Literature Study GuidesUlyssesPart 2 Episode 5 Summary

Ulysses | Study Guide

James Joyce

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Ulysses | Part 2, Episode 5 : The Odyssey (Lotus Eaters) | Summary

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Summary

It is 10 a.m. and Bloom walks to a post office where he picks up a letter addressed to "Henry Flower," his pseudonym. He sees an attractive woman seated in a carriage and waits to watch her stand up so he can catch a glimpse of her undergarments as she leaves the high carriage. But a man named M'Coy pesters him and a truck obscures his view. Bloom tells M'Coy his wife is going on a singing tour. He thinks of the song Molly mentioned this morning: "Love's Old Sweet Song." M'Coy makes Bloom promise to mark him down as attending Dignam's funeral. He expects to be busy helping the coroner with "a drowning case at Sandycove." Bloom looks at advertisements of plays and thinks about his father.

Bloom finds a quiet spot to read his letter, a flirtatious, coquettish letter from Martha, a woman he's been corresponding with for a while. Bloom was bold in his last letter, and Martha threatens to "punish" him. She has sent him a flower along with the letter. Bloom pockets the letter and slips into a church where women are receiving communion. He ponders the Christian religion and wonders if Martha would meet him at church someday. Next he goes to a chemist's shop (pharmacy) to have a lotion made for Molly. He buys a scented soap and as he leaves the store he runs into Bantam Lyons, who asks to see his newspaper so he can check the horse race listings. Bloom tries to give Lyons the newspaper and says he was going to throw it away, but Lyons misunderstands and thinks Bloom is giving him a tip on the horse Throwaway running in the Gold Cup race. Bloom walks to the local baths to bathe before the funeral.

Analysis

Episode 5 is named after an incident in The Odyssey in which Odysseus's ship is blown to the island of the lotus-eaters. The people there live on lotus, an intoxicating "food that comes from a kind of flower." They give some lotus to Odysseus's men, who love the drunken feeling so much they no longer want to sail home to Ithaca. Odysseus has to force them back onto the ship. Similarly, this episode of Ulysses is about intoxicants.

If kidneys were on Bloom's mind before, now it's ale: "Barrels of porter bumped in his head: dull porter slopped and churned inside." Bloom does not drink this early in the day, but he is aware of intoxication all around him. A tea store makes him think of the tropics, and so of "Lethargy. Flowers of idleness." The soldiers on parade look "half-baked ... hypnotized like." In church Bloom notices the intoxicating effects of religion: the Latin language "stupefies" and the miracle of Lourdes offers "waters of oblivion." Even a cigar is not just a cigar but a "narcotic." And Bloom himself is a great big intoxicating lotus flower, from his name (Bloom) to his pseudonym (Henry Flower) to his own penis as he imagines himself lolling in the bath, a "limp father of thousands, a languid floating flower."

The male sex organ, its potency and impotence, is a motif of this episode that contributes to the novel's themes of sex and love. Bloom's "limp father of thousands" is contrasted with Boylan's sexual vigor. M'Coy, hearing of Molly's singing tour, asks Bloom "Who's getting it up?" The unspoken answer is: Blazes Boylan. Some "sluts" in Bloom's memory take up the refrain in a song: "To keep it up / To keep it up." Bloom also notices some gelded (castrated) horses: "a stump of black gutta-percha [rubber] hanging limp between their haunches." He thinks the horses might be happy anyway, munching on their food. Church music likewise makes Bloom think of castrati, boys who were castrated to preserve their high singing voices. They too might have been happier that way, thinks Bloom: "Eunuch. One way out of it."

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