Literature Study GuidesUlyssesPart 2 Episode 8 Summary

Ulysses | Study Guide

James Joyce

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Ulysses | Part 2, Episode 8 : The Odyssey (Lestrygonians) | Summary

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Summary

On the way to lunch at 1 p.m. Bloom walks past a candy store where a boy gives him a religious handbill, a "throwaway" announcing the coming of the Jewish prophet, Elijah. Bloom sees one of Simon Dedalus's daughters, Dilly, on the street, her clothes in tatters. He thinks about how a family falls apart when the mother dies and about the irrationality of Catholic customs as he sees them: "Increase and multiply. Did you ever hear such an idea?"

Bloom watches the gulls and a barge full of porter ale while making up a rhyming couplet. Gulls searching for food entice him to crumple up the Elijah throwaway and throw it into the Liffey River. The gulls do not give chase. He thinks about Shakespeare's blank (unrhymed) verse and the flow of language and thought that do not require rhyme to make an impact. He contrives innovations, such as advertising cures for sexually transmitted diseases in men's restrooms. He wonders about the concept of parallax, in which an object appears to shift its position when viewed from two different sight lines, but he doesn't spend much time on this. He then thinks of Molly's peculiar mispronunciation when she said a certain singer is a "barrel-toned bass," which suits the man, who is stocky and barrel chested.

Bloom runs into Mrs. Breen. Her husband, Denis Breen, is mentally ill. He has nightmares and obsesses over a postcard someone sent him with only the letters u.p. as a message. Bloom suspects Alf Bergan or Richie Goulding is Denis Breen's tormentor. He points out to Mrs. Breen another mentally ill person making his way down the street: Cashel Boyle O'Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell, who tries to avoid walking near lampposts. Mrs. Breen tells Bloom about a friend of theirs, Mina Purefoy, who is in the maternity hospital ("lying-in hospital"); she has been trying to deliver for three days. Bloom wonders what it's like to try to push a too-large baby out of your own body. He thinks it should be made easier: "They ought to invent something to stop that."

Bloom thinks about Charles Parnell, the Irish nationalist politician, but his thoughts soon return to food. Thinking about landlords and the rich he remarks: "Swindle in it somewhere." He sees Charles Parnell's less famous, less interesting brother, John Howard Parnell, and considers what a coincidence it is to see the one after thinking of the other. He also sees the poet A.E. (pseudonym for the actual Irish revivalist poet George Russell) accompanied by a woman who might be Lizzie Twigg, an actual Irish poet and Gaelic revivalist. He thinks back to the early years of his marriage to Molly and wonders if he was happier then: "Or was that I? Or am I now I?"

Bloom is hungry and also experiences sexual desire as a hunger: "With hungered flesh obscurely, he mutely craved to adore." He goes to the Burton restaurant but is overcome by disgust watching people eat, so he goes to Davy Byrne's pub instead. Nosey Flynn makes conversation with Bloom and asks about Molly's singing tour. Nosey asks the same question about the tour—"Who's getting it up?"—providing an unwelcome reminder of Blazes Boylan, Molly's lover. Bloom eats a cheese sandwich and drinks a glass of wine.

Bloom wonders who ate the first oyster. He thinks of statues of goddesses and of the human body having to eat and excrete, "like stoking an engine." When Bloom leaves the bar for the restroom, Nosey Flynn and Davy Byrne talk about him. Nosey says Bloom is a member of the Freemasons, a secret society that gives him advantages in business. Bloom returns and wonders who first distilled whiskey. He thinks about the opera Don Giovanni and about how much money he's made. When he leaves the pub he sees a young blind man, the "blind stripling," who accepts his help crossing the street. Bloom thinks about the experience of blindness, how blind people sense objects, and what their dreams are like. He tries not to think of his wife, Molly, and her lover, Boylan Blazes. He checks his pockets, looking for the soap he bought: "Trousers. Potato. Purse. Where?"

Analysis

This episode is named for The Odyssey's Lestrygonians, a tribe of giant cannibals. It continually returns to the themes of eating and appetite, especially in relation to pleasure and disgust. Tastes and smells beckon to Bloom and also repel him. The lunch he chooses combines pleasure and disgust in a "feety"-smelling cheese. But the "Lestrygonians" episode also contains other, very different contents. Distracted by hunger, Bloom's mind wanders even as he physically wanders through Dublin. When Stephen wandered on the beach, he was alone with his thoughts. The few people who appeared were a great distance away, and Stephen imagined things about them. Bloom's wanderings are social. He confronts crowds and suffering and madness. Bloom can also imagine his way into other lives through empathy, what it's like to give birth, to have to nurse a new baby every year, to be blind. His imagination also works at larger scales as he imagines all the dying and all those being born.

In the "Proteus" episode in Part 1 of the novel, Stephen thinks about his soul, the "form of forms." Bloom's imaginings are flighty and quickly broken off but often about improving the lot of humankind. After seeing Dilly Dedalus and hearing about Mina Purefoy, Bloom wonders to himself if it is possible to alleviate the poverty of children. "They could easily have big establishments whole thing quite painless," he muses. His train of thought lurches through a series of calculations and good practices: "multiply by twenty decimal system encourage people to put money by." He reaches no conclusion, resolving to do the math later because he "want[s] to work it out on paper."

Bloom is not shown to be a better man than Stephen, just a different one. Bloom's castles-in-the-air may even insulate him from the suffering he sees. Switching between Bloom's and Stephen's perspectives (among many others), Ulysses gives readers an in-depth view of Dublin on a June day in 1904. Bloom tries to explain a principle of shifting perspectives—parallax—but he can't quite: "Parallax. I never quite understood what it means."

As with a left and a right eye, Stephen's and Bloom's views are not opposite, they just issue from a different perspective. For example, they consider the Catholic Church from different angles. Stephen is a former pupil at a Catholic school and now determined not to be dominated by the Catholic Church. Bloom, a Jew, approaches church customs as a curious outsider, wondering why having many children is so highly valued. In Catholicism Stephen perceives corrupt power and doctrinal rigidity while Bloom perceives irrational or strange practices among believers. When together, Stephen and Bloom do not engage in a pro-and-con debate about the Church. Their combined perspectives give the novel's critical portrait of the church more depth.

Bloom's thought about coincidence also comments on the structure of Ulysses. "Coming events cast their shadows before," Bloom thinks. Future events have a kind of echo or resonance in the present. In the "Lestrygonians" episode Bloom thinks of a line from Hamlet: "Hamlet, I am thy father's spirit." In the next episode, "Scylla and Charybdis," Stephen speaks that same line. By sharing the line, Bloom, the sonless father, and Stephen, the cast-out son, symbolically undergo transubstantiation, sharing their spirit and substance. Bloom's words about "coming events" also mean Ulysses can be viewed as a structure of repetitions and variations. The point of the pattern is not to decode it, but to perceive its beauty, the way a listener hears beautiful patterns of repetition and variation in a musical composition.

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