Ulysses 2: Books 5 – 8
In the Lotus Eaters episode we continue to watch Bloom, but, in this episode of seductive flowers, Bloom, while ruminating about the flowers of the middle east, becomes Henry Flower in order to pick up his letter from Martha. This flower aims to seduce much like the flowers of the original lotus eaters, as Bloom thinks he wants to, “Posses her once take the starch out of her.” He then fantasizes thoroughly about “taking the starch out of her,” imagining how proper she must seem to the rest of the world, even going to rosary, but then meeting him afterward to sin of the flesh. At this thought Henry flower starts to figuratively bloom, like a flower “getting it up.” This becomes the obsession of the rest of the chapter, and Bloom’s obsession in the chapter. He sees the advertisement, “What is home without plumtrees plotted meat, Incomplete, with it an abode of bliss,” and turns it into a mantra of this thought. And when M’Coy asks him whose getting it up, he wonders: he knows his wife is not yet, and neither is he because he hasn’t gotten a chance to read the letter. And so he flees.
This idea of getting it up is an obvious pun on getting up in the original Lotus Eaters episode, in which the men had to get up to save themselves and return home. This makes Bloom both the element of seduction in the chapter, the flower, and one who can escape fatal seduction by getting up, which he does, after removing Martha’s flower from its pinhold, both physically and mentally, thinking about how she turned the word ‘word’ into ‘world’ and imagining again taking her in a field on a Sunday after rosary. This thought brings him into church on communion, where the parallels are abundant and obvious for Bloom.
Like Steven’s ideas come from the top down, Bloom’s come from the body up, and from his ideas of lust and sex, he extrapolates ideas about the religious acts he witnesses, and sees the impulses of the flesh that they satisfy both for the priest and churchgoers. Bloom cannot identify the items being used in the communion, calling them “things” and “little books,” but he thinks this about the idea of repentance, “Wonderful organization certainly, goes like clockwork. Confession. Everyone wants to. Then I will tell you all. Penance. Punish me, please. Great weapon in their hands. More than doctor or solicitor. Woman dying to. And why did you? Look down at her ring to find an excuse. Whispering gallery walls have ears. Husband learn to his surprise. God’s little joke. Then out she comes. Repentance skindeep. Lovely shame. Pray at an altar.” Bloom takes his desires for sexual punishment and shame and shows how the church is dealing with the same thing, also touching on Steven’s great fear of bastardization.
But Bloom is even more sacrilegious in this moment, when he think of the actual taking of the bread, “Shut your eyes and open your mouth. What? Corpus. Body. Corpse. Good idea the Latin. Stupefies them first. Hospice for the dying. They don’t seem to chew it: only swallow it down. Rum idea: eating bits of corpse why the cannibals cotton to it.” Again he thinks of the religious in the most literal manner, connects food with sex as he does, and passes it on as a most basic act of eating, which as he has shown, ends with defecating: implying that if the body of Christ is actually eaten, it will be shat out: an idea Bloom would find appealing, but most of the Christians in the room would find appalling.
After this, Bloom unknowingly gives dirty finger-nailed Bantom Lyons a tip on a horserace, and then gets his bath and contemplates his own body thus, “limp father of thousands, a languid floating flower.” The progression of the chapter is from his body, to the body of Christ, back to his own body, which takes us to Hades, where Bloom finally runs into Steven, and thinks many of the same thoughts. In this chapter, taking place under the surface, we start to see a new style of narrative arising. Thus far the inner-monologues of each character has been rendered fairly simply, apart from one-another. Here, where they are in close proximity, Bloom begins thinking Steven’s thoughts: first about god’s and fishes, just after he sees him, then about drowning being the least painful form of dying, then about the weakness of the father and power of mother, “If it’s healthy it’s from the mother. If not the man. Better luck next time,” all while thinking of his own son who has died, and his own father, who committed suicide. Joyce shows us that this shift in narrative tactic has taken place when Bloom contemplates a religious ceremony again, and still ignorant of the terms says, “A server, bearing a brass bucket with something in it, comes out through a door. The whitesmocked priest came after him tidying his stole with one hand, balancing with the other a little book against his toad’s belly,” and then the subsequent paragraph, spoken by the narrator, picks up Bloom’s idea without the ignorance of terms, “They halted by the bier and the priest began to read out of his book with a fluent croak.” Bloom leaves the metaphysical thoughts after this, thinking of the decaying body, then dying heart that is just a pump after all, then, in true Bloom fashion, about food (cheese, corpse of milk), sex (Molly, feel live warm being near you), then righting things, as the last scene shows him telling John Menton to straighten his crooked hat.
In Aeolus, Steven and Bloom are brought even closer in proximity, as Steven is delivering the article about foot-and-mouth, and Bloom wants to run a new advertisement for Keyes, and as a result, the narrative technique begun in the last chapter explodes with all the vigor the chapter renders. “Everything speaks in it’s own way,” says the chapter, “Scissors and Paste.” And that is exactly what the narrator does here. Some have taken to calling this narrative technique arranging, and calling the narrator the arranger, but while that nails down his narrative style, it ignores the fact that he is still imagining the whole scene, arranging it is only an afterthought – retrospective arrangement – even though he makes his points glaringly obvious to us here, heavy-handedly pointing out the themes of his little episodes, often flippantly, and showing that the arranger, narrator, writer, creator, can be cruel. When it is said “Your governor is just gone,” as Steven walks in, and Bloom has just left, we see a narration style being employed similar to that in Portrait, where it was arranged that Steven’s friends sing, “One, two, three, your drowned,” as Steven contemplates soaring toward the sun like his namesake.
In the next chapter, Lestrygonians, we are back in a chapter made up almost entirely of inner-monologue, an amazing inner-monologue of Bloom’s as he walks around hungry, and turns almost every thought or outward stimuli into a thought of food. It starts with a thought of his own body as the body of Christ again, as he quickly reads a pamphlet about a sermon and for a moment thinks the B-l-o-o in blood of Christ is going to say his name. Then he thinks of god as hungry like himself, “God wants blook victim. Birth, huymen, martyr, war, foundation of a building, sacrifice, kidney burntoffering (like the one Bloom at in section 4), druids altars.” Then Bloom feeds the birds and thinks of their perspective on the falling food: manna; he sees a fox and think about its inedibility; he thinks about a woman’s breasts and thinks of milk; and then, at the apex of his hunger, he thinks of death and the inevitable re-birth, “Mina Purefoy swollen belly on a bed groaning to have a child tugged our of her. One born every second somewhere. Other dying every second. Since I fed the birds five minutes. Three hundred kicked the bucket. Another three hundred born, washing the blood off, all are washed in the blood of the lamb, bawling maaaaaa.” This thought combined with his hunger, depresses him. He thinks of himself when hungry, “No one is anything. Feel as if I had been eaten and spewed.” As this hunger progresses, just before he makes his first attempt at eating, we get his most depressing comment this far, which re-frames the elements of the novel in a rather dark light, “I was happier then. Or was that I? Or am I now I? Twentyeight I was. She twentythree when we left Lombard street west something changed. Could never like it again after Rudy. Can’t bring back time. Like holding water in your hand. Would you go back to then? Just beginning then. Would you? Are you not happy in your home, you poor little naughty boy?” Until this progression of thought, he and his wife’s weird relationship and affairs had seemed comic and cute. But after this thought, Bloom becomes even disgusted with men eating like animals, which was the first image we had of him.
But after he eats a pleasing cheese sandwich he returns to himself. He thinks again of religion and food, contemplating the idea of kosher, “Hygiene that was what they call now. Yom kippur fast spring cleaning of inside. Peace and war depend on some fellow’s digestion,” as he has just shown us, human happiness depends on good eating, and so, in Bloom fashion, he gets to the human impulses that created and still crave religion from his own bodily impulses. Again his thoughts of food turn to sex, he imagines a distant encounter with Molly after smelling his wine, then thinks of defecating and how that is beautiful, too. He thinks the form of the female body is good for digestions, then wonders, when he sees a blind man, “And with a woman, for instance. More shameless not seeing. That girl passing the Stewart institution, head in the air. Look at me. I have them all on. Must be strange not to see her. Kind of a form in his mind’s eye. The voice, temperature when he touches her with his fingers must almost see the lines, the curves. His hands on her hair, for instance. Say it was black for instance. Good. We call it black. Then passing over her white skin. Different feel perhaps. Feeling of white.” Here, he unknowingly ponders Aristotelian ideas sprung from his thoughts of the body, the same thoughts Steven had while admiring the form of the girl in the water as he urinated in chapter 3. But where Steven’s thoughts never reach their physical level, Blooms begin there. And this is the idea Joyce is slowly drawing out: that these philosophical and religious ideas are all grounded in human impulse, as represented by this prophetic figure, Leopold Bloom, who Steven is unknowingly on the hunt for. The body is the father of the soul, and the narrator is trying to show this with an increasingly complex form to his art, representing the elements thereof with a form that suits them, rather than a form imposed upon them from a god-like narrator.