Literature Study GuidesUlyssesPart 3 Episode 16 Summary

Ulysses | Study Guide

James Joyce

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Ulysses | Part 3, Episode 16 : The Nostos (Eumaeus) | Summary



Bloom and Stephen go to a cabman's shelter for food and drink. They can't find a carriage, so they walk there. Bloom talks about the dangers of Nighttown and the disloyalty of Stephen's friends. Stephen runs into a man who borrows half a crown from him. When they reach the cabman's shelter, Bloom whispers it is run by Skin-the-Goat Fitzharris, a member of the underground Irish nationalist group the Invincibles. Among the guests in the cabman's shelter is W.B. Murphy, a sailor who says he knows Stephen's father. The sailor tells tales of his adventures at sea and around the world. Bloom thinks about singing tours. Bloom and Stephen disagree about the existence of God, and Bloom doubts the truth of the sailor's stories.

Skin-the-Goat talks about Ireland and the importance of not emigrating. Bloom recounts his triumph over the citizen that day. He also talks about the importance of work and Ireland; Stephen disagrees. Bloom reads about the Gold Cup horse race, then shows Stephen a picture of Molly and thinks to himself what a pity it is that the young man must go to prostitutes and risk getting "a dose" (sexually transmitted disease). Bloom tries to get Stephen to drink some coffee and eat something. Stephen says he has not eaten since the day before yesterday (June 15). Bloom invites Stephen to come to his house while thinking about utopian schemes. As they walk away, talking about music, Bloom takes Stephen's arm and says his wife would love to meet Stephen, who sings a little bit for Bloom.


The name of this part of Ulysses means "return" in Greek. In these three episodes, the Odysseus figure, Bloom, makes his way home.

In The Odyssey Odysseus returns to his estate in Ithaca but does not go see his wife, Penelope, directly. Instead he disguises himself as an old man and goes to the home of Eumaeus, a swineherd and friend, ever trustworthy, kind, and loyal. But Eumaeus is unaware that the guest is Odysseus. Eumaeus thinks his guest's story that Odysseus is on his way back home to Ithaca is a lie. Telemachus, Odysseus's son, soon arrives, and Eumaeus greets Telemachus as his father, neither realizing the real father is sitting before them in disguise. In Ulysses the keeper of the cabman's shelter (Eumaeus) gives shelter to Bloom (Odysseus, the father) and Stephen (Telemachus, the son). Who is the keeper of the cabman's shelter? It is rumored to be Skin-the-Goat Fitzharris, but no one is sure. And who stands in for Odysseus now? Is it Bloom or W.B. Murphy, the "redbearded bibulous" sailor who, unlike Bloom, has just returned from years at sea and is spinning tall tales about his adventures? Identity and straight talk are playing hard to get.

In this episode the narrator uses a lot of circumlocution, meaning using too many words where fewer might do. It comes from Latin words that mean "talking around." The ambling style of the prose matches Stephen and Bloom's none-too-speedy progress across Dublin. For example, when Stephen and Bloom can find no carriages to take them to the cabman's shelter, the narrator represents their decision to walk in a long-winded way: "Evidently there was nothing for it but put a good face on the matter and foot it which they accordingly did." However, Joyce finally gives us an episode told in rather "plain words," full of clichés and tired expressions, but is it any easier to follow? Ordinary everyday language is full of idioms and figures of speech, which we come to understand through experience. "Eumaeus" reckons with discourse that is nothing but figures of speech, and even this language, applied with this single-mindedness, seems to slip loose from the content it's meant to represent or communicate. Thus, all the figures who aren't who they seem to be, like the man supposed to be "Skin-the-Goat" or the red-headed sailor who might be another Odysseus.

Finally, Stephen and Bloom are alone together. In "Oxen of the Sun" and "Circe" they seldom spoke directly to each other. Bloom's fatherliness in relation to Stephen is emphasized in a roundabout way: "the elder man who was several years the other's senior or like his father." But there are glitches in their conversation. Stephen airily states God's existence has been proven and his confidence flummoxes Bloom, the scientific thinker. Bloom makes a remark intending to show his appreciation to Stephen: "You both belong to Ireland, the brain [Stephen] and the brawn [a peasant]." But Stephen fastens onto the Irish part of the equation rather than the compliment to his smarts. Prickly as always about patriotism, Stephen deflects Bloom's remark about belonging to Ireland: "But I suspect ... that Ireland must be important because it belongs to me." This statement echoes Stephen's earlier inversion of "dying for one's country" in Nighttown: "But I say: Let my country die for me."

However, Bloom does express concern for Stephen's well-being. And the relationship is not all one way. Stephen uneasily accepts Bloom's touch when Bloom links arms with him. In "Telemachus," when Buck makes the same gesture, "Stephen free[s] his arm quietly." But Bloom and Stephen's father-son dynamic is not dramatic or life-altering. Joyce's Ulysses is an epic of the everyday; the glitches and prickliness of Bloom and Stephen's encounter suggest tomorrow will be much like today, but not identical: "history repeating itself with a difference."

The newspaper account of the Gold Cup symbolically links Bloom and the winning horse, Throwaway. Throwaway is called an "outsider" and "the rank outsider." Bloom is very much an outsider, as can be seen in the way the sailor warms to Stephen and ignores Bloom. Perhaps Bloom triumphs over Boylan because Boylan and Lenehan bet on Sceptre. However, this triumph is not obviously life-changing. Moments after the account of the race, Bloom pushes Molly on Stephen, showing him a photo, talking about arranging an introduction, and thinking to himself about the advantages of older-woman/younger-man relationships. When adultery is mentioned, Bloom thinks to himself "the legitimate husband" might have been "a party to it," complicit in the affair. The defeats and triumphs of this one day in Dublin are perhaps cyclical, to be repeated on another day.

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