Lecture Sixteen -- Nausicaa at the Beach
(from "Joyce's Ulysses" by Professor James A.W. Hefferman of Dartmouth College)
This chapter is named for the princess whom Ulysses meets when
he lands exhausted on the shore of Scheria; though she falls in love
with him and wants to marry him, and though he is graciously
entertained by her parents, he opts to head home. In this chapter,
Nausicaa appears as Gerty MacDowell, a sentimental young
woman who falls in love with Bloom when she sees him on the
beach at Sandymount Strand. In the first half of the chapter, she
constructs her own fantasy about their relationship, culminating in
an erotic exhibition as she leans back to watch fireworks. The
second half shows her from Bloom’s point of view. Having been
roused to orgasmic excitement by the sight of her underwear, he
finds that she is lame, and though he thinks about her from time to
time, his thoughts and feelings come home to Molly-and to his
own predicament as a wandering husband of unfixed identity.
I. Having borne a “long day” of trying experiences, including a visit to
the mourning household of Paddy Dignam, Bloom seeks relief in the
pleasure of looking at a lovely young girl sitting on the beach at
Sandymount Strand. Offering her beauty to the gaze of an exhausted
man, Gerty MacDowell is a modern version of Homer’s Nausicaa.
A. Ulysses meets Nausicaa on the shore of Scheria, which he reaches
after leaving the island of the nymph Calypso.
1. He’s exhausted from swimming for two days after a stormB. Once Ulysses has been magically glamorized by the goddess
wrecks his raft, and he falls asleep on the beach.
2. Nausicaa and her handmaidens discover him while they are
3. His appearance frightens them all, except for the princess.
Athene, the princess sees him as godlike, wants to marry him, and
brings him to her parents.
1. They royally entertain him.
2. But when the king learns that he wants to get home, they
furnish his transportation to Ithaca.
II. The first half of the chapter shows us Bloom as seen by Gerty
MacDowell, who falls in love with the exotic Bloom, just as Nausicaa
falls in love with Homer’s voyager.
A. Gerty’s view of Bloom differs radically from that of the citizen
and narrator in chapter 12.
1. The citizen and the narrator see him only as an object of
2. Gerty sees him as a dream come true-a “dreamhusband.”
a. She’s can see “a haunting sorrow” in his face.
B. Gerty is a narcissistic, jilted young woman aching for someone tob. Her sentimental longing makes her idealize him, and the
comedy of the chapter springs from the gap between her
vision and Bloom’s reality.
love, and she sees herself as a refuge for sinners--“a beacon to the
stormtossed heart of man.”
1. Sitting apart from her two girl friends and their little brothers,
she broods on her jilted condition and, seeing Bloom, quickly
casts the two of them as hero and heroine of a sentimental
2. She also sees herself as a refuge of sinners (like the Virgin
Mary) who could save and comfort the handsome stranger,
however he might have “erred and sinned and wandered.”
III. Though she seems to offer love to a man who badly needs it, Gerty’s
“pure” beauty is the product of artifice, and her sentimental fantasies
about herself and Bloom wage war with life.
A. Long before she shows herself to be lame, her beauty proves
artificial: something thinly stretched over physical deficiencies that
she vainly tries to hide.
B. She can’t bear to think of bodily functions, much less perform
1. She wishes she could eat “something poetical like violets.”
2. Her dreams of love make no place for anything sexual.
3. She hates children, such as “the exasperating little brats of
4. She thinks spitefully of her friends, seeing Cissy Caffrey only
as her rival for the attention of Bloom.
lV. Though she casts herself as the Virgin Mary, a source of spiritual
refuge and object of devotion, she shows off her underwear to excite
Bloom’s desire for her.
A. She narcissistically imagines that Bloom is “worshipping at her
shrine.” Turning the sacred into the sexual, she makes herself an
object of erotic devotion.
B. While imagining herself as supremely “finebred” and Bloom “as a
man of inflexible honor to his fingertips,” she rouses both of them
to a pitch of sexual excitement signified by fireworks.
1. Leaning far back to watch the fireworks, she shows off her
underwear to Bloom.
2. By the mere act of displaying herself, she sets off sexualC. Gerty embodies a clutch of contradictions: virgin and temptress,
fireworks in both of them.
refuge of sinners and sexy exhibitionist, specimen of purity and
product of cosmetics, devotee of love and hater of nearly all things
V. As a would-be prophet and Christ figure who now becomes a
masturbator, Bloom embodies contradictions of his own. ln its own
way, however, the masturbation is heroic.
A. Because his manhood has been questioned, Bloom demonstrates
B. Exercising a Ulyssean restraint by keeping his distance from the
young woman, he confines his excitement to the privacy of his
C. Given all the pains and problems of his day, he has merely sought
a harmless “relief”
D. All things considered, Hugh Kenner argues that Bloom’s
masturbation is “heroic”
VI. After learning that Gerty is lame, Bloom’s sympathy for her condition
shows that unlike Gerty, Bloom understands love.
A. Finding her lame, he doesn’t simply dismiss her as damaged
B. Given that she’s been jilted by her boyfriend and is left behind by
her girl friends, Bloom evidently sees her as a fellow outcast,
because he knows only too well what it is to be stigmatized. He
sees what they have in common.
C. He sympathizes not only with her but with other women-with
Mrs. Purefoy in labor, with mothers struggling to raise children,
with his daughter, Milly, first straining against a corset.
VII. Nonetheless, Bloom struggles against depression and a sense of
futility. Though he hardly knows what to call himself at this point, he is
still homeward bound in his thoughts.
A. Having masturbated, he feels psychic as well as physical
detumescence. Knowing that his seed is wasted in the sand, he
reflects on the sterility of his life.
B. Trying to leave a message for Gerty by writing with a stick, he
stops after writing “I AM A”~as if to show us that no category
can define him.
C. In spite of the attractions of Gerty, his thoughts return to Molly,
the woman waiting for him at home.
Levine, “Nausicaa,” in Beja and Norris, pp. 128-34.
McGee, “When is a Man not a Man?” in Beja and Norris, pp. 122-27
Pearce, “Nausicaa,” in Beja and Non‘is, pp. 106-14.
Questions to Consider:
1. Seeing Bloom through the eyes of Gerty, do we learn anything new
2. Why does Bloom make no effort to talk with Getty?