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Ulysses | Study Guide

James Joyce

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Ulysses | Part 2, Episode 6 : The Odyssey (Hades) | Summary

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Summary

It is nearly 11 a.m. on Thursday. Bloom, Simon Dedalus, Martin Cunningham, and Mr. Power travel in a carriage to Dignam's funeral. Along the way, the carriage passes many Dubliners they know, some going to the funeral as well. The men gossip about them as they pass. Bloom points out Stephen Dedalus as the carriage passes him by. Simon Dedalus, Stephen's father, assumes he is on his way to see Sara and Richie Goulding, his aunt and uncle, and Simon speaks scornfully of them. Bloom thinks about his son, Rudy, who died after only 11 days of life. Mr. Power asks Bloom about the singing tour. Bloom says some very good singers will be going but that he can't go because he has to go to County Clare "on private business."

The carriage passes an old Jewish man. Martin Cunningham and Mr. Power make fun of the man for being "of the tribe of Reuben." Simon Dedalus curses him. Bloom attempts to tell an anecdote about a moneylender named Reuben J. Dodd and his son, but Martin Cunningham interrupts and finishes the story. Mr. Power and Simon Dedalus talk about suicide, agreeing it is cowardly and a disgrace. Bloom thinks about the inquest into his father's death and a letter his father left him. He tells the others some of his great ideas about running funeral trams instead of horse-drawn carriages to the cemetery. The men then discuss a famous case of murder and an accident in which a corpse fell out of the hearse.

At the cemetery Martin Cunningham pulls Mr. Power aside to say, "I was in mortal agony with you talking of suicide before Bloom." He whispers Bloom's father committed suicide. The priest intones Latin prayers, which Bloom tries to translate for himself. Afterward Simon Dedalus weeps for May, his recently deceased wife. Some men talk about Bloom's attractive wife, Molly, and they wonder why she married a Jew.

The burial itself begins. Bloom counts the mourners at the gravesite: there are 12, making him 13. Then he decides a man wearing a mackintosh (raincoat) is actually the 13th: "Death's number." Bloom thinks about all the corpses in the ground. He mentions the man in the mackintosh while a man named Hynes is recording the names of the mourners. Bloom continues to think of inventions: a clock or speaking tube to make sure the newly buried are really dead and gramophones to remember the voices of the dead. Bloom sees John Henry Menton, who long ago took a dislike to him. He points out Menton's hat is dented, and Menton stiffly thanks him.

Analysis

In The Odyssey Odysseus visits Hades to get advice from the prophet Tiresias. (Although Hades is today sometimes a synonym for hell, in ancient Greece it meant only the underworld or afterworld, not a place of punishment.) In Dante's Inferno, written in the 14th century, Dante and the epic poet Virgil speak to Ulysses (Odysseus) in hell. By writing a "Hades" episode, Joyce is staking a claim: his Ulysses is an epic for the 20th century, and Bloom is his Odysseus figure. The connection to epic literature is made explicit. Thinking of all the dead in the cemetery, Bloom exclaims to himself, "How many!" This recalls a line from the Inferno that Joyce's contemporary T.S. Eliot would famously quote in The Waste Land: "I had not thought death had undone so many."

When Simon Dedalus passes by his son, Stephen, he makes scornful remarks and does not attempt to address him, but he does salute Blazes Boylan coming out of a pub. On hearing Simon speak of Stephen, Bloom immediately thinks of his deceased infant son, Rudy (named after Bloom's father, Rudolph). The man without a son, Bloom, and the man without much of a father, Stephen, seem destined to inhabit a father-son relationship, a central theme of the novel.

The "Hades" episode reveals Bloom is not much respected by his acquaintances in Dublin, although how much he feels their exclusion is not clear. Martin Cunningham talks over him during Bloom's anecdote, and Simon Dedalus adds the punch line and gets the laugh. At the cemetery Ned Lambert and some others speak disrespectfully of Molly and the "coon" she married, Bloom. When John Henry Menton says Molly "had plenty of game in her" when she was younger, Ned Lambert replies she still does; neither man thinks Bloom is a good match for such a woman. Bloom himself seems to collude in the disrespect. When the men in the carriage make anti-Semitic remarks about "the tribe of Reuben," he tries to relate an anecdote about the moneylender Reuben J. Dodd.

Corpses do not rest easy in the "Hades" episode. They burst out of coffins on the road. They emit gases that burn blue. And unless they are stabbed in the heart they can keep on speaking through tubes or telephones or gramophones. The uneasiness of the corpses reflects the mourners' uneasiness and their guilt about surviving the death of someone. Bloom remains loyal to his late father, Rudolph, and visits his grave yearly. Even the gruff Simon Dedalus sheds tears for his dead wife, May.

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