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Ulysses: Essay Q&A

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1. Consider why Ulysses is regarded as an archetypal modernist text.
Firstly, it is necessary to consider the definition of modernism in order to understand how this novel sits in relation to this form. Modernism challenged and Victorian ideals, undermined nationalist thinking and went some way to reflect the disillusionment in faith following the destructiveness of World War I. Modernism influenced all aspects of the arts, including literature, architecture and art, and embraced the avant-garde and experimentalism. Realist forms were also rejected and, instead, linearity was questioned with the use of fragmented thoughts and disturbed chronology.
Set on one day and dependant on interior monologues, stream of consciousness and bricolage, the form of Ulysses offers a wholesale rejection of the realist novel. In terms of content, the past hygienic offerings of realist writers were also deconstructed as Joyce evoked most imaginable bodily functions.
The attacks made on Irish nationalism, the Catholic church and the sanctity of masculinity ensure that this novel continues to be modern in the twenty-first century. Ezra Pound's desire to 'make it new' is evident in the form and content of the novel as texts of the past, such as The Odyssey, are drawn upon for structure and for purposes of irony.
2. Examine the relationship this novel has with The Odyssey.
In collaboration with Joyce, Stuart Gilbert's James Joyce's Ulysses (1930) brought back the Homeric titles which Joyce had originally used. The first episode for example is entitled 'Telemachus' and this focuses upon Stephen Dedalus who comes to be a version of surrogate son for Bloom. Telemachus, it should be remembered, is the son of Odysseus.
Further to this, the title Ulysses indicates that parallels may be drawn between the texts because of the name of the central character in The Odyssey - Odysseus or Ulysses. The wanderings and adventures of Odysseus of Homer's epic are transposed in this novel on to the events and thoughts of Bloom on one day, 16 June 2005.
This microscopic view of Bloom, who is heroic but not in the accepted, violent and traditionally masculine way, allows his thoughts rather than his actions to take precedence. It is important to remember that one should see The Odyssey as offering a loose structure rather than a template.
3. Analyze the final episode ('Penelope') in relation to the novel as a whole.
The most obvious difference between this episode and the previous ones is that this is the first time the reader is made privy to Molly's perspective. She has so far only been present in Bloom's thoughts throughout the day as he begins to think of her adulterous affair with Boylan and then shifts to more bearable considerations. Because 'Penelope' is Molly's perspective, the readers are offered yet another view of Bloom, except this is not clouded with the same bigotry he has encountered during the day.
This final episode is also notable for how it embraces the use of stream of consciousness. This has been used, of course, intermittently in other parts of the novel, but only eight sentences are used here and there is no indication of apostrophes or other punctuation. Her worries, contradictions and desires are related in a form that attempts to mirror the shifting and flickering of human thought processes. By ending the novel in this way, closure (which has come to be a hallmark of realist texts) is avoided and the next day, it appears, will continue just the same.
This is also the first and only long interior monologue of a woman in the novel, and it may be argued that Joyce is attempting to reflect Molly's thoughts as particular to a feminine (rather than masculine) consciousness.
4. Consider the appeal of Bloom
As an outsider figure, Bloom is attributed with characteristics which mean he represents a challenge to the dominant order which depends on misogyny, unthinking nationalism, anti-semitism and homophobia. He is certainly human, as when he is described defecating and masturbating, but is also given Christ-like significance in his suffering and faith in love, which he mentions in 'The Cyclops' episode.
Bloom's encounter with the citizen in 'The Cyclops' ensures that Bloom's fair-mindedness and rationality are seen all the more clearly by the readers. The contrast between the views of both men sharpens the bigotry of the citizen all the more. Further to this, the scorn of the unnamed narrator in this episode has the effect of emphasizing Bloom's innocence and trust.
His appeal may also be seen to lie in his ability to understand the thoughts of women, which Molly explains at the end of the novel. Bloom is not tied to the same dominating form of traditional masculinity, which rules the lives of many of the men (and women) he encounters that day.
5. Examine the treatment of father-son relationships.
The relationship between father and son is a central concern in this novel: Bloom and his father; Simon and Stephen; Bloom and his dead son; and Stephen and Bloom, are all used as continuous reference points through the course of the day.
The allusions to Hamlet and The Odyssey reinforce the father-son theme as the father comes to signify the past and the son the future. This point is made evident in the 'Circe' episode when Stephen and Bloom look in the mirror together and see William Shakespeare, and in the pen-ultimate episode, 'Ithaca', when the two men see the past and future in each other.
The father-son bond takes many forms here, through grief and love to one of bitterness and rivalry. In this way, Ulysses negotiates the now traditionally oppositional relationship - as with Freud's Oedipal complex - and ends with the possibility of love and communication when Bloom and Stephen part company.


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