A BRIEF SYNOPSIS OF JOYCE'S ULYSSES
Joyce's Ulysses is a novel of eighteen "episodes," all set in Dublin, Ireland, between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 am, June 16-17, 1904. The three main characters are a young school teacher and aspiring writer named Stephen Dedalus (the main character of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), a middle-aged Jewish advertising salesman named Leopold Bloom, and Leopold's wife, Molly Bloom. During the composition of Ulysses Joyce compiled a working outline or "schema" indicating the title of each episode (each title taken from some character or incident in Homer's Odyssey), the approximate time and place of its setting, and, for most of the episodes, the bodily organ, the "art," the color, the symbol, and the "technic" (or technique) significant to each episode, as well as some of the correspondences between characters in Ulysses and in Homer's Odyssey. In the schema Joyce also divided the book into three main sections, the "Telemachia"--episodes 1-3--the "Odyssey"--episodes 4-15--and the "Nostos"--episodes 16-18. In the brief summary that follows, each entry begins with the title Joyce gave the episode in the schema (these titles do not appear in Ulysses), followed by the time; scene; bodily organ; art; color; symbol; and technic. When Joyce did not include some category for an episode a --- is used. This synopsis is indebted to both Weldon Thornton and Morris Beja.
Telemachus (8:00 a.m.; the Tower; ---; theology; white, gold; heir; narrative [young]). Setting is the Martello Tower at Sandycove where Stephen Dedalus (age 22) and Buck Mulligan (a medical student) live. A year has passed since the death of Stephen's mother, which brought him home from Paris; it is about two years since the end of A Portrait.. Stephen, Buck Mulligan, and a visiting Englishman named Haines arise and eat breakfast. Mulligan goes for a swim, Stephen leaves for the school where he teaches. Homeric correspondences--Stephen can be seen as Telemachus, son of Odysseus, and Mulligan could correspond to Antinous, one of Penelope's suitors, who took over Odysseus's palace and tried to usurp his (and consequently, Telemachus's) role.
Nestor (10:00 a.m.; the School; ---; history; brown; horse; catechism [personal]). Setting is the school at Dalkey where Stephen teaches, not far from the tower of "Telemachus." Stephen teaches history (they talk about the death of Pyrrhus) and literature (Milton's "Lycidas"); helps a boy named Sargent with his work; gets his pay from the schoolmaster, Mr. Deasy (whose fondness for horses recalls Nestor in the Odyssey); and is given a letter by Mr. Deasy on foot-and-mouth disease to be placed in a Dublin newspaper. Homer's Nestor was a wise councillor who befriended Telemachus.
Proteus (11:00 a.m.; the Strand; ---; philology; green; tide; monologue [male]). Stephen walks in solitude along Sandymount strand, SE of Dublin. Almost the entire episode is his revery-stream of consciousness as he walks. He thinks of an imaginary visit to his uncle's house, some events from his days in Paris, and many other things. Telemachus visits King Menelaus, a friend of his father's and husband to Helen of Troy, and Menelaus tells Telemachus of his own travels home from Troy. Proteus was a sea god whom Menelaus had to wrestle; he was able to change his shape at will, and Menelaus had to hold him until he tired of shapechanging so that he would give Menelaus the information he needed.
Calypso (8:00 a.m.; The House; kidney; economics; orange; nymph; narrative [mature]). Setting is Bloom's house and neighborhood. Bloom arises, goes out to buy a kidney for breakfast, returns and prepares breakfast for Molly and himself (Molly is still in bed), and later goes to a privy behind the house and defecates. Molly receives a letter from Blazes Boylan. Homer's Calypso was a nymph who held Odysseus captive on her island for seven years.
Lotus-eaters (10:00 a.m.; the Bath; genitals; botany, chemistry; ---; eucharist; narcissism). Setting is SE Dublin. Bloom walks along the street, picks up a general delivery letter for him (under the name of Henry Flower) from a woman named Martha Clifford, meets Bantam Lyons, stops in All Hallows church, stops at the pharmacist's shop to buy soap and order some cream for Molly, and then heads toward the turkish baths, near Trinity College. In the Odyssey, Odysseus and his crew stop in the land of the Lotus-eaters, who give the crew a drug that makes them forget their homes and all desires.
Hades (11:00 a.m.; The Graveyard; heart; religion; white, black; caretaker; incubism) Bloom and others attend the funeral of Paddy Dignam. The funeral carriage travels from Dignam's home in Sandymount, south of Dublin, to Glasnevin Cemetary in north Dublin. The occupants of Bloom's carriage are Bloom, Simon Dedalus, Martin Cunningham, and Mr. Power. At the Cemetary Bloom and the others see Parnell's grave and observe the interment of Paddy Dignam. In the carriage the men converse about Jews and suicide; after arriving, Bloom hears the service read over Paddy, then walks about the cemetary thinking about death and those who have died. Hades was the Greek god of the underworld; while in Hades Odysseus spoke to a number of ghosts, including that of Elpenor, one of his men who had died on Circe's island. Odysseus promised Elpenor a proper burial.
Æolus (12:00 noon; The Newspaper; lungs; rhetoric; red; editor; enthymemic) The scene is the office of the Freeman's Journal in downtown Dublin near the General Post Office; most of the conversation is among Ned Lambert, Myles Crawford (editor of the paper), professor MacHugh, Bloom, and Stephen. Early in the episode Bloom comes into the office making arrangements for an ad for a client, Alexander Keyes; later Stephen comes in to give them the letter about hoof-and-mouth disease which Deasy gave him earlier. As they adjourn to a pub, Stephen tells a story about two old Dublin women who climb to the top of Nelson's Pillar, a Dublin landmark (the brief, sketchy story seems similar in subject and tone to some in Dubliners). Homer's Aeolus was the god of the winds; he was hospitable to Odysseus and gave him a sealed bag containing all the winds except the one that would blow him safely home. Odysseus' men opened the bag while he slept, and the released winds blew the ship off course. The angry Aeolus refused to help Odysseus and his men again.
Lestrygonians (1:00 p.m.; The Lunch, esophagus; architecture; - - -; constables; peristaltic). Bloom walks along the streets south of the river, deciding where to eat lunch. In the course of his walk he meets and talks with Mrs. Breen, sees constables walking Indian file, goes into the Burton restaurant but doesn't like the look of it, and finally goes on to Davy Byrne's pub where he has a cheese sandwich and a glass of burgundy. While in Byrne's pub he talks with Nosy Flynn. After his meal Bloom walks toward the National Library, sees Boylan, and ducks into the National Museum. Homer's Lestrygonians were giant cannibals who ate many of Odysseus' crew.
Scylla and Charybdis (2:00 p.m.; The Library; brain; literature; ---; Stratford, London; dialectic). In this episode Stephen presents his theory of Hamlet and Shakespeare to several people gathered in the National Library. The main characters are Stephen, John Eglinton, Æ, Lyster (a librarian, a Quaker), and Richard Best. During the episode Bloom comes in looking for back files of a newspaper to get a design for the ad he is working on, and Buck Mulligan comes in and listens to part of Stephen's presentation. Scylla and Charybdis were the dual perils through which Odysseus had to pass. Scylla was a six-headed monster who lived on a rock; Charybdis was a nearby whirlpool.
Wandering Rocks (3:00 p.m.; The Streets; blood; mechanics; ---; citizens; labyrinth). This episode consists of nineteen short sections (really eighteen and a final section which draws the others together) showing brief scenes from Dublin streets and houses. Threading through most of these scenes is the vice-regal procession. Several of the scenes depict major characters, but many depict minor ones. There is much intersection of the scenes with each other. The scenes include Bloom at a bookseller's stand; Molly throwing money to a one-legged sailor; Stephen talking to his sister, Dilly; and a scene at the Dedalus' home. The Symplegades, or Wandering Rocks, were two huge floating rocks that crushed ships attempting to pass between them; they are only mentioned briefly in the Odyssey, but they do figure more importantly in the Argonautica and Vergil's Aeneid.
Sirens (4:00 p.m.; The Concert Room; ear; music; ---; barmaids; fuga per canonem). Bloom stops by the restaurant of the Ormond Hotel for a snack; in the bar of the Hotel two barmaids flirt with several men, including Ben Dollard, Simon Dedalus, and Father Cowley. Bloom sits with Richie Goulding, Stephen's uncle (his mother's brother). The men in the bar sing songs from popular operas while Bloom eats liver. During his stay at the Ormond restaurant he answers the letter from Martha and thinks about Molly's adultery with Blazes Boylan, which he knows is taking place. (This complex episode in which music plays so important a role is structured somewhat like a fugue, in that in the opening 1 1/2 pages Joyce presents motifs that reappear throughout the episode.) Homer's Sirens were women whose singing lured sailors to shipwreck on the rocks. Odysseus made his crew tie him to the mast and put wax in their ears so that he could hear the Sirens' song and survive.
Cyclops (5:00 p.m.; The Tavern; muscle; politics; ---; fenian; gigantism). Setting is Barney Kiernan's pub, near the Four Courts, the legal center of Dublin. Most of this episode is told by an unnamed narrator, but the episode is interrupted frequently by long paragraphs in the epic style, or long catalogues, or by long detailed descriptions of such simple objects as a handkerchief. The topic of conversation is Ireland and the Irish, and the main speakers, in addition to the narrator, are the Citizen, Lenehan, Alf Bergan, O'Molloy, and Ned Lambert. Because some of the men believe Bloom gave a racing tip to Bantam Lyons in the "Lotus-eaters" episode (Throwaway), the men in the pub mistakenly think Bloom has won money on a long shot. Bloom comes to words with them, so that the Citizen chases Bloom out and throws at him a biscuit can--from Irish biscuits, of course. Homer's Cyclops, named Polyphemus, was a one-eyed giant who ate some of Odysseus' men; in escaping from him, Odysseus tricked him, telling the Cyclops his name was "Noman," and blinded him with a heated stake.
Nausicaa (8:00 p.m.; The Rocks; eye, nose; painting; grey, blue; virgin; tumescence, detumescence). Two or three hours have passed. Setting is the same beach where Stephen walked in "Proteus." The first half of this episode is in the style of the nineteenth century popular romance. The main characters are Gertie MacDowell, Edy Boardman, Cissy Caffrey, and Cissy's two little brothers, Tommy and Jacky. While the children play ball and squabble, Gerty daydreams about the romantic life she might lead. She sees a dark gentleman close by and exhibitionistically exposes her underclothes to him. About mid-way through the episode, the perspective shifts to Bloom's point-of-view--for Bloom is the dark gentleman. Bloom voyeuristically observes Gerty and masturbates. After thinking on Gerty for a while, Bloom falls asleep. Homer's Nausicaa was the princess of Phaeacia, who found Odysseus naked after he had been washed ashore on her island.
Oxen of the Sun (10:00 p.m.; The Hospital; womb; medicine; white; mothers; embryonic development). Setting is the Holles Street maternity hospital. The style of this episode apparently traces the development of English writing from Anglo-Saxon to the contemporary revival sermon and also the development of a fetus. The episode is at times obscure and hard to follow, but the scene is the maternity hospital where Mrs. Purefoy is about to give birth. Bloom goes to see how she is doing and there meets Lenehan, a drunken Stephen, and a group of riotous medical students. Bloom joins them at the invitation of Dr. Dixon, who recently treated Bloom for a bee sting, but Bloom does not join in their drinking and mockery. After the announcement that Mrs. Purefoy's baby has been born, the group adjourns to Burke's for more drinks, at Stephen's suggestion. Bloom, fearing that Stephen may get into trouble, follows along to oversee. In the Odyssey, Odysseus and his crew stop at the island of the sun god, Helios. Odysseus warns his men not to kill the sun god's oxen, sacred symbols of fertility, but the hungry Greeks do so, and Zeus destroys their ship with a thunderbolt.
Circe (Midnight; The Brothel; locomotor apparatus; magic; ---; whore; hallucination) Setting is the brothel district of Dublin. This, by far the longest episode in the novel and clearly the climactic one, takes place mainly in the brothel run by Bella Cohen. The main characters are Bloom, Stephen, Lynch, the three prostitutes Zoe, Florry, and Kitty, and the "whoremistress," Bella Cohen. For many pages of the episode we move into the subconscious mind of Stephen and Bloom. Hallucinations that must take place almost instantaneously are developed for 12-15 pages. As the episode opens, Bloom is searching for Stephen in the Dublin brothel district. He finds him at Bella Cohen's. During their flirtations with the girls, Bloom's and Stephen's hallucinations bring back many of the characters and incidents of earlier in the day. Stephen finally breaks the chimney of a gas lamp and runs out. Bloom pays for it and follows him. Out in the street Stephen very passively becomes involved in an argument with two British soldiers and one of them hits him and knocks him down. Bloom comes up and asks the aid of the undertaker, Corny Kelleher, to disperse the crowd and satisfy the police. Bloom helps Stephen away. Homer's Circe is an enchantress who turns men to swine with her magic; the god Hermes gives Odysseus an herb called moly, which allows him to resist Circe's magic and reclaim the men under her spell.
Eumaeus (1:00 a.m.; The Cab Shelter; nerves; navigation; ---; sailors; narrative [old]). Setting is a cabman's shelter (a pub kept open late for cabmen) near Butt Bridge. The proprietor of the pub is a man the customers believe to be Skin-the-Goat, who was accused of being part of an Irish nationalist group that murdered two high-ranking English officials in Phoenix Park in Dublin in 1882. Bloom takes the boozy, befuddled Stephen there and tries to buy him coffee and a bun. They sit and listen to the talk of an old sailor who has travelled the world. The style of this episode is lethargic; it uses almost every trite expression, cliche, periphrasis, and verbosity imaginable. Eumaeus is the faithful swineherd in Ithaca who gives the disguised Odysseus shelter when he first returns home.
Ithaca (2:00 a.m.; The House; skeleton; science; ---; comets; catechism [impersonal]). This episode is presented in the form of long, meticulously detailed and technically phrased questions and answers. Bloom takes Stephen home to 7 Eccles Street, where the two men have cocoa, talk, and urinate together outside. Bloom offers to let Stephen stay the night, but he declines. Ithaca is Odysseus' home. When he returns, after 20 years absence, he reveals his true identity only to a few trusted friends (including his son, Telemachus), enters his palace in disguise, and proceeds to kill all the suitors who have attempted to wed his faithful wife, Penelope.
Penelope (3:00 a.m. [no clearly specified time]; The Bed; flesh; ---; ---; earth; monologue [female]) All of this forty-five page episode is Molly Bloom's stream of consciousness as she lies awake after Bloom comes to bed. The episode is presented in eight unpunctuated sentences. As she lies in bed Molly thinks of her singing engagements, wonders what Bloom has been doing, thinks about her lovers and especially about Boylan's visit that afternoon, remembers her first meeting with Bloom, and drifts toward sleep. Penelope was the faithful wife of Odysseus, who waited many years for her husband's return. She stalled her many suitors by saying she would wed again only after she had finished a tapestry she was making. She would weave her tapestry by day, and unweave each day's work at night.