Literature Study GuidesUlyssesPart 2 Episode 12 Summary

Ulysses | Study Guide

James Joyce

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Ulysses | Part 2, Episode 12 : The Odyssey (Cyclops) | Summary



Just before 5 p.m. an unnamed, first-person narrator is talking with a policeman and almost has his eye poked out by a chimney sweep's broom. The narrator meets Joe Hynes. The narration then switches to a parody of 19th-century translations of Irish myth, poetry, and legend, describing an abundant Irish countryside. The narration switches back, and the narrator and Hynes go to Barney Kiernan's pub. The citizen is there, talking to a dog named Garryowen. Hynes buys pints for himself, the citizen, and the narrator. Narration shifts back to parody, and the citizen is described as a hero wearing an "unsleeved garment of recently flayed oxhide." He wears a belt of stones engraved with the images of "Irish heroes," including Chuchulin, Charlemagne, and Lady Godiva.

Bloom enters the pub, looking for Martin Cunningham. Bloom wants to talk to him about Paddy Dignam's life insurance but he isn't there. In the course of the episode, Alf Bergan, J.J. O'Molloy, John Wyse Nolan, and finally Martin all show up at the pub. Bloom turns down the offer of a drink from Hynes but accepts a cigar. The narration runs through several styles, including a parody of scientific discourse; a sensationalist newspaper recounting the execution of Irish rebel Robert Emmet; and parliamentary proceedings with accusatory questions asked about the Phoenix Park murders.

Throughout the episode the citizen becomes increasingly xenophobic (anti-foreigner). "We want no more strangers in our house," he says. Bloom suggests moderation and is ignored. He claims Ireland is his nation, and the citizen spits in disgust. Bloom makes a plea in favor of love and against "force, hatred, history, all that," then goes to the courthouse to look for Martin. Lenehan claims Bloom only pretended to go to the courthouse; he really went to collect his winnings on Throwaway in the Gold Cup. The talk turns to other conspiracies with Bloom at their center. And Bloom didn't even buy anyone drinks, the narrator recalls.

Martin enters and Bloom returns. The citizen is getting edgy, and Martin hurries Bloom out of the pub. They get in a carriage while the citizen goes to the door of the pub and shouts, "Three cheers for Israel!" Bloom stands up in the carriage and talks back, listing famous Jews in history, including "the Savior and his father. Your God." The narration returns to parody, this time of a newspaper account of a royal visit. The angry citizen throws a biscuit tin at the carriage, but it misses. The dog Garryowen runs after the carriage. Now the narration shifts to a parody of a newspaper account of a natural disaster. The citizen urges his dog after the carriage. Finally, the narration assumes a biblical style in which Bloom is described as Elijah ascending to heaven in a chariot.


The "Cyclops" episode is written in two perspectives, first-person and third-person. The third-person sections parody many writing styles, including Irish myth, journalism, and scientific discourse.

Joyce's "Cyclops" episode makes numerous parallels with Homer's Odyssey. The episode is full of images of eyes and blindness. This is not only appropriate for a section named for The Odyssey's one-eyed monster, the Cyclops, but it follows the "Sirens" episode where sound and the ear dominate. Through his choice of imagery Joyce offers a kind of critique of the idea that there is any one true or absolute perspective with which to view the world. A "one-eyed" view is that of the narrow-minded, xenophobic citizen who parallels Homer's character Polyphemus, a Cyclops blinded by Odysseus. By parodying multiple writing styles, Joyce is commenting that all people share a narrow-minded or one-sided perspective and that attempting to be neutral and objective is impossible. As he does in the "Lestrygonians" episode, Joyce shows the necessity of combining multiple perspectives to arrive at real insight.

At the very start the narrator is almost poked in the eye with a broom. When Joe Hynes buys the drinks, the narrator is so shocked "the sight nearly left [his] eyes." The dog Garryowen is described by the narrator as having just one eye: "Growling and grousing and his eye all bloodshot from the drouth [drought]." Bloom quotes the proverb about people who can't see the beam in their own eye, and the citizen responds, "There's no-one as blind as the fellow that won't see." There are also images of the burning log Odysseus used to blind the giant. Bloom's cigar is so big the narrator calls it a "knockmedown cigar," and later it almost burns Bloom.

The most surprising eye of all is the one that looks so coldly on Bloom and the others: the "I" of the first-person narrator. In the 12th episode of an 18-episode novel, suddenly a first-person narrator appears: "I was just passing the time of day with old Troy." It is a radical stylistic departure for a novel previously built on third-person narration and stream of consciousness. One effect of the narrator's "I" is to demonstrate another form of Cyclopean shortsightedness. In Bloom's beloved wife the narrator sees only "that fat heap," and in Bloom's empirical turn of mind, the narrator sees only "argol bargol" (argumentative blather). Bloom may seem "cod-eyed" to the narrator, but he does advance ideals of self-awareness and empathy. He tries to acknowledge the beam in his own eye, and rather than piling on Denis Breen, he defends Breen's beleaguered wife.

The most shortsighted figure has to be the citizen. He shares with Stephen Dedalus a dislike of English domination, but the citizen's rhetoric is made ridiculous by its proximity to a lofty, 19th-century dream of ancient Ireland: "the noble district of Boyle, princes, the sons of kings." The narrator describes the citizen as "working for the cause," but in truth he is speaking Irish to a dog and scrounging drinks in a pub. His dreams of Irish national glory thwarted, the citizen turns against "strangers," adding a toxic anti-Semitism to his pro-Irish sentiments. When Bloom talks about his "persecuted race," he is speaking as both a Jew and an Irishman, but the citizen is so caught up in his narrow viewpoint he cannot see the parallels and communalities between the two groups.

Bloom says the persecution is happening "This very moment. This very instant." But at "this very instant" Boylan is with Molly, which might be Bloom's real worry. Wyse tells him, "Stand up to it then." Instead of standing up, Bloom dismisses the use of force and advocates love instead, a view that the citizen and narrator mock as "Love loves to love love." Some readers find that love is a through-line that unites all of Ulysses, and love is a major touchstone for the novel. But as this episode is at pains to reveal, no perspective is without its faults, not even a message of universal love.

Stephen Dedalus has spoken of history as a nightmare from which he is trying to awake, and in his speech in this episode Bloom identifies history with force and hatred, inviting us to compare and contrast their outlooks. Likewise, Stephen is preoccupied with love (especially maternal love), but Bloom speaks of love in much broader terms, as "the opposite of hatred" and indeed what is "really life," and so here too they may be compared. Such comparison is in keeping with the spirit of the episode, since it offers a sort of "bifocal" perspective on love and history, which is precisely the opposite of the myopia and narrowness of the citizen and the xenophobia he represents.

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