Literature Study GuidesUlyssesPart 2 Episode 4 Summary

Ulysses | Study Guide

James Joyce

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Ulysses | Part 2, Episode 4 : The Odyssey (Calypso) | Summary



In Part 2, "The Odyssey," the focus widens. The first episodes were Stephen's, but from here on readers meet many more characters, many of which relate to and help us get to know Bloom and Molly as well as Stephen. The narrative begins at 8 a.m., Thursday, June 16, as it does at the beginning of the book.

Leopold Bloom makes breakfast for his wife, Molly, and feeds the cat. While he waits for the kettle to boil he goes to the butcher's to buy a kidney for his breakfast and thinks about the businesses he passes along the way wondering if he could sell them an ad in the newspaper. Simon Dedalus, Stephen's father, briefly enters his thoughts.

Bloom returns home and picks up the mail. There is a letter addressed to "Mrs. Marion Bloom." He brings tea and buttered bread to Molly who is lying in bed upstairs. She asks about the meaning of the word metempsychosis, a Greek word for reincarnation, and then asks him what time the funeral for Paddy Dignam is. Bloom gives Molly her letter while downstairs the kidney starts to burn on the stove. He goes downstairs for his breakfast and reads his letter, which is from their 15-year-old daughter, Milly. She is in Mullingar, Ireland, working with a photographer. Milly mentions a "young student," causing Bloom to wonder if she will become involved with the man. After eating Bloom goes to the outhouse to relieve himself. While he does so he reads a story in the newspaper. As he leaves the outhouse, church bells toll, reminding him of Dignam's funeral.


Joyce named this episode for the character Calypso, a nymph in The Odyssey who keeps Odysseus on her island for seven years as he travels home from the Trojan War. This parallels the focus in the episode on the relationship between Bloom and Molly, who holds him in her own kind of spell.

In the previous episode Stephen imagined eating "urinous offal." In this episode Bloom really does eat urinous offal. He likes mutton kidneys, "which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine." The narration now follows Bloom's thoughts closely. Unlike Stephen's abstract allusions and metaphors, Bloom's thoughts often plainly narrate his experience: "Cup of tea soon. Good. Mouth dry." Bloom is also an idea man, but his ideas are often silly, utopian, or fantastical schemes. One is "Good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub" and another is to "Travel round in front of the sun ... never grow a day older."

Bloom is earthy. He has kidneys "in his mind" this morning and a potato in his pocket. "Potato I have," he notes as he heads out the door. The potato reappears several times in Ulysses, and its symbolism is only explained later, in the "Sirens" episode. Bloom's mother thought a potato was a "panacea," something that cures or protects against all diseases, and Bloom follows her in this belief. The potato is a fitting symbol of good luck for the down-to-earth Bloom.

Bloom knows the streets of his neighborhood well. He "avoid[s] the loose cellarflap of number seventyfive" without stopping to think about it. As a salesman selling ads in newspapers, he knows all the local businesses and is aware there is "No use canvassing [Larry O'Rourke] for an ad." Simon Dedalus, Stephen's father, makes an appearance in Bloom's thoughts. He is more playful than the man Stephen knows, but there is still a note of scorn. In Bloom's opinion Simon "takes him (O'Rourke) off to a tee," that is, imitates Larry O'Rourke well.

Molly likes to luxuriate and is still asleep as Bloom goes out to the butcher's. When he returns he brings her breakfast in bed and the letter for "Mrs. Marion Bloom," which is slightly scandalous. Properly speaking, she is Mrs. Leopold Bloom. She says the letter is from Blazes Boylan, with whom she is practicing for a singing tour. She is also having an affair with him. But Molly says this with a studied casualness—"O, Boylan"—and hides the letter under her pillow. Bloom suspects something, but he has secrets too: a white slip of paper hidden in his hatband. Still Bloom seems very fond of Molly, and he even has an appreciation for her heaps of petticoats and "soiled linen."

The episode is full of resonances. When Bloom is eating breakfast, there are many references to meat and flesh: a woman he finds attractive in the butcher shop has "moving hams," and in her letter Milly describes people (perhaps women) at the fair as "beef to the heels," an expression used in that area of rural Ireland suggesting the fairgoers are wealthy and well fed. Then as Bloom heads to the outhouse, mentions of dung and dirt abound. He thinks of manuring the garden with hen's "droppings," and he muses on a peculiar theory, apparently his own, that gloves can be cleaned with dirt: "Dirty cleans. Ashes too."

In the outhouse sequence Joyce seems to be having fun mocking popular fiction. A newspaper story by "Mr. Philip Beaufoy" lasts just long enough for a reader to use the toilet, and the story "begins and ends morally." The climax of the story perhaps coincides with Bloom's excretion. He then uses the newspaper to wipe himself. But Bloom also has literary ambitions. He imagines writing a story like the one he has just read. He would sign it "Mr and Mrs L. M. Bloom." The insult from Boylan would thus be repaired in the newspaper byline. Joyce's mockery perhaps extends to his own novel. Just before he wipes himself Bloom is struck by the "poetical idea" of representing the course of a day: "pink, then golden ... then black. Still, true to life also. Day: then the night." There is dramatic irony for readers who realize this schema describes Ulysses.

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