Chapter 12, Part 1
Lecture Fourteen -- Citizen Cyclops, I
(from "Joyce's Ulysses" by Professor James A.W. Hefferman of Dartmouth College)
This chapter takes its name from a gigantic one-eyed savage
known as the Cyclops. When Ulysses and his men get trapped in
the cave of the Cyclops, who threatens to kill and eat them,
Ulysses cleverly finds a way to escape with his men. In this
chapter, the counterpart of the Cyclops is a myopic, rabidly
nationalistic, virulently anti-Semitic drunkard known simply as the
citizen. Caught in a pub, which takes the place of Homer’s cave,
Bloom is scorned for his Jewishness by the citizen and the
narrator, but in a rare moment of self-assertion, he denounces the
persecution of his race. Just as Ulysses makes his escape while
taunting the Cyclops, so does Bloom get away in the very act of
infuriating the citizen by defiantly proclaiming that even Christ
was a Jew. This first lecture on chapter 12 treats just the portions
“spoken” by the narrator, who is on the spot and part of the action.
The second lecture on chapter 12 will treat the parodies that
frequently interrupt the narrative.
I. In the Homeric episode on which chapter 12 of Ulysses is based,
Ulysses escapes from the cave of a one-eyed monster purely by using
A. Ulysses and his men enter a cave that belongs to one of theCyclops, a race of savages who know nothing of other people anddo not even meet among themselves. The owner of the cave-aCyclops named Polyphemos--returns, traps them in the cave byclosing the entrance with a huge boulder, and threatens to kill anddevour all of them.
B. After getting Polyphemos drunk, Ulysses uses a sharpened stake to
blind his only eye.
C. When Polyphemos rolls the boulder from the entrance to let his
rams out, Ulysses and his men each cling to the underbelly of a
ram and make their escape.
II. While making his escape, Ulysses goads Polyphemos by giving his
name (“Nobody”), prompting Polyphemos to call down a curse on him
A. As Ulysses and his men sail away, Ulysses taunts Polyphemos.1. He says that Zeus will punish him for daring to eat his ownguests in his own house.
2. This goads Polyphemos to throw a huge rock in front ofUlysses’s ship.B. Even though the rock nearly drives the ship back to shore, Ulysses
taunts Polyphemos again.1. Having up to now concealed his true name from the Cyclops,Ulysses now reveals his identity.
2. Polyphemos then curses Ulysses and throws a bigger stone athim. Though the stone misses, the curse ensures that Ulyssesalone will survive the voyage home.
III. In this chapter, Joyce combines features of Homer’s Polyphemos and a
real-life Irishman to create the myopic, xenophobia, rabidly
nationalistic citizen, whose contempt for Bloom is warmly shared by
A. As a one-time shot putter eager to promote Irish sports, the citizenis based not only on Homer’s Polyphemos but also on MichaelCusack, founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association, who loathed“imported” manners and customs.
B. Wholly myopic, the citizen sees nothing of value in anything that
is not purely and essentially Irish in his sense of the word, and he
and the narrator both despise Bloom.1. The citizen loathes the English.
2. He loathes all Jews, even those born in Ireland, as Bloom was
3. He and the narrator both despise Bloom-especially for hisinsistence on seeing things from different viewpoints.
IV. Just as Ulysses fights Polyphemos with his words and his brain, so
does Bloom fight the citizen with words.
A. Though Bloom’s quarrel with the citizen may seem a mock-heroicreduction of Ulysses’s struggle with Polyphemos, Bloom uses hisknock-me-down cigar the way Ulysses uses his sharpened stake.1. Ulysses screws the burning pointed stake into the eye of thedrunken Polyphemos.
2. With Ulyssean prudence, Bloom takes a cigar instead of adrink, and he uses its burning end to punctuate his attack onpersecution and injustice.B. Thus, he openly defies the citizen’s rabid jingoism and anti-
V. In defying the citizen, Bloom confronts all the contempt that his
Jewishness has provoked from other Dubliners.
A. Though Bloom has come to the pub to meet Martin Cunninghamon behalf of insurance for Paddy Dignam’s widow, his motives arewillfully misconstrued.1. He’s accused of “defrauding widows and orphans.”
2. He’s suspected of having won a 20-to-1 bet at the Gold Cuprace and of hiding his winnings so that he will not have to buydrinks for the spongers at the pub.B. His manhood is called into question.1. Hearing that Blazes Boylan is organizing Molly’s conceittour, the narrator instantly concludes that Boylan will“organize” her sexually.
2. The citizen cannot believe that Bloom could have begotten hisown childrenC. Bloom is a victim of essentialism; because the citizen believes that
Ireland must be absolutely free of foreign influences, an Irish Jew
is a contradiction in terms for him.1. In the myopic eye of the citizen, the world is split between usand them, and love is the bond we share with all those whohate what we hate: others.
2. The citizen claims that Jews bring “bugs” into Ireland withthem.
3. The citizen calls Jews “strangers in the house”-a phrase theIrish have traditionally applied to the English occupiers oftheir native land.
4. The citizen spits on Bloom’s claim to be Irish.
5. The narrator sneers at his efforts to work for Irishindependence
VI. In the face of this contempt, Bloom defiantly proclaims his Jewishness
denouncing persecution and hatred,
A. He says that he belongs to “a race. . .that is hated and persecuted.”
B. Even though he’s supposedly the reincarnation of Ulysses, the
great Greek warrior, his only alternative to force, hatred, and
history is love-the gospel of Christ.
VII. Just as Ulysses goads Polyphemos during his escape, so does Bloom
goad the citizen as he makes his getaway from the pub and, in the
process, gets threatened with a would-be crucifixion.
A. When the drunken citizen mocks him yet again as he leaves,Bloom reminds him that Christ was “a jew like me”-and therebyinfuriates the citizen.
B. Reenacting the rage of Polyphemos, the citizen throws at the
departing Bloom a biscuit box (cracker box) in place of a boulder
C. Threatening to crucify Bloom for using the name of Jesus, the
citizen thereby threatens to reenact the crucifixion and, thus,
ironically, to confirm Bloom as a Christ figure-a questionable
Kenner, pp. 93-106.
Questions to Consider:
1. Why does this chapter never enter the mind of Bloom? Why are we
consistently made to see him through the eyes of the contemptuous
2. Given that Bloom has repudiated the Jewish religion and all its
practices, why does he openly identify himself as Jewish in this