Lecture Twenty-Two -- Return to Ithaca, II
(from "Joyce's Ulysses" by Professor James A.W. Hefferman of Dartmouth College)
This lecture treats the second half of the “Ithaca” chapter. After
Stephen leaves, Bloom’s thoughts turn to Molly, who waits for
him upstairs in bed. Even before Stephen’s departure, Molly
makes her presence felt when Bloom and Stephen step out into the
garden and see the moonlike light in the window of the room
where she sleeps. While Stephen now becomes the “centrifugal
departer,” Bloom is “the centripetal remainer,” seeking his center
in Molly. His journey to her bed is something of an ordeal.
Banging his head against a freshly moved sideboard as he enters
the front room, he finds signs of disorder resulting from Boylan’s
visit, and he strives to restore order, to reclaim his house. He also
fantasizes about owning a grand country house, fulfilling his
ambitions, and vanquishing his enemies. Yet fantasy will not
banish pain. He must grapple again with the painful memory of his
father’s suicide and the knowledge of what Boylan has done. He
must find a way to vanquish his own jealousy without taking
violent action against Boylan; he must somehow achieve
equanimity before at last rejoining Molly in bed, kissing the
“yellow smellow melons of her rump,” and ending his joumey in a
I. When Bloom and Stephen step out into the garden behind Bloom’s
house, they “become heavenly bodies, wanderers like the stars at which
A. While explaining the constellations to Stephen, Bloom sees the stars as “ever moving Wanderers,” thereby echoing the poem of Yeats that Stephen sang to his mother, the poem ending with a lineabout “wandering stars.”
B. Looking at the light in the window of the room where Molly sleeps, Bloom meditates on “affinities” between moon and woman.
C. When Stephen leaves, he is the “centrifugal departer,” while Bloom is “the centripetal remainer,” seeking his center in Molly.
II. Peeing beside Stephen in the garden, Bloom makes a bow reminiscent
of the one strung by Ulysses.
A. Though Stephen’s stream is higher, Bloom’s is longer
B. Bloom’s watery arch may signify that like the Ulysses who strung the mighty bow, he is about to vanquish his rival, reclaim his wife and retake possession of his house.
III. Reentering his house and going into the front room, Bloom bangs his
head against a rearranged sideboard and sees other evidence that
Boylan his been there. Like Ulysses, he finds that his house has been
usurped and strives to set it back in order.
A. Bumping his head against a walnut sideboard that has been pushed in front of the door, Bloom reenacts the moment when Ulysses--disguised as a beggar--feels the pain of a footstool thrown at him by a suitor.
B. Bloom sees that the sideboard has been shoved out of the way to make room for a piano, where Molly has evidently been singing “Love’s Old Sweet Song” for Boylan.
C. In addition to enduring the pain of these discoveries, Bloom tries to reorder his house.
1. Like Ulysses, who fumigates his palace alter slaughtering the suitors, Bloom lights a cone of incense to fumigate the front room.
2. He also rearranges the books that have been disarranged by Molly and that are elaborately catalogued here.
a. The catalogue tells us about Bloom’s reading habits.
b. But the act of reordering the books may be a way of evading the task of reordering his sex life with Molly
IV. After taking off his clothes in the front room to prepare himself for
bed, Bloom fantasizes about fulfilling his ambitions and vanquishing
A. He imagines a dream house in the country that is elaborately described--right down to the contents of the lumber shed.
B. He sees himself living there as a resident magistrate upholding the law against adulterers and rabidly anti-Semitic nationalists like the citizen. In other words, he seeks orderly retaliation against his enemies.
C. He imagines himself suddenly growing rich enough to afford such a house--not because he actually expects to be rich, but because such fantasies soothe him.
1. He knows that he will not live to satisfy all his desires or defeat all his enemies.
2. But in sleep, he can fulfill his wishes--such as his dream of the perfect ad--and achieve repose.
V. Exhaustively described, the contents of the drawers in the front room
confirm and amplify several things that we have come to know about
A. The contents of one drawer confirm that Bloom is sensual, furtively flirtatious, affectionate with Milly, preoccupied with his body, devoted to Hungary, and faithful to the memory of his parents--especially his father.
B. The second drawer tells us about Bloom’s assets and still more about his father--including the reason for his suicide.
1. Bloom owns 900 pounds worth of Canadian stock paying 4% a year--possibly bought with what he inherited from his father.
2. An envelope addressed “To My Dear Son Leopold” contains asuicide note in which the father reveals that he cannot bear to outlive his wife
3. Breaking the strict formal order of interrogation and response, “fractions of phrases” read from the suicide note express the anguish of a desolate man and recall Simon Dedalus breaking down at the grave of his wife in chapter 6.
4. Once again, Bloom is touched with guilt for disrespecting “certain beliefs and practices”--though he has no intention of returning to them
VI. After flirting with the idea of departing from home and wife for good
and traveling to the edge of the universe, Bloom imagines himself
returning “an estranged avenger.” He must now contend with the
undeniable fact that Boylan has entered the very bed that Bloom shares
A. Entering the bed, he finds the imprint of another male body.
B. Surprisingly enough, he may have smiled to realize that he was not the only one to enter that bed, but merely one of a series extending to infinity.
C. Though Bloom cannot easily kill his jealousy, which conjures up a whole series of would-be lovers for Molly, he achieves equanimity without taking violent revenge on Boylan.
1. He sees that adultery is not unnatural and far less reprehensible than many other offenses.
2. As a resolute pacifist, Bloom will have nothing to do with violence.
3. By conquering his own envy, jealousy, and sense of outrage, Bloom achieves equanimity--and, thus, a victory of his own
VII. Though both Molly and Bloom know that she has just committed
adultery with Boylan, the series of questions and answers that pass
between them make no reference to this act. Bloom happily kisses the
melons of Molly’s rump and asks no further satisfaction for now: “He
rests. He has traveled.”
See the readings for Lecture Twenty-One
Questions to Consider:
1. Why does Joyce treat Stephen, Bloom, and Molly as if they were heavenly bodies?
2. Why does neither Molly nor Bloom mention the name of Boylan when they discuss the events of the day?