by Ally Findley

Events and Narration

The “Eumaeus” episode of Ulysses directly follows the surreal nightmarescape of “Circe.” This episode is also the beginning of the third and final section of Ulysses. In this episode, Bloom rescues Stephen from getting into a fight with a British officer and safely escorts him out of Dublin’s Nighttown, through the winding streets of the city, and to a cabman’s shelter, where he gets Stephen a cup of coffee and a bite to eat. The shelter Bloom brings them to is near the train tracks, in the dark of Nighttown’s leery outskirts. On their way, Stephen meets a friend of his father’s, who solicits him for money (which he gives, despite not having a place to sleep himself), and later, in front of the cabman’s shelter, Stephen and Bloom pass a group of Italians in a heated argument. Bloom frets over Stephen, trying to get him home safely, feed him, and give him some fatherly advice, concerned about the company Stephen keeps and his drinking habits, asking why he does not go back to his father’s house.

While they are in the cabman’s shelter, they meet a sailor who has just come ashore, on his way home to his wife after many years. He has colorful tales of his travels, talking about cannibals and stabbings, of Stephen’s own father shooting eggs over his shoulder in a Stockholm circus. Bloom is skeptical of the sailor, who is called D. B. Murphy, but Stephen engages him. Eventually, realizing the hour and that the coffee is less than drinkable, Bloom persuades Stephen to come home with him for a cup of hot cocoa. Throughout the chapter, Stephen is evasive but eventually receptive, recognizing the kindness in Bloom’s actions. The chapter ends with Bloom and Stephen being watched by the man in the sweeper car as they walk away, discussing the events of the day which were narrated in previous chapters of the book. They talk of “sirens, enemies of man’s reason, mingled with a number of other topics of the same category, usurpers, historical cases of the kind,” all direct references to the earlier text (16.1889-1891).

The previous chapter, “Circe,” is so intense and filled with constantly shifting action— after it, this section feels like a slow, hesitant exhale, as Stephen is escorted away from the chaos by the guiding hand of Mr. Bloom. According to the schema which Joyce gave Stuart Gilbert for analyzing Ulysses, the “art” of “Eumaeus” is “navigation” and the “organ” of this section is “nerves”. In keeping with this “navigation” of “nerves,” Derek Attridge writes in The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce that the narrative in this chapter is “constantly looking over its shoulder.”

The convoluted, overly explanatory language in this chapter seems to match the frantic, flustered helpfulness of Bloom, who is not quite sure what to do, but is determined to come to Stephen’s aid. The narration matches Bloom’s self-conscious but determined kindness, his anxiety over the sailor and about getting Stephen safely home, and, of course, the knowledge that it is 1am and he needs to return home to Molly at last, something Bloom has been worrying about all day.

The first lines conjure up Bloom, dusting himself off and thinking through the situation systematically and deliberately:

Preparatory to anything else Mr Bloom brushed off the greater bulk of the shavings and handed Stephen the hat and ashplant and bucked him up generally in orthodox Samaritan fashion which he very badly needed. His (Stephen’s) mind was not exactly what you would call wandering but a bit unsteady and on his expressed desire for some beverage to drink Mr Bloom in view of the hour it was and there being no pump of Vartry water available for their ablutions let alone drinking purposes hit upon an expedient by suggesting, off the reel, the propriety of the cabman’s shelter, as it was called, hardly a stonesthrow away near Butt bridge where they might hit upon some drinkables in the shape of a milk and soda or a mineral.

The narration embeds the reader into the sensation of Bloom thinking on his feet, deliberately trying to reason out the next step and appear as a competent, guiding, adult figure when Stephen most needs one—even when he is tired, the hour is late, and he has already been through enough today. It also feels as though he’s trying to distract himself from Molly’s probable adultery and his own impending return home by focusing all his energy on Stephen’s welfare.

At this point in the story, Stephen does badly need to be “[bucked up] generally in orthodox Samaritan fashion” (16.2-3) — there’s a sense, in watching how he currently lives, especially in the opening three chapters of Ulysses, and then especially in “Oxen of the Sun” and “Circe,” that Stephen is headed for a fall. Readers, especially those who have invested in Stephen’s artistic dreams since meeting him as a little boy in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, feel a sense of tremendous waste. Though Stephen often comes off as callous and pretentious, he’s clearly sensitive to others and grieving the loss of his mother at a relatively young age.

Sympathizing with Stephen and recognizing his potential to live a better life, Bloom tries to give Stephen some fatherly advice about the company he keeps:

—No, Mr Bloom repeated again, I wouldn’t personally repose much trust in that boon companion of yours who contributes the humorous element, Dr Mulligan, as a guide, philosopher and friend if I were in your shoes. He knows which side his bread is buttered on though in all probability he never realised what it is to be without regular meals. Of course you didn’t notice as much as I did. But it wouldn’t occasion me the least surprise to learn that a pinch of tobacco or some narcotic was put in your drink for some ulterior object.

The ending of Ulysses is ambiguous as to whether Stephen actually takes this advice.

This chapter is also significant in that it is the first time Stephen and Bloom interact one-on-one, and also the first time that Stephen openly allows himself to be vulnerable and rely on another person. Without Bloom, the narrator at one point reflects, Stephen would probably be beaten to a pulp and in the hospital, or worse. But instead, he is guided home, fed, and given sound advice.

Throughout previous episodes of Ulysses, Stephen and Bloom have been mentally connected, similar themes and occasionally unexplainable coincidental thoughts and observations running in and out through their stream of consciousness narrations. Now that they occupy the same physical space, they interact with each other directly, and the chapter’s narration alternates between them as they reflect on their shared experiences and each other. We, as readers, finally see each of them through the other’s narrating perspective —as readers, we’ve now invested a lot of time getting to know the perspectives of each, and this chapter reveals another level: to see how they perceive the other and how the other perceives them, with the intimacy of a familiar lens, but with the distance that allows us insights each character’s self-perception would not have allowed for. As the narrator observes in this chapter: “Though they didn’t see eye to eye in everything a certain analogy there somehow was as if both their minds were travelling, so to speak, in the one train of thought.”  (16.1579-1581).

Homeric Parallels

The title of this chapter comes from Eumaeus in the Odyssey. Eumaeus is a swineherd who was raised with Odysseus, whose parents bought him as a slave when he was a child and raised him alongside Odysseus. In the Odyssey, he feels strong bonds both of servitude and of brotherhood to Odysseus, also fostering fatherly feelings toward Telemachus. In this section of the Odyssey, Odysseus has returned to Ithaca but must remain disguised in order to successfully defeat Penelope’s suitors and reclaim his rightful place in his own house.

In “Eumaeus,” when Stephen mentions his family name, Dedalus, D.B. Murphy mentions he knows Stephen’s father, Simon, and expresses admiration for him, having seen him perform an impressive gun trick in the Stockholm circus:

—You know Simon Dedalus? He asked at length.
—I’ve heard of him, Stephen said.

In this interaction, there is the same sense of dramatic irony in disguised paternity, anonymity, and clandestine homegoing that we see in the corresponding episode of the Odyssey, though in this case the purpose is more for bitter humor than it is for plot or dramatic effect. Bloom, as well, is a kind of disguised father figure to Stephen—Stephen does not fully appreciate this in his fatigue and immaturity, but Bloom quietly guides Stephen in this chapter, subtly attentive to Stephen’s needs.

The language reflects this sense of removed and/or disguised identity. D. B. Murphy, in the time we get to know him, is constantly trying to prove himself, to substantiate his tough sailor persona and adventures. Still, he has this potentially phony air about him, emphasized by Bloom’s suspicions and the over-insistence of his fantastic tales as true.

—Sounds are impostures, Stephen said after a pause of some little time, like names. Cicero, Podmore, Napoleon, Mr Goodbody. Jesus, Mr Doyle. Shakespeares were as common as Murphies. What’s in a name?
—Yes, to be sure, Mr Bloom unaffectedly concurred. Of course. Our name was changed too, he added, pushing the socalled roll across.

Bloom and Stephen attempt to understand each other, but they are limited in their ability to communicate: they have very different personalities, backgrounds, and communication styles. Further, the narrator is also now removed from the close third with which we have been following Stephen and Bloom individually. In a sense, here, this perspective zooms out to incorporate both primary characters in one scene, a negotiation of the two perspectives (akin, perhaps to opening both eyes and resolving both perspectives into a single vision, instead of closing one eye to look through the other alone). Here, the narration departs from more direct accounts of Bloom and Stephen and their respective perceptions we used to have, seeing them try to analyze and relate to each other.  These perspectives are once removed, just as the language is estranged from its meaning (the “socalled roll” for example). Instead of getting either Bloom or Stephen’s perspective, we, as readers, are watching Bloom watch Stephen, and Stephen watch Bloom.

The Eumaeus episode is a significant passage in the Odyssey because it is Odysseus’s first meal back in Ithaca, spent in the hut of Eumaeus the swineherd. In Ulysses, the coffee and roll which Bloom buys him in the cabman’s shelter are Stephen’s own homecoming supper, in a sense, as Bloom is taking him back to his home (then, although it is ambiguous, it is implied that Stephen will go back and stay with his biological father, Simon). Bloom is solicitous of Stephen, worried for him and his unhealthy habits, and makes sure he gets a roll “of some description” and some coffee in him.

At the time of his homecoming, Odysseus disguises himself as an old beggar with the help of Athena, to prevent Odysseus being immediately recognized and murdered on his arrival. Despite their close relationship, he conceals his identity from Eumaeus and his own son, Telemachus. Under the guise of an old beggar in rags, Odysseus arrives at Eumaeus’s hut and gauges his loyalty, assessing how the situation at his home has evolved in his absence. From his conversation with Eumaeus, Odysseus is able to glean that the suitors have taken over his home in his absence, vying for his wife, but in the meantime devouring his flocks of sheep and pigs with their nightly feasts. Penelope, whom Eumaeus refers to as “wise Penelope” is revealed to still be waiting for Odysseus to return, albeit without much hope. She solicits travelers for news of him.

Eumaeus is generous and hospitable, slaughtering two hogs and giving the disguised Odysseus his bread and wine:

Come, follow me into my place, old man, so you,
at least, can eat your fill of bread and wine.
Then you can tell me where you’re from
and all the pains you’ve weathered.

The “so-called roll” and barely drinkable coffee which Bloom procures for Stephen at the cabman’s shelter hardly seems as nourishing as the meal Eumaeus prepares for Odysseus. Still, in both cases, a man, who has had little luck and little to give, stretches whatever is available to him to provide for the other person.

As he sits in Eumaeus’s hut, Odysseus tells a long tale of how he was a warrior (which is true) but from Crete (untrue), and further, that he was taken as a slave on-board a ship. According to the tale, he escaped while the ship was moored in Ithaca, and that is how Odysseus ended up in rags at Eumaeus’s hut.

Eumaeus believes the tale, all except, ironically, for the suggestion which disguised Odysseus makes, that Eumaeus’s master may soon return to Ithaca. When Telemachus returns to the hut, having gone to ask about news of his father, Athena removes her illusion, and Odysseus reveals his true form. Eumaeus is shocked and overjoyed, and the three are happily reunited. They immediately begin to devise a plan to defeat Penelope’s suitors.

D.B. Murphy, this chapter’s Eumaeus (though, as a sailor, he is also an Odyssean figure), is the point of reunion between Odysseus and Telemachus, the point at which the disguise is removed. Though Murphy makes Bloom nervous, and Bloom thinks that much of Murphy’s story is a lie, he gives them a common experience which they bond over, however slightly. Murphy parallels Odysseus much more closely on a literal level, as a sailor who is at long last soon to be home with his wife, who has been waiting for him for several years, after a long circuitous journey at sea. At the end, Bloom and Stephen (with a certain tentativeness) link arms, and Stephen leans on Bloom as they walk to Bloom’s house for a cup of Epp’s cocoa.

Father-Son Dynamics and Metaphor

Stephen says early in the episode, “Shakespeares were as common as Murphies. What’s in a name?” — immediately afterwards, a Murphy enters the conversation, demanding Stephen’s name (16.364). Drawing the line from Shakespeares to Murphies after Stephen has aligned himself with Shakespeare in “Scylla and Charybdis,” establishing Shakespeare as his artistic father, this seems to situate Murphy as a kind of father figure as well. It also forms a parallel between Murphy’s Odyssean qualities and Stephen’s as Telemachus which additionally correlates with Joyce’s schema which he relayed to Stuart Gilbert: “Telemachus” is “narrative (young),” while “Eumaeus” is “narrative (old).”  This gesture at paternity seems more pointed when Murphy right away brings up Simon, the father whom Stephen is trying to replace with Shakespeare in “Scylla and Charybdis” and whom he generally seems eager to disown. Murphy is, in a way, the “common” “Shakespeare” – the every man with tales to tell, unrefined but prolific of life.

In this chapter, we also witness a return to Shakespeare as Stephen’s artistic father, a concept which runs throughout the novel and is first fully addressed in “Scylla and Charybdis.” This episode also immediately follows “Circe,” in which Stephen and Bloom look into the mirror at Bella Cohen’s brothel and see Shakespeare’s face reflected in the glass, establishing Stephen’s artistic lineage and suggesting that Bloom (in his kindness and empathy) is the missing element Stephen needs to become a great artist. In aligning Murphy with Shakespeare, the sailor is also incorporated into the ongoing conversation about Stephen’s metaphorical paternity. Just as he does in “Scylla and Charybdis,” Stephen disowns his biological father in “Eumaeus,” when he simply claims to have “heard of” Simon Dedalus (16.379). Soon after this, Murphy’s hometown is also established as near Cork, where Simon is from (and, also, where James Joyce’s father, John, was from).

The narration reflects how Bloom distrusts Murphy, qualifying all he relays: (“our soidisant sailor”, etc). He is also uneasy in the setting, by the train tracks of Dublin in a rougher part of town, responsible for safely guiding Stephen home. His job is made more difficult by Stephen, who, though cooperative, does not seem particularly concerned for his own welfare, parting with half a crown to a man who approaches him for money, and giving out his surname to Murphy, a potentially dangerous stranger, which Bloom tries to tacitly warn him against doing.

Still, Bloom’s efforts are noticed by Stephen, who appreciates the older man’s kindness. He rewards this kindness with trust and vulnerability. One of the most moving moments in Ulysses occurs when Stephen and Bloom are leaving the shelter. Bloom has just (something that made Stephen feel slightly more open with Bloom happens just before this). Perhaps partially because they are both somewhat compromised by fatigue and alcohol, Stephen feels comfortable enough to ask Bloom a question (and admit, spectacularly, that there is something on God’s green Earth he doesn’t know):

Seeing that the ruse worked and the coast was clear they left the shelter or shanty together and the élite society of oilskin and company whom nothing short of an earthquake would move out of their dolce far niente. Stephen, who confessed to still feeling poorly and fagged out, paused at the, for a moment, the door.
—One thing I never understood, he said to be original on the spur of the moment. Why they put tables upside down at night, I mean chairs upside down, on the tables in cafes. To which impromptu the neverfailing Bloom replied without a moment’s hesitation, saying straight off:
—To sweep the floor in the morning.
So saying he skipped around, nimbly considering, frankly at the same time apologetic to get on his companion’s right, a habit of his, by the bye, his right side being, in classical idiom, his tender Achilles. The night air was certainly now a treat to breathe though Stephen was a bit weak on his pins.
—It will (the air) do you good, Bloom said, meaning also the walk, in a moment. The only thing is to walk then you’ll feel a different man. Come. It’s not far. Lean on me.
Accordingly he passed his left arm in Stephen’s right and led him on accordingly.
—Yes, Stephen said uncertainly because he thought he felt a strange kind of flesh of a different man approach him, sinewless and wobbly and all that.

By learning to rely on Bloom and admit vulnerability, asking a genuine question and then later by leaning on him in order to walk, Stephen takes his first literal and figurative steps toward maturity.

Bloom as a Christ figure

The “Eumaeus” chapter is another in which Bloom distinguishes himself as a Christ figure in the text through his empathy and selflessness. For one thing, the ashplant which Stephen has been carrying, and which is often referenced as a religious symbol for the cross, is restored to him by Bloom. This return in the first lines of the chapter connects Stephen and Bloom along the lines of the Christian metaphor. This act establishes Bloom as the giver of the kindness which will allow Stephen to transcend his current stagnation and become a great artist.

In the cabman’s shelter, Bloom relates his earlier confrontation with The Citizen, detailed in “Cyclops,” frustrated with the nationalist rhetoric often used as retaliation to the frustrations of British colonialism. During this digression of Bloom’s, Stephen seems to recognize the Christ-like traits of Bloom, even as Bloom doesn’t seem to consciously notice the correlation. They discuss the Phoenix Park Murders, the Citizen, and Parnell, and Bloom makes the case against the Citizen’s brand of Irish nationalism, claiming that “A soft answer turns away wrath.” and later emphasizing “It’s all very fine to boast of mutual superiority but what about mutual equality. I resent violence and intolerance in any shape or form. It never reaches anything or stops anything.” (16.1085, 1096-97). As Bloom is speaking, Stephen muses, “Christus, or Bloom his name is or after all any other, secundum carnem.” (16.1091). Not long after, however, he glazes over, and is short with Bloom when he returns to the conversation, saying “none too politely” that “We can’t change the country. Let us change the subject.” (16.1171). Still, Stephen’s observation places readings of Bloom as a Christ figure in line with other places in the text which suggest this, and Stephen noticing this connection is critical to his development as a character and artist.

“Sounds are impostures” (16.362)

This chapter is characterized by a sense of estrangement from reality through language, of operating one-degree removed from identity. D. B. Murphy, the entire time we get to know him, is constantly trying to prove himself, to substantiate his persona and adventures. Still, he has this phony kind of off air about him— and the language of the narrator emphasizes Bloom’s suspicions:

—Sounds are impostures, Stephen said after a pause of some little time, like names. Cicero, Podmore, Napoleon, Mr Goodbody. Jesus, Mr Doyle. Shakespeares were as common as Murphies. What’s in a name?
—Yes, to be sure, Mr Bloom unaffectedly concurred. Of course. Our name was changed too, he added, pushing the socalled roll across.

The “socalled roll” and similarly removed descriptions (the “soidistant sailor” for example) show this removal. It also reflects Joyce’s attempts to play with language and meaning, especially through use of style and narration techniques, as he plays with our systems of sense-making, the “word world” constructed for our interpretation as readers.

This estranged language manifests itself also in the heavy use of cliché and otherwise antiquated language in this episode, also closely tied with the episode’s technique, “narrative (old)”. As Bloom “[bucks Stephen] up generally in orthodox Samaritan fashion,” the narrative becomes stilted and fatigued, reflecting Bloom’s and Stephen’s exhaustion walking home at 1 a.m. after what can only be described as a wild night out (16.2-3). The ‘tired language’ of the cliché becomes literally the language of fatigue in this chapter. Bloom muses to himself, “to vary the timehonoured adage” (16.37) Bloom is actively making an effort to sound coherent, and especially to appear smart and capable in front of Stephen. This is not only because Bloom wants Stephen to feel at ease and taken care of by an adult, but also because Bloom is also feeling self-conscious in front of Stephen, the conspicuous and precocious fledgling intellectual. Bloom fancies himself an intellectual as well, as seems excited to talk with someone else who shares his interests in the study of life. His voice, in this chapter, mimicks the ‘intellectual’ language, trying to impress Stephen, but also simply to communicate with him on his level. There is something like flattery in Bloom adopting this strange tone. The two don’t have an easy dynamic with one another, but Bloom makes a conscious effort to connect with Stephen.

The narration reflects this sense of deliberate ‘intellectual’ speak, and the cliché of the “narrative (old)” style. Examples include “slouchy wearing apparel generally testifying to a chronic impecuniosity” (16.221), “our two noctambles” (16.326), and “other nondescript specimens of the genus homo already there engaged in eating and drinking” (16.328-9). In just this one sentence, said in passing, “And when all was said and done the lies a fellow told about himself probably couldn’t hold a proverbial candle to the wholesale whoppers other fellows coined about him.”, there is not one but four distinct clichés (16.845-7).

This builds into one of the most dominant themes of Ulysses, that language is malleable and, through its changes, can create completely different worlds. Sounds, in this sense, construct our sense of reality, rather than being the direct outcomes of the objective facts of reality. These shifts make “impostures” out of sounds, language, style. Throughout each chapter of Ulysses, shifts in style are used to examine the differences in the experience of reading that can result from conscious changes to the act of writing. Joyce demonstrates the power of an author’s style choice, how the mode of telling dictates the reality that the reader is immersed in .


This episode is the first full and direct interaction between Stephen and Bloom, whom we have been following individually throughout the course of the text so far. The text has been filled with indirect and passing references to each other as they periodically cross paths throughout the day, and the same themes trickle through their thoughts and observations, weaving the two narratives in and out of each other. In this chapter, the two finally converge and have a one-on-one conversation.

Talking with Bloom is, potentially, a breakthrough for Stephen, in both his development as a person and his career as an artist. By witnessing Bloom’s empathy, his commitment to decency, and his open honesty, Bloom’s act of kindness in picking Stephen up, getting him a bite to eat and some coffee (however questionable the quality of these items seems to be). “Can’t you drink that coffee, by the way?” Bloom says, “Let me stir it. And take a piece of that bun.” (16.784-6). He is careful and attentive, in contrast to how most characters the reader witnesses in Ulysses ignore, misunderstand, or dismiss both Stephen and Bloom (though I wouldn’t argue that Bloom understands Stephen, he does actively try, and I would argue that makes Bloom’s actions even more meaningful and touching in this case).

Bloom is the “good Samaritan” and the voice of all that is kind and good, while also all that is fallible and human. Though he is often nervous and in socially-precarious situations, Bloom always wills himself into doing the right thing. In Joyce’s eyes, that simple goodness is enough to make him this text’s Christ figure and the ideal father figure for struggling Stephen.

As far as this story goes, at least, Stephen’s paternity search is finally laid to rest. Regardless of whether Stephen later capitalizes on this new connection (something left ambiguous at the end of “Ithaca”), this connection is the moment which the text has been building up to. As they leave the cabman’s shelter, Stephen allows himself to lean on Bloom as they walk toward Bloom’s home. The climax of Joyce’s great epic is simply a moment of human attentiveness, the basic kindness which will save us all if we let it.