Literature Study GuidesUlyssesPart 2 Episode 13 Summary

Ulysses | Study Guide

James Joyce

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Ulysses | Part 2, Episode 13 : The Odyssey (Nausicaa) | Summary

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Summary

At 8 p.m. Bloom is at Sandymount Strand, where Stephen walked in the "Proteus" episode. Nearby are three girls: Edy Boardman, Cissy Caffrey, and Gerty McDowell. Edy has her baby with her and Cissy has her twin three-year-old brothers, who are playing and quarreling. Gerty is described as a beautiful "specimen of winsome Irish girlhood." She thinks about the "lovely dog" Garryowen, who belongs to her grandfather.

The sound of singing comes from a "men's temperance retreat" (a gathering of men who have promised not to drink alcohol). Gerty sees Bloom looking at her and decides "there was meaning in his look," and he becomes "her dream husband." Gerty believes she notices the expression in Bloom's face: "He was eyeing her as a snake eyes its prey." Through her "women's instinct," she is aware that she has "raised the devil in him."

A fireworks show begins. Edy, Cissy, and the children go to get a better look, but Gerty remains where she is, seated on a rock. As more fireworks go off, Gerty leans back to look up and to show off her "gracefully beautifully shaped legs" and then her underwear. She notices a man sitting on a rock down the beach and thinks he is watching her and might be masturbating. The fireworks display reaches a climax: "O! then the Roman candle burst and it was like a sigh of O!" The narrator finally tells us the man on the rock is Bloom. The interaction between Gerty and Bloom reaches its climax in the melodramatic, syrupy style of a romance novel: "O so lovely, O, soft, sweet, soft!" Cissy calls to Gerty to come along with them. Gerty waves her handkerchief to Bloom in farewell as he hops off the rock and walks mindfully down the beach.

The narrative switches to Bloom's perspective and the stream-of-consciousness style. He notices Gerty walks with a limp, the "shortcoming" mentioned earlier. He decides she is a "Hot little devil all the same." He thinks she was near her menstrual period and this aroused her: "Devils they are when that's coming on them." He thinks about the way Gerty flirted and displayed herself, taking off her hat to show her hair. He thinks of Molly and wonders whether Boylan is paying for sex with her. He wonders how much she would get. He thinks about his watch stopping at half past four and wonders if that is precisely when they had sex.

Bloom rearranges his "wet shirt." The climax might have been metaphorical or emotional for Gerty, but it was physical for Bloom. He thinks about how other men enjoy married women and he does not. He wonders if Gerty could be Martha, his correspondent. He wonders about how dogs smell each other in greeting and then tries to investigate his own "man smell," but it's overpowered by the scented soap. A nobleman walks by, and Bloom considers following him or writing about him.

Bloom reminisces about Molly and then thinks about Boylan. A last firework goes off; Bloom knows it's from the Mirus bazaar, featured in "Wandering Rocks." He resolves again to visit Mrs. Purefoy in the maternity hospital, takes a stick, writes the letters I. AM. A. in the sand, and then scratches them out. He naps and dreams of the day's events while in a priest's house a cuckoo clock strikes.

Analysis

In The Odyssey Odysseus is beached, naps, and wakes up to find Princess Nausicaa and her young maidens doing laundry. He begs her to help him return home to Ithaca. Gerty (Nausicaa) and Edy and Cissy (maidens) help Bloom (Odysseus) find his way home, in this case through sexual excitement and a coming to terms with his sexuality afterward. Readers by now have received many indications of Bloom's sexual frustration: his inability to have pleasurable sex with his wife, his nonsexual affair with Martha, his many meetings with prostitutes, and most frustrating, his wife's affair with Blazes Boylan. Because Bloom feels that Gerty is attracted to him, he masturbates, thinks he now sees a way to accommodate Molly's affair with Boylan and can return home on equal footing.

"Nausicaa" is told from two perspectives and in two styles. The first half is a third-person narration that focuses on Gerty McDowell. The writing style is cloying and sentimental, like a romance novel. This half also lavishes attention on Gerty's clothing and the products marketed to women: "iron jelloids" (pills), eyebrow liner, and "Widow Welch's female pills." "Nausicaa" is the first episode in Ulysses that explores the mind of a female character. (The other such episode is "Penelope," narrated by Molly.) The narrative style of "Nausicaa" suggests Gerty's mind is full of the sentimental fiction she reads and the ads and products she consumes. Bloom, too, is a bit of a sentimentalist and dreamer, his mind full of advertising slogans and sappy fragments of popular culture. She thinks she has "her dreams no one knew of," but apparently anyone who's read a "Princess Novelette" can guess: she wants to be admired for her beauty and she wants a "dreamhusband."

What is becoming increasingly clear at this point in the novel is that all styles, including interior monologue and traditional third-person omniscient, are simply conventions; some are simply more familiar (and so more "real") than others. An interesting question for readers is why Joyce decided to handle this episode with such sentimentality. Is his point to satirize the writing styles of romantic literature or to poke fun at a young woman's thinking full of the superficiality and banality of popular culture? With a view of Molly's very "real" thoughts in "Penelope," it seems very possible Joyce is satirizing the former more so than the latter.

There is verbal irony in such statements as "She could almost see the swift answering flash of admiration in his eyes." The word almost indicates how much work Gerty is doing to keep their encounter going. She provides the flirtation and display and also imagines his nuanced emotional reactions. Bloom's narrative reveals he felt a connection of some sort: "it was a kind of language between us." But Gerty would be hurt to know Bloom thinks her gait makes her a sexual freak: "I wouldn't mind. Curiosity like a nun or a negress or a girl with glasses." There is dramatic irony in seeing the events through Gerty's and Bloom's eyes. Gerty's narrative associates her with Mary, the mother of Jesus, while Bloom's narrative calls her a "hot little devil" or a "limping little devil."

The second half abandons parody and brings back the stream-of-consciousness style. Bloom the curious experimenter returns. He is just as curious about his emotional and sexual responses as he is about smells and magnetism. As in the "Lestrygonians" episode when Bloom ate lunch, pleasure and disgust are close neighbors. Bloom is repelled by the thought of sex with a married woman: "Glad to get away from the other chap's wife. Eating off his cold plate." He then immediately recalls an incident from the "Lestrygonians" episode, in which he watched a man spit out his food. Disgusted, Bloom left the restaurant.

Bloom is complicit in Molly's infidelity, even though he seems not to like it: "I am a fool perhaps. He gets the plums and I the plumstones." But he is proud of Molly's attractiveness. Other women might be so unattractive their husbands cheat but not Molly: "That's where Molly can knock spots off them." He also seems to encourage her infidelity: "I said to Molly the man at the corner of Cuffe street was goodlooking, thought she might like."

At nine o'clock Bloom thinks of returning home but changes his mind. It is possible he does not want to face Molly. "Go home ... No. Might still be up. Call to hospital to see." He could mean he won't go home because there is still a chance Mrs. Purefoy is up: "Call to hospital to see [if she is up.]" But he might also want to avoid Molly, or, worse, Molly and Boylan together. Boylan after all is associated with the phrase "keep it up," as readers learned in the "Lotus-Eaters" episode. Taken together, Bloom's writing on the beach ("I. AM. A.") and the cuckoo's cry may be read as "I am a cuckold."

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