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Ulysses | Study Guide

James Joyce

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Ulysses | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Ulysses begins on Thursday, June 16, 1904, in Dublin, Ireland, and ends sometime after 2 a.m. on Friday, June 17, in the Blooms' house at 7 Eccles Street. The action begins at 8 a.m., just outside central Dublin in a Martello Tower, a coastal fortification dating to the Napoleonic wars. Stephen Dedalus is in mourning for his mother, May, whose death more than a year before had brought him home from Paris. Stephen eats breakfast with his housemate Buck Mulligan and Buck's guest, the Englishman Haines. Stephen dislikes Haines and resolves to spend the night elsewhere. Stephen leaves the tower to teach a class at a boys' school in Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin. He receives his monthly wage from the overbearing Mr. Deasy, who gives him a letter about hoof-and-mouth disease. Stephen promises to try to get the letter published. He then walks along the shore at Sandymount, philosophizing, urinating, and picking his nose. He thinks about his mother and feels guilty for not having prayed with her at her deathbed.

With the beginning of the novel's fourth episode, the narrative turns back to 8 a.m. that same day in a different household. Leopold Bloom, who sells ads for a living, is making tea for his wife, Molly, in their house on Eccles Street. Molly is a housewife and a talented singer who grew up on the island of Gibraltar, which was a British outpost. Bloom brings Molly tea and cooks a kidney for his own breakfast. He brings in the mail and notices a letter that he suspects is from Molly's lover, Blazes Boylan. After breakfast Bloom goes to the outhouse, where he reads a melodramatic story and then tears off a page to use as toilet paper.

Bloom then leaves the house and stops by a post office, where he picks up a letter addressed to him under the pseudonym "Henry Flower." It is a flirtatious letter from a secret correspondent, Martha. Bloom takes a bath at a bathhouse and then attends the funeral of Paddy Dignam, an acquaintance. He rides to the cemetery in a carriage with several men, including Stephen's father, Simon Dedalus, who make anti-Semitic remarks in the presence of Bloom, a nonpracticing Jew. Bloom was not close to Dignam, but he spends time thinking about death: he recalls his own father, who committed suicide, and his son, Rudy, who died in infancy.

At noon Bloom tries to sell an ad at the newspaper offices. Stephen is also there, getting Mr. Deasy's letter published. Stephen is well liked by the newspapermen; Bloom is not. Bloom leaves without succeeding in placing his ad. Stephen goes for drinks with the newspapermen.

At 1 p.m. Bloom eats lunch at Davy Byrne's pub. At 2 p.m. Stephen is at the National Library telling the librarian, the poet A.E., and others his theories about the play Hamlet. The roundabout discussion emphasizes the theme of fathers and sons; Stephen is estranged from his scornful father. At 4 p.m. Blazes Boylan is scheduled to visit Molly, ostensibly to practice singing, and Bloom spends the time looking for his friend Martin Cunningham. He wants to talk to him about Dignam's life insurance. Bloom is concerned about helping Mrs. Dignam get the money she needs. At Barney Kiernan's pub Bloom encounters a bigoted man known as the "citizen." The citizen is a fanatical Irish nationalist and an anti-Semite. Martin Cunningham hustles Bloom outside before there is an altercation. From outside the pub Bloom shouts his comeback: he tells the citizen that Jesus and God are Jewish.

At 8 p.m. Bloom is at Sandymount Strand, where Stephen had walked that morning, sitting on a rock. He sees an attractive young woman, Gerty McDowell. She notices he is looking at her. Bloom notices his watch stopped at 4:30 and wonders if that is the exact moment of Boylan's and Molly's coitus. Gerty shows off her legs and her underwear to Bloom, who masturbates discreetly as he watches her.

At 10 p.m. Bloom goes to the maternity hospital to visit Mrs. Purefoy, who has been in labor for three days. Stephen is there with Buck Mulligan and other young men. They drink and talk while Mrs. Purefoy gives birth. Then they go to a bar and get drunk. Around midnight Stephen and his friend Lynch go to "Nighttown" to visit a prostitute; Bloom follows them. Both Stephen and Bloom encounter their personal demons in the brothel and undergo cathartic experiences. Stephen offends some British soldiers; Bloom smooths things over and they escape. They rest in a cabman's shelter for carriage drivers and other late-night wanderers and then go to Bloom's house. Stephen drinks cocoa in the kitchen but declines to stay the night. Molly narrates the final episode, reflecting on love, marriage, and her life with Bloom.

Ulysses Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Stephen resolves not to sleep at Martello Tower.

Rising Action

2 Stephen philosophizes on the beach.

3 Bloom goes to Dignam's funeral with Stephen's father.

4 Stephen talks about Hamlet, fathers, and sons.

5 Blazes Boylan visits Molly.

6 Bloom stands up to the "citizen."


7 Bloom and Stephen have drunk, hallucinatory experiences.

Falling Action

8 Bloom and Stephen go to Bloom's house.


9 Molly thinks about Boylan and Bloom.

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