1. lf this chapter is supposed to establish Stephen Dedalus as one of the
three main characters of the novel, why does it give so much attention
to Buck Mulligan?
2. The only character in this chapter who is not Irish is Haines, the
Englishman. Why is he the only one who speaks the lrish language
and why are none of his Irish words quoted?