On the modernist elements of ‘Ithaca’ chapter in Joyce’s Ulys ses : Engaging students in class discussion


University of Isfahan, Islamic Republic of Iran


James Joyce's Ulysses is one of the hall-marks of modernism in the realm of the novel. In this
novel, Joyce breaks away from old patterns, employs new techniques, and presents the modern
state  of  man  as  well  as  his  soul-lacking  indeterminate  communication  with  others.  Freud's
theories on the unique and private quality of man's mode of consciousness and the meddling of
the past with present, stressed the twentieth-century man's ill-condition and his position among
his fellow beings. Joyce portrays the modern man in his favorite chapter, ‘Ithaca,’ which has
certain  features  that  make  the  narrative  structure  in  complete  step  with  Joyce's  themes
regarding the modern man. This paper is an attempt to show how the human race is perceived
by  Joyce,  revealing  how  the  employed  elements  depict  a  modern  picture  of  the  modern  man.
This chapter contains many questions and answers that can be discussed  in class and students
can be engaged in novel-based dialogues and class discussion as an EFL practice.


Main Subjects

Dealing  with  James  Joyce  and  his  works
does not seem to be an easy task though the
bulk of books and essays on him is striking.
James  Joyce  as  a  leading  exponent  of
modernism  stands  at  a  great  distance  from
his  19th century  predecessors  by  the  very
elements  and  techniques  employed  in  his
writings.  It  is  an  established  fact  that
modernism  in  the  realm  of  the  novel  was
marked  by  Joyce's  Ulysses,  and  his  use  of
the  stream-of-consciousness  technique.  The
need for expressing the truth as perceived by

modernist writers and the fact that the long-held beliefs had no longer any place in their
writings,  made  the  writers  employ  new
techniques  in  expressing  new  things  they
had  to  utter  about  man,  his  condition,  and
his  communication  with  others.  For  Joyce,
who breaks away from old patterns in a way
not  to  be  predictable  to  the  reader,  the
ordinary  conventional  language  cannot  be  a
proper  means  of  representing  the  inner
thoughts,  feelings,  and  experiences  of  his
characters  though  by  reading  Ulysses  one  is
likely to hear everyday talks, see people and
imagine  where  they  are.  In  Joyce  too  much
attention  is  paid  to  the  details,  and  the
naturalistic  writer's  devotion  to  their
description  is  obvious  while  the  feeling  of
alienation  does  not  leave  the  characters
alone  and  changes  them  into  'keyless'
wanderers  who  feel  the  need  for  spiritual
communication  yet  find  no  means  of
achieving  it.  And  Joyce,  employing  new
techniques  in  a  dramatic  way,  depicts  the
matter  of  soul-lacking  communication
among the characters.  
As  a  matter  of  fact,  the  possibility  of
determinate  communication  is  questioned
and  paradoxically  through  this
indeterminacy one better grasps the status of
modern  man  and  his  relationship  with
others. This seems to be Joyce's main reason
for  presenting  the  words  in  the  form  of
question  and  answer  in  order  to  better
explore  the  quality  of  modern  man’s
relationship  with  other  fellows  between
whom  the  distance  is  long  and  the  chance
for satisfying the need too slim.  
Freud's theories on man's consciousness and
the  meddling  of  the  past  with  the  present
stress  the  twentieth-century  man's  ill-condition and his position among his fellow
beings.  Novelists  such  as  Marcel  Proust
have  confirmed  the  idea  by  getting  help
from  the  stream-of-consciousness  technique
in  order  to  penetrate  into  the  characters’
minds  and  claim  to  have  discovered  all
about  a  character  and  his  past.  What  is
implied is that every human being is known
to be imprisoned by  a unique consciousness
not  understood  by  others.  Accordingly  the
possibility  of  communication  among  the
members of a society who are imprisoned by
private  modes  of  consciousness,  was
questioned.  In  order  to  survive,  man  was
compelled  to  wear  a  mask  and  behave  in  a
way that accepted by the society and hide or
repress  the  reality  of  the  consciousness  in
which writers were very interested.
The  (anti)hero  of  the  twentieth-century
novel  then  finds  it  difficult  to  hobnob  with
other  members  of  the  society  he  lives  with
and  if  vestiges  of  this  are  found  they  are
awkward,  unnatural,  insufficient  and
conventional  ways  of  getting  closer  to
others,  and  paradoxically  the  more  attempt
is  put  to  it,  the  wider  the  existing  gap  may
become.  In  order  to  show  the
incommunicability,  new  methods  are
employed by Joyce who uses a relaxed tone,
an  ambiguous  mode  in  his  novel,  and
elaborately plays with the language to better
show  the  awkward  relationship  between
Stephen  and  his  friends;  Stephen  and
Bloom; Bloom and Molly.
Ulysses,  perhaps  the  most  complicated  and
challenging  masterpiece  of  James  Joyce,  is
one  of  the,  if  not  the,  greatest  novels  of  the
modern era. With all the peculiarities it has,
Ulysses has reasons for being so. As a piece
of  literature  representing  modernism,  it

enjoys  certain  features  not  practiced  before.
It  grants  its  readers  no  definite  conclusions
and the modern reader feels as if s/he is not
sure  about  anything  s/he  confronts  in  the
novel  while  receiving  startling  insights  and
believing that anything may be possible.  
The  way  ‘Ithaca,’  Joyce's  favorite,  is
presented  is  very  challenging  to  the  modern
reader. The dramatic structure of this chapter
allows  it  to  contain  a  series  of
interrogatories or “catechism” whose form
resembles  an  act  of  drama—the  real  art  in
Joyce’s opinion—with  a  dialogue  between
Bloom  and  Stephen.  The  form  is  as
significant  as  what  goes  on  between  them
and  the  poor  quality  of  their  interchanges  is
directly related to the adopted question-and-answer method that reduces the speed of the
narrative.  Joyce,  appalled  by  the  old
conventions,  did  not  regard  social
conventions  as  important  and  stable  sources
of  morality.  Through  Joyce  the  English
novel matured as a system of imaginary and
unreal  events  “against  a  clearly  realized
social background” (Daichess, 1962, p.85).
Joyce,  as  a  modernist  writer,  enjoyed
making everything new the most obvious of
which  is  seen  in  the  pattern  of  ‘Ithaca’
chapter.    By  breaking  of  the  rhetorical
orthodoxy of the novel, Joyce astonishes his
reader  who  is  very  likely  to  pause  and
ponder  over  the  quality  of  Bloom’s  and
Stephen's pattern of conversation.  
Without violating our sense of reality, Joyce
moves  away  from  the  19th century  novel
tradition,  and  presents  the  events  and
thoughts  in  a  way  that    we  receive  all  the
information  from  the  objective  authorial
voice  who  God-like  sits  in  Bloom’s  and
Stephen’s  minds  providing  us  with  the
minute  details  of  their  thoughts.  The
objectivity  of  the  narration  —thanks  to  the
307  posed  questions  and  answers—is
different  from  the  objective  language  of
realist  writers  who  use  the  language  to
reveal an aspect of the world. Joyce does not
insist on using hackneyed descriptions of the
world  and  its  inhabitants;  in  his  realistic
description  he  keeps  his  eye  on  the  domain
of  description  and  his  success  is  in  his
putting  a  subjective  method  in  an  objective
framework. As an instance, when Stephen’s
attention  is  caught  by  a  rope  with
handkerchiefs  on,  the  narrator  goes  on  to
describe it attentively:
What did Stephen see on raising his gaze to
the  height  of  a  yard  from  the  fire  towards
the opposite wall?
Under a row of five coiled spring housebells
a  curvilinear  rope,  stretched  between  two
holdfasts  athwart  across  the  recess  beside
the  chimney  pier,  from  which  hung  four
smallsized  square  handkerchiefs  folded
unattached …. (Ulysses, p. 673)
According  to  Reichert  in  adopting  such  an
unconventional  technique  with  an
anonymous  narrator,  Joyce  was  much
influenced  by  Dante  who  described
everything  to  its  detail  and  in  its
“uniqueness,” and then placed it “within the
framework  of  his  premeditated  system”
(2002,  p.57).  Joyce's  attention  to  trivial
events  of  daily  life  makes  him  compress
Ulysses  to  a  relatively  short  span  of  time—
one  day—perhaps  to  remind  us  of  the
Aristotelian  unity  of  time.  Joyce  believed
that “everything is significant in human life
… it all depends on how you look at it,” and
interestingly enough selects a “method  of
presenting limited tract of time and space as
microcosm,  as  a  small  scale  model”
(Daichess,  1962,  p.  93)  to  represent  the

whole human life and history, yet reminding
the reader that there is no need to abound the
work with facts, and from such presentation
and  space  a  lot  is  elicited  about  the  modern
Much  of  the  talk  between  Stephen  and
Bloom is about the present, but a short time
is  given  to  the  past  that  shows  how
concerned  Joyce  was  with  the  past  as  the
base  on  which  the  present  was  founded  as
well  as  the  interference  of  the  past  with
present  as  a  token  of  modernism.  Based  on
the many interchanges between the past and
the  present,  characters  are  known  by  their
pasts,  and  access  to  each  character's  unique
mode  of  consciousness  implies  the  state  of
the  modern  man  and  the  quality  of  his
communication  with  others.  This  new
condition  of  the  modern  man  implies  losing
sight  of  the  past  shown  in  the
incompleteness  and  discontinuity  of
Stephen’s and Bloom's thoughts. Bloom and
Stephen move from topic to topic discussing
everything  and  nothing.  No  sequence  or
cause-and-effect  can  be  traced  in  what  they
discuss,  and  no  discussion  is  continued  to
the  end.  The  more  one  talks,  the  more
alienated the other feels, and the more aware
he  becomes  of  his  consciousness  as  a  zone
not  shared  by  others.  All  the  time  we  are
kept  aware  of  the  fact  that  while  they  are
general  human  beings  they  are  endowed
with their idiosyncratic qualities.  
Each  character's  unique  mode  of
consciousness  transgressed  by  the  thoughts
of  the  past  keeps  the  person  well  out  of
reach of the other character. This is precisely
the  fact  that  makes  their  communication
indeterminate;  they  show  no  sincerity  about
what they discuss; therefore, no matter even
if they are racially different:  
Did  he  find  four  separating  forces  between
his  temporary  guest  and  him?  Name,  age,
race, creed. (Ulysses, p. 702)
Did  either  openly  allude  their  racial
difference? Neither. (Ulysses, p. 705)
Moreover,  through  the  interrogatives
alternating  from  philosophical  to  personal,
or  scientific  to  religious  Joyce  means  to
show  the  absurdity  of  religious  and  racial
hatred  as  well  so  that  he  can  refer  to  the
point  that  nothing  can  be  taken  as  granted
and  the  modern  man  is  enmeshed  with
topics  he  does  not  sincerely  believe  in  and
for  which  he  shows  no  respect.  Bloom  and
Stephen agree and disagree, shift from topic
to  topic,  and  leave  many  talks  incomplete
with  which  the  pleasure  of  reading  the
episode  tends  to  be  intensified;  thus  the
uncertain,  trivial,  and  the  unknown  find  the
chance  to  flourish.  Cause  and  effect  is
replaced  by  chance  and  the  reader  comes
across events with no logical nexus between
them  just  to  enjoy  reading  a  new  and
complex  work  different  from  those  of  the
previous century.  
An avant-garde writer like Joyce allows “the
unconscious  of  language  to  rise  to  the
surface”  (Selden, 1989, p.78) which is a
reference  to  the  potentialities  of  the
language  and  the  bulk  of  meaning  that  can
be  conveyed,  implicitly,  through  the
language.  Joyce  believes  in  the  striking
potentiality of the language and tries to play
with  it  in  many  ways  to  be  a  different
experience.  Joyce  relates  the  functioning  of
the  unconscious  of  the  mind  to  the
unconscious  of  the  language.  The  language
in  which  no  difficult,  technical,  but  weird
words  are  used  is  compatible  with  the
changes  Dublin  and  its  men  undergo.  The

strange  structures  and  philosophical  words
used  offer  a  new  experience  to  the  reader.
The  language  is  open  to  examination  on
different  levels  of  criticism:  Linguistics,
Science,  and  even  Psychology  when  mental
or  psychological  problems  of  characters  are
referred  to.  Joyce  tries  to,  based  on  images
and  scenes,  depict  the  alienation  of  modern
man  or  the  artist  and  show  his  state  in
modern  life:  the  outer  and  inner  chaos  and
confusion  on  two  scales  of  macrocosm  and
microcosm, external and internal.  
The characters function as symbolic pictures
of  all  history,  all  experience  and  all
humanity.  Bloom  symbolizes  the  citizen
with  the  sense  of  futility,  and  Dedalus
symbolizes  the  artist  or  the  exiled  artist
whose  salvation  in  cutting  himself  off  from
nets of home, country, and catholic religion.
Bloom is endowed with heroic qualities with
the  realization  that  "the  contrasts  between
the  classical  world  and  the  modern  […]
would  inevitably  be  ironic  on  the  level  of
fact," however, "on the level of symbol …
Bloom would prove a worthy counterpart to
the  hero  of  Homer's  epic"  (Litz,  1977,
p.392). Joyce shows the modern man and his
wanderings in a world where the truth is not
really  known  and  no  means  offered  for
achieving it. Thus, in such a world not much
can be done and the time and energy will be
wasted  on  wanderings  that  are  to  no  avail.
Bloom  is  one  of  the  most  well-known
characters in the canon of English Literature
symbolizing  modern  man  marked  with
inaction and impotence.  
Frequent  interchanges  between  past  and
present,  discontinuity  of  thoughts,  lack  of
discipline  in  what  characters  say,  their
disturbed mentalities and the chaotic Dublin
as the city of modernity are shown in Joyce's
play  with  words.  Modern  life  with  all  its
intricacies  requires  a  different  language  and
style  to  present  all  it  has  to  offer.  Bloom  is
not Hemingway’s  fisherman who leads a
simple  life  portrayed  in  a  simple  style.  In
Joyce  what  originates  from  the  depth  of
one’s mind and imagination is at war with
every vestige of simplicity. The language of
Ulysses  with  its  ironic  parallels  corresponds
to the ambiguities and ironies of the modern
life. The question-answers and dialogues are
not  really  communication  and  pass
unnoticed  to  highlight  the  unsolved
psychological  and  mental  problems  of  the
modern  man  as  the  (anti)hero  of  the
twentieth-century  who  is  supposed  to,
ironically,  undertake  heroic  actions  (un)like
The  odd  and  incomplete  narrative  structure
of  the  episode  is  like  the  structure  of  the
society  as  perceived  by  its  characters  who
no  longer  believe  in  long-held  beliefs  such
as  religion  or  the  Christianity  of  Jesus
Christ.  The  central  notion  of  religion  is
decentered  by  Bloom  when  he  refers  to
Christ as a Jew destabilizing what the public
believes,  or  even  when  he  doubts  about  his
Jewish identity:
What,  reduced  to  their  simplest  reciprocal
form, were Bloom’s   thoughts about Bloom
and  Bloom’s  thoughts  about  Stephen’s
thoughts  about  Bloom’s  thoughts  about
He  thought  that  he  thought  that  he  was  a
Jew  whereas  he  knew  that  he  knew  that  he
was not. (Ulysses, p. 702)
The  incomplete,  ungrammatical  language
with the "poetic magic of unfamiliar names"
(Litz,  1977,  p.394)  manifests  itself  in  the

confrontation  of  Bloom  and  Molly  whose
reunion  is  unconsummated  when  Bloom
drifts  to  sleep  thinking  of  “Sinbad  the
Sailor” to “Xinbad the Phthailer” (Ulysses,
p.  730)  just  to  show  their  awkward
confrontation  and  distance  through  the  use
of  such  awkward  ambiguous  words.  The
disintegrating  state  of  modern  man—Bloom
and  Molly—is  best  shown  in  a  language
with  disintegrating  words,  structures  and
complexity  unique  to  itself  and,  ironically
enough, Bloom is pictured as being in favor
of  complex  systems  and  topics  such  as
astronomy demanding sincere discussion.
The  language  of  this  episode  is  scientific  as
well  as  theoretical  with  references  to
mathematics  and  astronomy  rendering
Bloom’s spiritual conundrums to formulas
and  observations.  The  language  abundant
with references to science, mathematics, and
stars  is  structured  to  show  the  adversary
stand  against  religion  as  a  stabilized
institution and the significance of science in
Joyce’s  writing  who  was  influenced  by
Bruno,  the  Italian  theologian.  The
occurrence  of  science  in Joyce’s writings
shows  the  victory  of  science  over  the
church.  Stephen  is  resolute  in  turning  down
religion,  for  he  finds  the  rejection  sine  qua
non  in  order  to  become  an  artist.  Getting
help  from  science  and  scientific-technical
writings,  Joyce  had  found  a  way  to  show
either rejection of what was accepted by the
public or a new way of presenting truth—the
individual  perception  of  truth  and  value  is
one of the themes explored in modernism. In
order to present the truth and his characters’
philosophical  thoughts,  Joyce  needed  a
model  and  that  was  Bruno  from  whom  he
learned  that  “complicated  philosophical
thoughts  could  be  expressed  in  a  language
full of invention” (Reichert, 2002, p.58) yet
easy  to  understand  and  with  an  easy  tone.
The arrangement of answers is a reminder of
"the  self-confident  language  of  Victorian
science"  (Litz,  1977,  p.395)  while  most  of
the  answers  are  simply  put  forward.  The
language  is  a  reminder  of  the  "naïve  19
century  faith  in  science,  or  a  serious
application  of  scientific  theories  to  human
psychology"  (ibid.,  391).  Here  is  an
        What  proofs  did  Bloom  adduce  to
prove that his tendency was towards applied,
rather than towards pure, science?  
Certain possible inventions  of which he had
cogitated when reclining in a state of supine
repletion  to  aid  digestion,  stimulated  by  his
appreciation of the importance of inventions
now  common  but  once  revolutionary  for
example,  the  acronautic  parachute,  the
reflecting  telescope,  the  spiral  corkscrew,
the safety pin, the mineral water siphon, the
canal lock …. (Ulysses, p. 693)  
Or  What  did  Bloom  see  on  the  range?  On
the  right  (smaller)  hob  a  blue  enameled
saucepan:  on  the  left  (larger)  hob  a  black
iron kettle. (Ulysses, p. 690)
Inventing  a  new  language  meant  fusing  of
forms  and  the  languages  of  both  common
and  educated  people  as  well  as  rebellion
against  typical  values.  In  such  a  language
the  eyes  of  a  scientist  are  adopted  and  the
style is changed—about the subjectivity and
diversity  of  his  styles,  Joyce  in  one  of  his
letters  refers  to  the  two  adjectives
“unknown,”  and  “undiscovered”  (qtd.  in
Butler,  2002,  p.261)  which  are  in  close
relation  with  his  relativist  attitude  in
manifesting  reality—and  he  likens  the  work
to poetry and music. For this last point Joyce

owes  a  lot  to  Wagner  for  putting  the  words
into  forms  similar  to  musical  pieces  not
alien to the themes and characters employed.  
Therefore, when a character sings one thing,
a chord, a melody, a rhythm … can make
the  listener  aware  that,  for  instance,  the
character  has  something  else  in  mind  or
something is taking shape in his unconscious
that  he  does  not  yet  know  about  or
something  or  somebody  is  present  in  some
layer  of  his  self  which  he  has  tried  to
repress. (Reichert, 2002, p. 76)
Joyce’s language in ‘Ithaca’ is pleasing  to
hear  and  rhythms  and  sounds  are  composed
“according  to  musical  rules”  (Reichert,
2002,  p.76)  and  critics  have  gone  farther  in
calling  Ulysses  a  poem.  The  use  of  myths,
arrangement  of  words,  and  specifically
ironies  are  the  major  attributes  upon  which
such a claim is made. 'Ithaca' is a mixture of
symbolism  and  realism,  and  realities  are
described  and  in  places  changed  to  myths.
As  an  instance  Joyce  by  referring  to  water
and  its  universality  does  change  the  fact  of
water to the myth of water:  
What  in  water  did  Bloom,  waterlover,
drawer of water, water carrier, returning to
the range, admire?
Its  universality:  its  democratic  quality  and
constancy  to  its  nature  in  seeking  its  own
level  …  its  properties  for  cleansing,
quenching  thirst  and  fire,  nourishing
vegetation … its  metamorphoses  as  vapour,
mist,  cloud,  rain,  sleet,  snow,  hail  …  .
(Ulysses, p. 736)  
If Joyce’s style is unique it is because of his
unique way of expressing truth as well as the
amazing  unification  of  music  and  science
resulting  in  the  feeling  of  movement
whenever  the  writer  wants  us  to  move  and
speed  up  reading  the  text,  and  slow  down
where  motion  is  not  desired  depending  on
the  purpose  of  the  part  and  the  act  of
hesitation. What Joyce requires of the reader
is  not  to  slow  down  to  think  too  much  nor
just  go  through  the  lines  for  the  sake  of
enjoyment. Joyce tries to tell his reader that
the  truth  may  lie  in  what  seems  trivial  and
there  is  nothing  wrong  with  laughing  at
something  serious.  Accordingly  a  shift  of
style  or  fusing  of  styles  paves  the  way  for
expressing  different  attitudes  and  postures
over  one  point  which  validates  Joyce’s
narration.  The  tension  Joyce  created
between  serious  and  comic,  significant  and
insignificant,  fact  and  symbol,  art  and
religion,  made  him  never  offer  one
viewpoint  and  he  is  famous  for  the  sundry
viewpoints he offers with regard to different
aspects  of  life.  That  is  why  nothing  from
outside  but  the  language  of  Ulysses  itself
can help us understand the text.  
Being  a  stylist  of  the  English  language,
Joyce  uses  a  variety  of  narrative  structures
to  show  realistic  attitudes  towards  human
society  and  in  doing  so  takes  advantage  of
the  language  as  the  medley  of  many
languages.  Accordingly  the  new,  not-already-exercised  style  of  Joyce  with  which
he  feels  at  ease,  is  capable  of  revealing  to
the reader the styles of a consciousness with
which  Joyce  is  much  concerned.  At  the
beginning  of  the  movement,  a  kind  of
freedom  was  felt  by  the  writers  which
served  as  the  license  to  employment  of
experimental  styles.  New  concepts  or  new
interpretations  of  old  concepts  do  need  new
ways  of  expression,  the  result  of  which  is
the creation of an artistic piece that "renders
the  bourgeois  world  in  all  its  detail  and

potentiality,  uniting  fact  and  myth  in  a
classical  portrayal  of  Everyman  as
dispossessed hero" (Litz, 1977, p. 405).
To  enjoy  and  understand  the  episode,  the
language  must  be  enjoyed  and  understood,
for  modernist  language  systems,  according
to Malamud, “communicate to and through a
world  of  alienation,  confusion,  distortion,
acceleration”  (1989,  p.12)  and  the  art  of
rendering such a language requires the hands
of an artist.
Subverting rules of narration, Joyce abounds
his  writing  with  discontinuities  of  narrative
shifts  in  words,  and  their  combinations.  In
Joyce’s multi-layered structure, words are of
crucial importance, for it is by his play upon
them  that  Joyce  tells  his  reader  not  to  be
sure  about  anything.  The  way  mysterious,
odd  words  are  put  together  and  Joyce’s
portmanteau  style  tell  the  reader  not  to  take
anything for granted:
‘Kolod balejwaw pnimali’ (Ulysses, p. 698)
‘Particoloured’ (715)
‘Binbad’ (730)
In  one  part  the  two  words  Bloom  and
Stephen appear as ‘Stoom’ and ‘Blephen’
which  is  “an  apparent  instance  of
circumincession, in that father and son exist
reciprocally  in  one  another”  (Blamires,
1996,  p.  234).  The  play  on  words  and  the
use  of  puns  and  ironies or  words  with  more
than  one  meaning  helps  Joyce  to  refer  to
many  points  at  the  same  time  or  allude  to
one  point  while  discussing  another  to  make
it  either  more  serious  or  comic  and
humorous so that the reader is kept aware of
the echoes and links between words “they
drank  in  [jocoserious]  silence  [Epp’s]
massproduct, the [creature] cocoa” (Ulysses,
p. 658).  
Joyce’s technique of stimulating readers into
adopting  new  perspectives  is  related  to  the
way  he  sees  truth  and  expresses  it.  New
perspectives were, for Joyce, the violation of
whatever  taken  for  granted  and  publicly
believed.  As  an  instance,  to  Joyce  marriage
was  not  that  holy  institution  dear  to
nineteenth-century writers, which shows that
though  Molly  and  Bloom  are  married  much
misunderstanding  may  exist  between  them.
Joyce  examines  what  he  sees  and  is  not
confined  to  habits.  Therefore,  the  reader
perceives  no  borders  between  what  is
publicly  regarded  as  important  and  what  as
minute. Joyce liked to be ambiguous and the
multiplicity  of  meanings  besides  ironic
attitudes  and  parallels  with  regard  to
different  works—Homer’s  Odysseus  on
which the epic and ironic form of Ulysses is
founded  —or  heroes—Christ—provided  the
means  for  Joyce  via  which  to  keep  the
reader  thinking,  hesitating,  drawing
conclusions,  violating  them  or  accepting
them with a novel viewpoint.
Saving the ‘Ithaca’ chapter, other parts of
Ulysses  are  heavily  based  on  the  stream-of-consciousness  technique  with  little  use  of
punctuation  and  not-clearly-marked  voices
in  order  not  to  let  the  reader  understand
where exactly one voice stops to let another
start.  However,  it  should  be  taken  into
serious consideration that like every piece of
literature  enjoying  its  own  logic,  Ulysses
and  each  episode  in  it  is  “self-justified,
immune  from  grafting  or  dividing.”
Although in many parts “meaning may be
suspended,” (Attridge, 2002, 2) every scene
and  image  Joyce  depicts  is  projected  in  the
reader’s  mind.  It  is  perhaps  by  “the

operation of chance” that Joyce controls the
final meaning and “allow[s] meaning to rise
out  of” the text and shape itself (ibid.,  p.3).
This  is  exactly  the  quality  that  gives  humor
to the work.  The ironic  parallels taken from
Homer  may,  at  the  first  glance,  seem
humorous.  However,  the  new  perspective
could be a quality of today’s world that
trivial  incidents  are  not  less  insignificant
than  the  heroic  adventures  of  Homer’s
world.  On  the  broader  sense  the  quality  of
the events is questioned by the reader who in
some parts comes to doubt their reality. ‘Is
this  happening  in  reality  or  does  it  come
from the character’s unconscious?’ is the
question  frequently  posed  by  the  alert
reader. As a matter of fact it is the quality of
undecidability  that  dominates  Ulysses.
Chinitz takes on the act of flickering of stars
as  to  show  their  not  being  fixed  and  states
that they are “indifferent to humanity and
best  understood  as  observed  objects,
whether  scientific  or  aesthetic”  (1991,
This confirms that though Joyce presents the
detailed description of things and events, he
puts  no  definite  and  concluding  answer  to
posed  questions:  Bloom  stares  at  the  stars
and  sees  “a  mobility  of  illusory  forms
immobilized  in  space,  remobilized  in  air:  a
past which possibly had ceased to exist as a
present” (Ulysses,  p.  732).  From  a  Joycean
view to reach new insights, previous beliefs
must  be  questioned;  to  become  an  artist,
religion must fade away; ironic parallels and
‘Ithaca’  abounding  with  Homeric
correspondences  and  contrasts  accompanied
by ironic references to Bloom’s Jewishness
like  “exodus,”  “Father,”  “wilderness  of
inhabitations,”  yet  references  to  Jude-Christian  traditions  are  drawn  to  indicate
Bloom as a hero with the same attributes as
those  of  Odysseus  who  is  the  hero  of  his
own  time  with  quite  different  attributes.
Bloom,  the  satiric  counterpart  of  Odysseus,
is  inactive  and  caught  in  a  place  where  not
much happens. To the alert reader’s surprise
the protagonist is not introduced in terms of
action  and  heroism,  for  Bloom  shows  no
determination,  attempt,  purposeful  activity
and  decisiveness.  Bloom’s  passivity,
unheroic  activities,  and  weakness  are
symbolized by the stars that appear not to be
moving  or  changing  when  he  cannot  make
relations  between  his  thoughts  and  the
environment.  Bloom  is  remote  from  reality,
does  not  have  the  key  to  his  house,  fails  in
making  true  relationships  with  his  wife—
supposed  to  be  the  closest  person  to  him—
and  the  society,  and  wanders  in  his  own
thoughts and memories. The modes of shift,
relativity,  and  distortion  permeate  the  work
and  the  language  with  all  its  ambiguities,
ironies, and references.  
Levine believes in “the verbal confusion” in
the  novel  that  “match[es]  the  increasing
drunkenness  of  Stephen  and  his  friends”
(2002,  p.154).  After  the  day  is  over,  Bloom
goes  to  bed  with  a  feeling  of  satisfaction,
and  showing  no  jealousy  towards  his  rival
Boylan. If the modern man is after enjoying
a moment’s relief and desires peace in  the
hustle  and  bustle  of  everyday  life,  Joyce
asks why should not Bloom be considered as
a  hero?  Bloom  as  a  modern  hero  is  able  to
sacrifice self-respect for the sake of married
stability  after  all.  When  a  heroic  past  is
juxtaposed  with  an  unheroic  present  whose
protagonist  is  Bloom  the  hero  of  the
twentieth-century  remaining  passive  about
his  wife’s  infidelity,  this  leads  to  the
“[reduction  of]  the  past  as  well  as  the
present” (Kettle, 1962, p.137) that does not
remain unaffected by the past, and turns the

work  into  “a  comic  epic  in  prose”  in
Fielding’s  words  to  describe  Joseph
Andrews. And it is no surprise that in such a
city  as  Dublin,  Molly  becomes  the  only
person  not  suffering  the  loneliness  and
frustration others are exposed to. As a matter
of fact “to be distinctively modern the poet
must be ironic” (Nicholls, 1995, p.5), so that
he can portray the intricacies of modernity.
Joyce  abounds  his  text  with  characters’
recollections  of  the  past  and  lets  us  enter
their  minds  to  see  what  they  are  obsessed
with,  and  keeps  us  wandering  between
reality  and their minds.  Joyce, intentionally,
keeps everything on a pending state to show
the  uncertainty  of  reality  as  perceived  by
modern people. Such narrative structure best
serves Joyce’s purpose of undermining the
present  state  of  people.  While  reading,  one
gets used to “sudden public manifestations
of what one took to be a private memory”
(Attridge,  2002,  p.3)  or  the  apparent
happenings as just characters’ impressions
of  the  outer  world:  confusion  in  the  inner
and outer worlds.
‘Ithaca,’  a  picture  of  the  soulless  modern
man  and  his  incommunicability,  contains
many  interchanges  between  past  and  the
present  providing  the  means  for  Joyce  to
present  the  disturbed  mentalities  of
twentieth-century  inhabitants  of  chaotic
Change  is  important  to  Joyce  as  a  trait  of
modernism  for  it  is  the  herald  to  novelty,
destruction,  construction,  and  rising  against
the  conventions.  This  is  reminiscent  of
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words: “the new
continents are built out of the ruins of an old
planet;  the  new  races  fed  out  of  the
decomposition  of  the  foregoing.  New  arts
destroy  the  old”  (1971,  p.180).  Joyce’s
language  is  at  the  service  of  character
revelation to show the “real self” (Reichert,
2002,  p.60)  not  much  involved  in  heroic
actions  yet,  ironically  enough,  after
ameliorating the world and founding either a
Utopian  settlement—“Flowerville”  or
“Bloomcottage:” “that it was a Utopia, there
being  no  known  method  from  the  known  to
the unknown” (Ulysses,  p.715)  or  thinking
of  discovering  a  gold  seam:  “the
independent  discovery  of  a  gold  seam  of
inexhaustible ore” (Ulysses, p. 731).  
The  naturalistic  depiction  of  every  day
characters  helps  readers  understand  the
significance  of  the  trivial  or  apparently
insignificant  and  all  that  abides  characters'
consciousnesses.  Only  such  a  Joycean
language  is  capable  of  presenting  the
conscious  and  the  unconscious;  the
significant  and  the  insignificant;  the
obsessed  minds  of  characters  exploring
many aspects at the same time, possible only
through  a  fusion  of  forms,  and  words  being
associated or mingled with each other.  As a
matter of fact the language of modernism as
a  whole  is  a  language  that  owes  more  to
implied concepts, silence, and exploration of
the unknown and not verbs indicating action
and  adventure  which  gives  the  work  a
dynamic  quality.  The  onus  of  interpretation
falls to the alert reader to see how an aspect
of reality is revealed by the writer and which
aspect  the  writer  tries  to  bring  into
In  granting  the  readers  no  conclusions,
Ulysses presents a 'keyless' Bloom who tries
another  way  to  enter  the  house.  A  Bloom
with  hesitations  and  not  sure  whether,

Hamlet-like, to act or not to act, whether “to
enter or not to enter” or “to knock or not to
knock” (Ulysses,  p.  448).  On  the  symbolic
level  Joyce  means  to  show  Bloom's
indecision  not  quite  different  from  that  of
Hamlet  in  a  different  state  and  period  of
time,  or  to  show  that  the  there  is  a  great
difference  between  the  protagonists  of  a
classical  work  and  a  modern  one.  Such  a
seemingly  trivial  incident  like  forgetting
one’s  key  has  a  lot  to  offer:  The  key
symbolizes  approaching  truth  and  direct
access  to  what  one  is  looking  for.  The  key
can be an important part to one’s journey in
getting  to  a  destination.  The  same  as  the
journey in ‘Ithaca’ and the quest to reach the
truth or the unknown or an ‘everlasting yea,’
Joyce’s language is a quest for the reader to
grasp  the  concept  of  it  with  all  its
Life  is  complex  and  Joyce  gets  help  from
irony  and  whatever  figure  to  represent  its
complexities  and  shock  the  reader  to  elicit
and  accept  truth  from  among  either  minute
events,  or  characters’  unique  modes  of
consciousness.    Modernism,  after  all,
originated  from  self-conscious,  was  a
projection  of  the  artist's  self-conscious,  and
takes the reader into the minds of characters
with  private  modes  of  consciousnesses.  The
language  used  to  describe  is  so  precise  in
showing the thought-track of characters that
Edmund  Wilson  has  called  Ulysses  “the
most  faithful  X-ray  ever  taken  of  the
ordinary  human  consciousness”  (1977,  p.
288):  A  language  capable  of  indicating
structured  representations  of  memories  and
fantasies.  A  text  abounding  with  inner
thoughts  and  outer  events  needs  a  unique
language  to  represent  them  simultaneously
and take the reader to a different place while
making  him  think  of  yet  another  different
subject  by  the  rhetoric  shifts  made.  The
catechism form provides the means for exact
“intellectual  argument  just  leading  to  the
parody  of  the  characters”  (Litz,  1977,
p.395), and shows them as twentieth-century
every  day  heroes  dispossessed  of  certain
attributes,  endowed  with  modern  qualities,
in desperate need of a soul, imprisoned by a
unique  mode  of  consciousness,  and  after
finding  a  way  of  satisfying  the  need  for
spiritual  communication  in  a  decedent
Western  civilization.  By  learning
experimental  techniques  and  narrative
structures, students can engage in such class
activities  as  practicing  dialogues.  This
promotes  students’  use  of  structures  in
context.  Students  can  be  asked  to  produce
specific  questions  and  answers  in  direct
interaction and based on the novel’s content
regarding the modern man. 


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