Lecture Twelve -- Wandering Rocks
(from "Joyce's Ulysses" by Professor James A.W. Hefferman of Dartmouth College)
This chapter takes its name from a place so dangerous that Ulysses
avoids it altogether on the advice of Circe: a sea passage where
seemingly “wandering” rocks make it impossible for ships to pass.
In Joyce’s Dublin, wandering rocks become characters who bump
into each other-sometimes literally-as Bloom and Stephen make
their separate ways through its labyrinthine streets. In each of its
nineteen sections, the chapter follows the movements of various
Dubliners. Ostensibly overseen by church and state, embodied
respectively in Father Conmee at the beginning and the viceroy at
the end, each character has an independent mission. Collectively,
their movements and missions make up the life of the city that
defines both Stephen and Bloom
I. Chapter 10 of Ulysses takes us into the bewildering labyrinth of Dublin
A. The chapter consists of nineteen sections. With each sectionfocused on a different aspect of Dublin life, the chapter showsmany things happening simultaneously.
B. We seem to be looking down on the city from a great height, and
we may wonder how we can keep track of all its figures, especially
Stephen and Bloom.
II. The Homeric episode of the wandering rocks helps us to see the
chapter as a study in blind collision.
A. In Homer’s epic, the wandering rocks are so dangerous thatUlysses avoids them altogether on the advice of Circe.1. They seem to have been a cluster of rocks looming up in themidst of roaring waves.
2. It is impossible for a ship to pass through them.B. Unlike Ulysses, Leopold Bloom does negotiate the wandering
rocks of Dublin, which take the form of various people bumping
into each other, obstructing each other, or passing each other
without really communicating.1. A blind stripling is buffeted by an eccentric old man. B. In place of personal supervision, mechanical order seems to run
2. A tall man blocks the entrance to a wine bar.
III. The city is officially supervised by the power of church and state, the
priest and the Viceroy, and the chapter is bookended by sections telling
the story of their two philanthropic journeys. But the chapter reveals
how little sway over the city they have.
A. In section l, Father Conmee travels from north central Dublin tothe O’Brien Institute to find a place there for one of the sons of thelate Paddy Dignam.
B. In section 18, the Viceroy-the man who embodies British power
in Dublin-travels from the viceregal lodge to the southeast
outskirts of Dublin to inaugurate the Mirus bazaar in aid of funds
for the Mercer hospital.
C. But the chapter shows how little they affect the people they are
supposed to be supervising-politically and spiritually.1. We never find out whether either man completes his missionor not.a. We don’t know whether Conmee found a place for theDignam boy.
b. We don’t follow the Viceroy to the bazaar or learn howmuch was raised for the hospital.2. We see no evidence that either man has any sway over thepeople he is supposed to guide and lead.a. Conmee ignores the appeal of a crippled sailor holdingout his cap for a coin, thinks only briefly of maimedveterans generally, and thinks that the lives of a bargemanand diggers must be idyllic.
b. The Viceroy is generally ignored, and at one point, he and his whole party are contemptuously hailed by “a tongue of liquid sewage.”
IV. With no one person dominating the chapter, we seem to be living in a
world driven by mindless machinery.
A. Just as carefully as it follows the ostensibly important journeys ofConmee and the Viceroy, so does it follow the progress of thecrumpled throwaway announcing the coming of “Elijah”-thethrowaway that Bloom threw into the River Liffey in chapter 8.the city and the chapter itself.1. The chapter often refers to machines.a. Conmee rides a tramcar.
b. The dynamos of the powerhouse urge Stephen to get on.
c. Tom Rochford invented a new gadget.
d. Master Dignam’s collar keeps popping up.2. The separate sections of the chapter interlock like a system ofcog wheels.a. A line from one section suddenly appears in another.
b. We are thus made to understand that the actions of thetwo sections are occurring at the same time.
V. ln spite of all the attention paid to other characters, Stephen and Bloom
do not get lost; we see them all the more clearly as citizens of Dublin
with their own distinctive personalities.
A. Even as Lenehan tells a funny story to show that Bloom has hishead in the clouds, he admits that Bloom is unusually cultured.1. Spotting Bloom looking over books on a hawker’s cart,Lenehan tells about the time that he rode back from a fancydinner late one night in an open car with Molly beside himand Bloom on a different seat.a. Bloom was explaining all the stars.
b. Remembering that he thoroughly enjoyed his proximity to Molly and was sexually excited by it, Lenehan is greatlyamused by the memory of Bloom’s obliviousness.2. But Lenehan sees that Bloom’s interest in the starsexemplifies his all-round cultivation. This makes Bloom standout for two reasons:a. It’s the first time anyone in the book has spoken so highly of Bloom.
b. Bloom’s all-roundedness takes even Lenehan by surprise: he’s an uncommon man, a man who stands out.
VI. This chapter reveals the contrast between the complexity of Bloom and
the single-mindedness of his rival, Blazes Boylan.
A. Boylan is a man about town bent on seducing Molly. When hegoes to a fancy fruit shop to buy a basket of pears and peaches, weknow exactly why he’s there. His motivation is perfectly simple.
B. The chapter lets us see that while Boylan buys fruit for Molly,
Bloom is buying her a soil porn novel titled Sweets of Sin-a
cheap novel about a married woman and her lover. This purchase
prompts us to wonder about Bloom’s motives and his relation to
Molly.1. Bloom knows that Molly likes soft-porn novels and ratherthan trying to reform her taste, he wants to gratify it.
2. Knowing that he has failed to satisfy her sexually for morethan ten years, he may be trying to let her feel vicariously thethrill of adultery.
3. In any case, Bloom is nothing like the odd man out in a typicalstory of adulterous love-nothing like the hoodwinkedhusband of the novel he buys for Molly. He’s a manstruggling with painful conflict.a. He’s afraid of begetting yet another doomed son.
C. Meantime, Stephen is menaced by the poverty of the Dedalusb. He’s dismayed by the knowledge of what Boylan plans to do with Molly.
family and tempted by yet another way to make money--yet
another occupation that would sabotage his literary ambitions.1. His sister Dilly, whom he briefly encounters at the book cart,exemplifies the poverty of the Dedalus family.a. Offering her none of his own money, he sees her only as another drowning woman-like his mother.
b. Unlike Bloom and his wife, who both give money to theneedy in this chapter, Simon Dedalus gives almostnothing to his family and, thus, seems to abdicate his roleas a father.2. Stephen’s singing teacher urges him to become a professionalsinger, but Stephen knows that he could do so only bysacrificing his ambition to write.
Han, “Wandering Rocks,” in Han and Hayman, pp. 181-216
Kenner, pp. 61-71.
Questions to Consider
1. Why are some minor characters in this chapter--specifically Conmee
and Master Dignam--given interior monologues, which have been
hitherto reserved for two of our three chief characters, Stephen and
2. What does Master Dignam’s monologue tell us about him, especially about his response to the death of his father?