“The Cyclops”

by Anna Moser and William Stone

Breaking Point: A New Bloom

The termination of Joyce’s Bloom-oriented episodes is signaled in Episode 8 by a final, impulsive recitation from the end of “Molly’s” opera, Don Giovanni: “Thou hast me invited / To come to supper tonight” (8.1053-54). (Through deliberate repetition and alteration in Episodes 4-8, phrases from this opera have come to function as textual instantiations of Bloom’s consciousness, or, more specifically, as compressed representations of his desires and hang-ups.)

Veering away from Bloom, Episode 9 centers on Stephen and Buck. Episode 10 (i.e. the “between-the-acts” sequence) charts an array of secondary characters. In Episode 11, Bloom’s consciousness reasserts itself. However, his thoughts are increasingly disjointed, as evidenced by the reflection: “Bore this. Bored Bloom tambourined gently with I am just reflecting fingers on flat pad Pat brought” (11.863-4). Bloom has also developed the strange tendency of referring to himself in the third person (Bloom, or Henry), ostensibly as a means of navigating between his two identities (wife of Molly, lover of Martha). For example: “Bloom mur: best references. But Henry wrote: it will excite me. You know how. In haste. Henry. Greek ee. Better add postscript. What is he playing now? Improvising” (11.888-90). In short, it is these types of juxtapositions (“Bloom” and “Henry,” “me” and “he”) that both prefigure and ground the abrupt alteration of perspective in Episode 12: Cyclops.

A jarring “I” sets the tone for this episode. Joyce begins: “I was just passing the time of day with old Troy of the D.M.P. at the corner of Arbour hill there and be damned but a bloody sweep came along and he near drove his gear into my eye” (12.1-3). The colloquial language makes it immediately clear that this “I” refers not to Bloom, but to a new character, who sees differently, as implied by Joyce’s pairing of “I” and “eye” in the first sentence of the episode.

Joyce’s extended explorations of Bloom’s consciousness facilitate identification of Bloom as a hero figure. For example, his thoughts are also a welcome counterpart to those of Stephen, because they span both the high and the low: Don Giovanni, concern for his daughter, the enjoyment of a cheese sandwich, rumination on a particularly satisfying excretion. Yet in Episode 12, the distantly-narrated version of Bloom reframes many of his admirable qualities in an unfavorable light:

1. Multi-perspectival analyses are perceived by the “I” figure as unnecessary digressions.

2. Sobriety is associated with foreignness, and a lack of social engagement.

3. Passivity is exploited as weakness.

It is also significant that Joyce radically alters his own authorial presence through a series of thirty-three narrative interruptions, which take the form of stylistic parodies. On a most simplistic level, these parodies allow Joyce to undercut the episode’s problematic narrator (i.e. they are coded reminders that alternative perspectives exist outside the monocular “I”). Yet the parodies—which span Irish legend, biblical prose, high-society journalism, medieval romance, and a child’s primer—encompass both the fictional (content) and textual (form) reality of this complex episode; they are neither complete digressions nor direct extensions of the narrative. Consequently, it is challenging to decipher whether Joyce employs them as a means of extending the “I” figure’s view, or as a form of self-reflexive and critical engagement with his own literary creation, as in the final lines of the episode, when Bloom is mapped onto Elijah.

The Narrator and The Narrative

The action of this episode takes place in three settings: along the streets of Dublin, then within Barney Kiernan’s Tavern, and finally on the streets of Dublin again. Within this tavern, Joyce provides the reader with an image of the state of Irish patriotism twelve years before the Irish Rebellion of 1916.

The episode begins at around 5:00 p.m. and opens with an unnamed narrator recounting how a passing “bloody” chimney sweep nearly pokes him in the eye with his broom. This near blinding of the narrator recalls Odysseus’ burning and ramming a “pike of olive” (Homer, 9.410) into the Cyclops’ eye and suggests that the narrator is one of the Cyclops. Also, the narrator’s vulgar language sets the tone for the aggressive discourse that follows and continues throughout the episode. As Stuart Gilbert points out in his introduction to Ulysses, “the narrator uses “bloody” both in its pejorative sense and as a mere intensive, the latter usage being strange to say, etymologically the more exact” (Gilbert, 259). Indeed, the intense language used in this episode constitutes one manifestation of Joyce’s technique for the episode – gigantism. This vulgarity also highlights the hypocrisy of the “Christian” Irishmen who mock Bloom for being an outsider, as a Jew and of Hungarian ancestry, but who also continually commit blasphemy themselves. Before getting a chance “to let [the chimney sweep] have the weight of [his] tongue” (12.3-4), the narrator sees his friend, Joe Hynes, and he explains that he is trying to collect debt payments from the plumber Geraghty to compensate Moses Herzog for some tea and sugar that he stole. The conversation is overtly anti-Semitic and culminates with the narrator saying, “Jesus, I had to laugh at the little jewy getting his shirt out” (12.30-31). Here, the narrator commits blasphemy on two levels: he takes the Lord’s name in vain, and mocks a character for being Jewish. These two features of the discourse in this episode only become more exaggerated as it continues.

The narrator and Joe Hynes walk to a pub, where most of the action of the episode takes place. Along with the narrator and Joe Hynes, the reader visits Kiernan’s to meet the main character of this episode – the Citizen. In a stylistic parody of late-nineteenth century reworking of Irish legend (and channeling Homer’s description of the Cyclops), Joyce describes the Citizen as a primordial figure of astronomical dimensions with strong Irish nationalistic views. The Citizen’s “row of seastones” on which were graven “the tribal images of many Irish heroes and heroines of antiquity” recalls Aeneas’ shield from Book VIII of The Aeneid. The absurdity of this Virgilian parallel and of the Citizen’s description, more generally, warns the reader to consider the Citizen’s comments with caution.

When Bloom enters the pub, the Citizen mocks him for being afraid of his dog, a fear that Bloom and Stephen both share. Bloom is immediately labeled as “the prudent member” (12.211) of the group—the man who informed Hynes that the cashier was available if he wanted to withdraw money earlier in the day, money that Hynes now uses to buy drinks for himself and the men in the bar. Hynes’ labeling of Bloom is significant, because it is the first of many attempts to determine Bloom’s identity. As the episode progresses, the attempts become more acerbic, with the men ultimately marking him as an outcast unworthy of their company.

Even at this early point, the narrator expresses disdain for Bloom’s superior vocabulary and his attention to the nuances of the matter at hand. Always concerned “with the why and the wherefore and all the codology of the business” (12.451-2), Bloom asserts that even a hanged man’s erection “can be explained by science” (12.464). Either out of disinterest or simply because Bloom’s words go over his head, the narrator does not relate exactly what Bloom says. Instead, Joyce inserts a parody in the style of a medical journal’s report of a medical meeting as a stand in for Bloom’s comments. Just as Bloom’s scientific explanation sounds like nonsense to the unintelligent narrator, so too does this parody sound absurd to the reader. Thus, Joyce uses this parody to create an effect on the reader that mirrors the internal state of the narrator as he listens to Bloom. Displaying his jealousy of Bloom’s superior vocabulary, the narrator exclaims, “Phenomenon! The fat heap he married is a nice old phenomenon with a back on her like a ballalley” (12.502-4).

The men continue to drink, and the Citizen goes on a rant about how the Irish “can’t speak their own language” (12.680-1). Sober, Bloom uses this opportunity to talk about the Gaelic league. He declares that the bottle is “the curse of Ireland,” and “Ireland sober is Ireland free” (12.684, 692). The narrator mocks Bloom, “Gob, he’d let you pour all manner of drink down his throaty till the Lord would call him before you’d ever see the froth of his pint” (12.684-7). Next, the narrator directly criticizes Bloom “I declare to my antimassacar if you took up a straw from a bloody floor and if you said to Bloom: Look at, Bloom. Do you see that straw? That’s a straw. Declare to my aunt he’d talk about it for an hour so he would talk steady” (12.893-6). In defense of the narrator, however, Joyce scholar Declan Kiberd rightly points out, “This voices the reservations which some readers will have felt about the density of the interior monologue in earlier sections, where there seemed at times to be a line devoted to every passing second” (Kiberd, 184).

As the narrative continues, the Citizen’s criticisms of Bloom intensify in relation to what he perceives as Bloom’s illegitimate Irish citizenship and lack of religious integrity. The Citizen makes an overtly anti-Semitic claim about the Jews infesting Ireland, but Bloom once again, as the narrator points out, “lets on he heard nothing and starts talking with Joe” (12.1143). The Citizen continues to attack the Jews, especially Bloom, when he says, “Swindling peasants… and the poor of Ireland. We want no more strangers in our house” (12.1150-1). Bloom continues to bite his tongue, “letting on to be awfully deeply interested in nothing” (12.1160). Continually, Bloom demonstrates that he has internalized the Gospel more fully than the men who identify themselves as Christian. Indeed, like a true Christian who follows Christ’s teaching, he turns the other cheek at every offense.

The Citizen continues to talk about nationalist matters, as he asserts, “A dishonoured wife… that’s what’s the cause of all out misfortunes” (12.1163-4). Ironically, this statement applies to the great Irish nationalist Charles Parnell and Bloom. The conversation turns back to the issue of the Irish language, and the Citizen complains, “No music and no art and no literature worthy of the name. Any civilization they have they stole from us. Tonguetied sons of bastard’s ghosts” (12.1199-1201). Here, the Citizen expresses a concern similar to Stephen’s, but with a level of raw aggression that brooding and pensive Stephen seems incapable of mustering. The Citizen continues to drink and speak in Irish.

Next, the Citizen and Bloom argue about the law and history. Bloom asserts, “Some people… can see the mote in others’ eyes but they can’t see the beam in their own” (12.1237-8). Bloom’s wise statement directly alludes to Matthew 7:4, which reads, “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” Despite Bloom’s reticence, he slowly begins to recognize the necessity of countering the Citizen’s ignorant, spiteful claims. Thus, he asserts himself more aggressively in the conversation as the episode progresses. “Persecution, says [Bloom], all the history of the world is full of it. Perpetuating national hatred among nations” (12.1417-8). Seemingly incapable of taking the force of Bloom’s statement seriously, the men mock Bloom and question his usage of the word “nation” (12.1419). After being asked to define what he means by nation, Bloom declares, “A nation is the same people living in the same place” (12.1422-3). Ned Lambert takes this opportunity to point out, “If that’s so I’m a nation for I’m living in the same place for the past five years” (12.1424-5). Although “everyone had the laugh at Bloom,” Ned’s application of Bloom’s statement is eerily appropriate as the behavior of the drinking Irishmen to the sober outsider Bloom in this episode suggests. Despite this mistreatment, Bloom proclaims Ireland to be his nation (12.1426). (The Citizen, obviously disgusted, spits and wipes his mouth with a handkerchief.)

Emboldened, Bloom continues, “And I belong to a race too… that is hated and persecuted. Also now. This very moment. This very instant” (12.1467-8). Bloom then begins to talk about injustice and love, two higher ideas that the Citizen and the other men in the pub prove incapable of comprehending well enough to sustain a conversation about. When the Citizen sarcastically calls Bloom “a new apostle to the gentiles… universal love” (12.1489), he highlights the irony surrounding the fact that Bloom, a Jew, addresses the essence of Christianity and has internalized it better than they have. At this point, Bloom excuses himself to continue his search for Martin Cunningham.

It appears that the two respectable characters in the episode have momentarily switched locations, for Martin Cunningham enters the pub at this point and asks about Bloom’s whereabouts. He receives mocking answers before John Wyse asks, “Why can’t a jew love his country like the next fellow?” (12.1628-9) Ned responds with his own question: “Is he a jew or a gentile or a holy Roman or a swaddler or what the hell is he?… Or who is he?” (12.1631-2). The men try to pin down Bloom: they want to define him as one thing; they cannot imagine that characteristics they consider to be contradictory can coexist in one man. Unlike the other characters in this episode, Martin seems to be capable of seeing an issue from multiple sides. In fact, he is the only character in this episode other than Bloom to openly acknowledge the similarities between the Irish and the Jews, when he says, “They’re still waiting for their redeemer… for that matter so are we” (12.1644-5). Despite Martin’s slightly sympathetic comment, the men continue to mock Bloom. The Citizen finally labels Bloom “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” (12.1666). The Citizen’s characterization of Bloom as a false prophet is an attempt to cast doubt on the validity of his knowledge and, more radically, to discredit the Judaic religion.

As the episode draws to a close, Bloom reenters the bar, apologizing and claiming that he had just been at the courthouse. In light of the previous conversation, the narrator does not believe Bloom and thinks that he went, instead, to collect his winnings and is too unfriendly to offer to buy a round of drinks for the guys. The Citizen’s hostility towards Bloom also begins to boil over, and Martin Cunningham and Jack Power leave the bar with Bloom and Crofton to escape the growing danger. The men get into Martin Cunningham’s car, but before they can leave, the Citizen yells, “Three cheers for Israel” (12.1791), obviously mocking Bloom. Bloom responds to this jeer, “Mendelssohn was a jew and Karl Marx and Mercadante and Spinoza. And the Saviour was a jew and his father was a jew. Your God… Christ was a jew like me” (12.1804-5). Finally, the Citizen threatens to crucify Bloom—a threat that not only adds to the parallels between Bloom and Christ, but also provides yet another example of the Citizen’s blasphemous and, therefore, un-Christian ways. The Citizen grabs a biscuitbox and hurls it at Martin Cunningham’s car, which is speedily whisking our hero, Bloom, away. Two interpolations ensue, one which describes the landing biscuitbox as a phenomenological catastrophe and the other which presents Bloom as a second Elijah escaping to heaven on his own chariot.

The Role of Parody

The narrative is further distanced from Bloom’s perspective through Joyce’s insertion of stylistic parodies. As noted in Gifford: “The narrative line of this episode is interrupted by thirty-three passages that comment on the narrative by parodying various pompous, sensational, or sentimental literary styles. In most cases the parodies are ‘general’—parodies not of specific works but of generalized stylistic conventions” (Gifford, 314).

In a parodic report of a medical society meeting (the fourth parody of the episode), Joyce plays into the “I” figure’s critical tone towards Bloom, creating an ambiguous narrative perspective by consciously conflating concerns of both author and narrator/speaker. Specifically, this parody mocks Bloom’s attempt to use scientific terminology as a means of describing why a hanged man receives an erection. It begins: “The distinguished scientist Herr Professor Luitpold Blumenduft tendered medical evidence to the effect that the instantaneous fracture” (12.468-9), and includes an excessive combination technical phrases, including: “violent ganglionic stimulus,” “rapidly dilate,” “facilitate the flow of blood,” and “morbid upwards and outwards philoprogenitive erection.” Additionally significant is the Germanization of Bloom’s name, which subtly prefiguring the identity issues that will ultimately dominate this episode.

Some parodies, such as the very funny newspaper account of a high society wedding (attending members are listed as different trees) function on less narrative-oriented level. They are more “meta” or hyper-literary: a signification of the author’s continued presence despite altered narrative perspective. Nevertheless, as indicated by the parodies that “frame” this episode (and, hence, carry the most weight, like the shoulders of Atlas), Bloom’s identity remains Joyce’s primary concern; not hyper-literary judgments. Specifically, after a quick parody of a legal document (12.33-51), the episode open with an extended parody of Irish legends (12.68-99), and it ends with Biblical prose (12. 1910-18).

The first mythic parody begins: “In Inisfail the fair there lies a land, the land of holy Michan. There rises a watchtower beheld of men afar. There sleep the mighty dead as in life they slept, warriors and princes of high renown. A pleasant land it is in sooth of murmuring waters” (12.68-71). Fairytale signifiers such as “fair,” “mighty,” and “warriors and princes of high renown” help the reader to immediately identify the type of parody. Furthermore, they contribute to the rational assumption that this a fictitious rather than a real place, because everything is exaggerated. It is important to note that this fictitious land is an “aqueous kingdom” (12.74), which ostensibly references an island nation. Furthermore, Gifford notes: “Inis is Irish for island, and the Fál was the fetish stone, the stone of destiny at Tara; hence, the name means Island of Destiny (Ireland) and is associated with the Golden Age presided over by the high kings of terra” (Gifford 316). Thus, this parody refers to a historic and idealized version of Ireland: the false dream that shapes later discussions of nationhood and religion in this episode, and that contributes to unwarranted animosity and prejudice against Bloom, (whose father is Hungarian). Additional mythic parodies occur at 12.102-17, 12.244-48, 12.280-99, 12.374-76 (which includes the death of a hero).

In contrast, Biblical invocations occur more towards the end of the episode. Joyce’s parodic use of religion helps to offset this episode’s notably distant portrayal of Bloom, who is perceived by the other characters as increasingly alien and illegitimate as the narrative progresses. Biblical parody is particularly useful, because it allows Joyce to flesh out the impostor theme/label in relation to a “false prophet” or Elijah figure: a direct reference to the historical schism between Judaism and Christianity that produces the most antagonistic sentiments of this verbally (and physically) violent episode.

Do Joyce’s invocations of the Bible function in a manner similar to the Citizen’s barbs and the narrator’s prejudiced judgments—thereby emasculating Bloom and denying the possibility that he functions as a prophet figure? As noted in the first portion of this introduction, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether a parody is mocking, or if it allows Joyce to elaborate on truths that are concealed or denied by the narrator’s monocular observations.

One parody with religious overtones is somewhat questionably classified by Gifford as a simple combination of “trial records and ‘high-classical’ Irish legend” (Gifford, 347). (While the trial and the Irish legend motifs exist, the classification is problematic because Gifford ignores Joyce’s incorporation of biblical language.) Specifically, this parody invokes both the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve persons on a jury, which/who are initially characterized by the narrator as the “twelve tribes of Iar” (12.1125). (“Iar means west or remote; hence, Ireland.” (Gifford 347).) As the narrator observes: “And there sat […] the high sinhedrim [ancient Jewish high court of justice and supreme council in Jerusalem] of the twelve tribes of Iar, for every tribe one man” (12.1124-5). This line, and the ensuing list of tribes, can be viewed as an elucidation of this episode’s perhaps most significant theme: the reframing of history so that religious and national identity become one.

The parody continues: “And he conjured them by Him who died on rood that they should well and truly try […] and they swore by the name of Him Who is from everlasting that they would do His rightwiseness” (12.1130-6). The phrase: “Him who died on the rood” is a particularly clear religious reference, because “rood” is an old English term for a cross or crucifix, especially a large one in a church. It is therefore obvious that this passage alludes to the crucifixion of Christ (and, hence, to the Christian messiah)—subtly foregrounding the complex biblical parody that occurs in the last lines of the episode.

This final, biblical parody differs from other parodies in that its gravity is heightened: less parody, more parallel. To elaborate, after the Citizen’s explosion and Bloom’s exit from the bar, Joyce closes with the extended passage:

“When, lo, there came about them all a great brightness and they beheld the chariot wherein He stood ascend to heaven. And they beheld Him in the chariot, clothed upon in the glory of the brightness, having raiment as of the sun, fair as the moon and terrible that for awe they durst not look upon Him. And there came a voice out of heaven, calling: Elijah! Elijah! And He answered with a main cry: Abba! Adonai! And they beheld Him even Him, ben Bloom Elijah, amid clouds of angels ascend to the glory of the brightness at an angle of forty five degrees over Donohoe’s in Little Green street like a shot off a shovel (12.1910-8).

Here, the language is certainly hyperbolic. Yet unlike those earlier parodies in which Joyce renames people as trees or uses scientific terminology to explicate a hanged man’s erection, these words are not inherently amusing. In particular, they embody a revelation of the coming of the messiah. Nothing to joke about. The tone of this passage is also fits in with the very dramatic events that occur at the end of this episode, which are certainly not parodic. For instance, it has the same lilt and intensity as Bloom’s impassioned declaration: “Mendelssohn was a jew and Karl Marx and Mercadante and Spinoza. And the Savior was a jew and his father was a jew. Your God” (12.1804-5). In this moment, Bloom is deadly serious, because his integrity—and, hence, identity—is entirely at stake.

Ultimately, the parody/parallel gives no answers. Is Joyce a false prophet? On one hand, there are undoubted connections between Bloom and Elijah (i.e. role as a Jew who wanders in both mind and body—struggling against the odds to make some sense of his world). On the other hand, Elijah is certainly a stretch. As a result, Joyce’s language can arguably be interpreted as parodic and even blasphemous in a certain sense. The episode ends with an intense conflation of the high and low: from heaven, the reader is brought sharply back down to earth—to “Donohoe’s in Little Green street like a shot off a shovel” (12.1917-8). Shovel immediately bringing to mind earth, death, labor.

Ulysses and The Odyssey

The Homeric parallels between Episode 12 of Ulysses and Book 9 of The Odyssey are established early and continue throughout the episode. The pronoun “I” and its homophone “eye” appear frequently throughout the chapter and stress not only the narrator and the Citizen’s correspondence to the one-eyed Cyclopes, but also their monocular point of view on political and religious matters.

The exaggerated description of the Citizen on lines 151-205 in Episode 12 of Ulysses, though it exhibits qualities found in medieval Old English poetry, also directly parodies Odysseus’ description of the Cyclops. Upon landing on the island of the Cyclops, Odysseus and his men encounter:

A prodigious man [who] slept in [his] cave alone, and took his flocks to graze afield – remote from all companions, knowing none but savage ways, a brute so huge, he seemed no man at all of those who eat wheaten bread; but he seemed rather a shaggy mountain reared in solitude (Homer, 9.200-206).

The parodist in Episode 12 describes the Citizen as an equally, if not more, “prodigious man” than the Cyclops. Like the Cyclops who Odysseus describes as “a shaggy mountain,” the Citizen has “rocklike mountainous knees [that] were covered, as was likewise the rest of his body wherever visible, with a strong growth of tawny prickly hair in hue and toughness similar to a mountain gorse” (12.156-8). Thus, the Citizen seems “no man at all” just like Polyphêmos, the Cyclops that Odysseus describes.

Although the Citizen is an ostensibly social being as evidenced by the fact that he hangs out in a bar, he does not take the views of the other characters as seriously as he takes his own. On the one hand, one can argue that the physical solitude in which Polyphêmos lives parallels the Citizen’s mental solitude. Just as Polyphêmos “dwells in his own cave” (Homer, 9.122), so too does the Citizen preserve his own interior space, albeit from the threat posed by foreign ideas that challenge his own fixed patriot ideas. On the other hand, one can argue that the Citizen is more group-oriented, as he frustratingly appeals to others to join him in his endeavor to isolate Bloom. Yet it is undeniable that no one other than Bloom seriously tries to stop the Citizen, which reinforces the reading that the Citizen isolates his opinion as superior to those held by those around him.

Like Polyphêmos who inquires into Odysseus’ identity when he asks, “Who are you? And where from” (Homer, 9.274), the Citizen seeks to find out Bloom’s identity. After getting Polyphêmos drunk, instead of telling him his true name, Odysseus lies and tells him that his name is noman. Bloom eludes simple identification in a similar manner, though he does not induce the Citizen’s drunken state as Odysseus induces that of Polyphêmos.

The Bloom-Odysseus parallels in this episode are twofold. First, as Stuart Gilbert points out, Odysseus and Bloom both have adventurous spirits that impel them to investigate the humanity of unknown individuals (Gilbert, 267). After spending two nights on the island, Odysseus tells his men, “I’ll make the crossing / in my own ship, with my own company, / and find out what the mainland natives are” (Homer, 9.184-186). Similarly, Bloom risks entering another rude establishment akin to that of Davy Byrne’s Pub where he goes to eat lunch in the Lestrygonians Episode in order to find Martin Cunningham.

Second, like Odysseus, Bloom is the “prudent member” who remains sober and restrains himself from attacking the monster, at least until he secures his means of escape. Unlike Odysseus, Bloom does not get the Citizen and the other hostile men drunk, but this disparity does more to ridicule the men who choose freely to drink, than to imply that Bloom is any less prudent than Odysseus. Also, Odysseus’ initial embracement of nomanhood parallels Bloom’s refusal to be defined as one thing. Staurt Gilbert points out in his introduction to Ulysses, “A curious feature of the last seven pages of the episode is that any reference to Mr. Bloom by name is carefully invaded. In phrases such as ‘He got them out as quick as he could, Jack Power and Crofton or whatever you call him and him in the middle of them,’ the suppression of Mr. Bloom’s name is too marked to be merely accidental” (Gilbert, 272). Although this refusal to name Bloom suggests that Bloom has been degraded to nomanhood, this status emphasizes more fully the multifaceted nature of Bloom’s personality, a feature that Bloom himself embraces. Thus, Bloom’s nomanhood seems not to be a degradation, but rather it seems to be a deliberately sought out status that captures more accurately Bloom’s identity than the name Bloom, Virag, Jew, or even Irishmen.

Several other less rigorous parallels appear in the episode. For example, Geraghty who is bound by the law seeks to escape his situation much like Odysseus tries to escape the island of the Cyclopse. Also, Bloom’s “knockmedown cigar” (12.502) with its burning butt caricatures the burning pike the Odysseus slams into Polyphêmos’ eye. There are also several allusions to blindness that parallel Polyphêmos’ blinding at the hands of Odysseus. In addition to narrator’s initial near blinding experience, the men talk about a boxer “whose right eye was nearly closed” (12.973) the narrator expresses his desire to kick the Citizen’s dog, Garryown, “where it wouldn’t blind him” (12.699-700), and the men also mention the “blind intestine” (12.622).

Bloom’s Identity: Issues of Religion and Citizenship

Bloom is especially isolated in this episode, because the other men view him as a foreigner and an impostor. These misconceptions result from their ignorant conviction that both his national and religious identity are questionable—but the fact of the matter is that Bloom’s identity is not transparent, even by contemporary standards.


While Bloom is a Jew by birth, he has also been baptized, and he does not particularly enjoy associating with other Jews (i.e. he avoids conversation with the butcher). At the same time, this baptism gesture seems to be just that—an empty gesture, useful for fitting in, but far from an expression of real religious sentiment. For example, he is not exactly comfortable with Christian protocol. Indeed, upon entering a church in episode 6, he reflects to himself: “Pity so empty. Nice discreet place to be next some girl” (Joyce, 66). And as he observes the laity taking sacrament: “Rum idea: eating bits of a corpse. Why the cannibals cotton to it” (5.352). Up until this point in Ulysses, religion has been present, but never primary. While Bloom is consistently identified as Jewish, he is never identified as only a Jew; it is a contributing rather than defining feature of his character. Yet the unique structure of this chapter enables Joyce to narrate Bloom’s Jewishness from an exceptionally narrow and judgmental perspective (i.e. through the eye(s) of the narrow-minded “Cyclops” and the belligerent Citizen), such that Bloom himself becomes the alien figure.

At first, religious interpolations are not overt. In one of Joyce’s long lists, he sneaks “Adam and Eve” between Valentine Greatrakes (an Irish healer) and Arthur Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington, 1769-1852). Yet by the middle of the episode, religious—and, in particular, Jewish—references have become emphasized, particularly through Bloom’s arguments with the Citizen.

For instance, Bloom declares: “I belong to a race […] that is hated and persecuted. […] Plundered. Insulted. Persecuted. Taking what belongs to us by right. At this very moment […] sold by auction in Morocco like slaves or cattle” (12.1467-72). Yet the Citizen is unmoved. In response, he coldly inquires: “Are you talking about the new Jerusalem?” (12.1473). According to Gifford, this line: “Combines a reference to the ultimate Christian utopia (described in Revelation 21 and 22) with a reference to the Zionist movement and its dramatization of the Jewish desire for a ‘homeland’ in Jerusalem. In context, the Citizen’s question translates: ‘Are you advocating Zionism?’ and encodes an anti-Semitic slur” (Gifford, 364).

These types of interactions foreground the disastrous close of the episode; in other words, the “catastrophe [which] was terrific and instantaneous in its effect” (12.1858): the Citizen yelling “Where is he till I murder him?” (12.1847)—while Bloom passionately attempts to explain that there have been great Jews: Mark. Mendelssohn Mercadante Spinoza, in addition to a distinguished phenomenologist (possibly Husserl?). This reference is intriguing—for, like Bloom himself, Husserl is of Jewish origin. Born into a Moravian Jewish family, he was baptized as a Lutheran in 1887 (for primarily practical purposes; i.e. to teach).


In this episode, we also learn the last name of Bloom’s father: Virag. Apparently, Virag was originally from Hungary; he emigrated to Ireland and changed his name before the birth of his son, Leopold Bloom. Later on, in Episode 17, these cursory revelations are become concretized as textual evidence: “Quote the textual terms of this notice. I, Rudolph Virag, now resident at no 52 Clanbrassil street, Dublin, formerly of Szombathely in the kingdom of Hungary, hereby give notice that I have assumed and intend henceforth upon all occasions and all times to be known by the name of Rudolph Bloom” (17.1868-72).

Intertwined with Bloom’s Judaism and the issue of Elijah (truth/falsity; prophet) is Bloom as an Irish impostor. Conflation of religious and national themes becomes increasingly evident in Joyce’s disjointed prose, and there are multiple jokes at the expense of other nations, particularly Germany. For instance, he often create ridiculous German compound, such as: “Schwanzenbad-Hodenthaler” (12.560). Translated as “Penis-in-bath—Inhabitant-of-the-valley-of-testicles” (Gifford, 335). A series of foreign phrase are followed by an assertion of Irishness: “Sheila, my own.” (Shiela-ni-Gara is another of the many allegorical names for Ireland.)

It is a strange moment when Bloom attempts to define a nation and gives the rather pitiful statement: “A nation is the same people living in the same place” (12.1422-3). On one hand, Bloom’s definition is not specific enough. What is the “same place”? An island? A hotel room? And what group of individuals is the “same”? Are they similar because of their ethnic and religious origins? Or are they the same because they have chosen to live in that place—as Rudolph Virag has. Bloom’s definition is particularly at odds with his character because many interpretations of the phrasing could in fact exclude Bloom from his self-avowed nation: Ireland. (He is not the “same” as the Citizen in most ways: different intellects, motivations, ethnicities, religions, desires). Perhaps this weak definition speaks to some of the confusions and insecurities that most likely exist beneath the stoic exterior that Bloom exhibits throughout his episode: i.e. Am I inferior? Did the fact that my father committed suicide reflect poorly on me? Why do I so often ignore and suppress my religion, despite actively defending it in this antagonistic context?


Just as Odysseus jabs a pike into the eye of the Cyclops, so too does Bloom throw verbal wrenches into the gears of conversation that occur in Barney Kiernan’s. Frustrated, the narrator thinks, “Didn’t I tell you? As true as I’m drinking this porter if he was at his last gasp he’d try to downface you that dying was living” (12.1362-3). This point highlights the fact that Bloom likes to complicate arguments with new viewpoints regardless of their improbability. Thus, the theme of parallax is introduced and begins to play a larger, more obvious role in the last 550 lines of the episode.

Parallax first appears in Episode 8 and can be defined as “the apparent displacement in apparent direction of an object as seen from two different points of view” (Gifford, 160). Following the narrator’s reflections, yet another character, this time the Citizen, creates a parallel between the Irish and the Jews when he asserts, “But those that came to the land of the free remember the land of bondage” (12.1372-3). Regardless of the remark’s intentionality, it speaks to the close relationship between the Citizen’s narrow worldview and that which he foolishly perceives as antagonistic toward it (i.e. ideas, identities, states of being).

Bloom’s encounter with the Citizen illustrates that neither he nor the Citizen has one singular identity. Although the Citizen offers monocular perceptions on all of the topics that he and his bar mates discuss, Bloom’s frequent explanations and counterarguments paint a more holistic image of the complex topics the men discuss. In two very telling instances, the Citizen attempts to identify the source of Ireland’s problems. First, he argues, “Foreign wars is the cause of it” (12.138). Second, he declares, “A dishonoured wife… that’s what’s the cause of all our misfortunes” (12.1163-4). In both of these instances, the Citizen’s use of the singular linking verb is, either separately or as a contraction, indicates that he tries to place the responsibility for all of Ireland’s misfortunes on singular events.

The Citizen’s emphasis on singularity posits a worldview that Bloom refuses to accept. Indeed, the chief problem with Bloom’s definition of a nation is that it is not specific enough. The broadness of Bloom’s initial definition (A nation is the same people living in the same place (12.1422-3)) only becomes broader when he adds, “Or also living in different places” (12.1428). With this qualification, Bloom highlights the unimportance of the exercise of defining, whether it seeks to define a term such as “nation,” a concept such as “metempsychosis,” or even the identity of a person.

Bloom’s definition of a nation and his subsequent claiming of Ireland as his nation, acknowledgment of his Jewish heritage, and his commentary on universal love all compel the Citizen to label him “a new apostle to the gentiles” (12.1489). With this remark, the Citizen demonstrates his unwillingness to understand anything that he considers to be complex, which drives his dislike of Bloom. The Citizen’s comments express indignation at being taught the essence of Christianity by a Jew. The Citizen, like the reader, is not fully aware of Bloom’s experience with Christianity, which led him to get baptized twice, and, consequently, rejects Bloom as a spiritually complex character. Nevertheless, Bloom defends himself, when he asserts, “Your God was a jew [sic]. Christ was a jew [sic] like me” (12.1808-9). Here, Bloom points out the direct linkage between Judaism and Christianity that, if the Citizen were more intelligent, would lead him to the conclusion that he and Bloom are in fact quite similar. Indeed, to remain consistent with his notion that Bloom is an outcast because of his Jewish roots, then the Citizen must also call himself an outcast because his religious identity derives its roots from Judaism as well. But logic is not the Citizen’s strong suit; instead, he becomes angry and threatens Bloom.

The Citizen strives to hold onto this illusion of singular identity that neither Bloom nor he actually possesses. Bloom is the hero of the novel precisely because he embraces this notion of parallax and the fullness of the world and the people that surround him. Thus, Bloom, as Declan Kiberd argues, “disrupts the complacencies of all the settled codes with which he comes into contact” (Kiberd, 189). Indeed, Bloom not only withstands society’s pressure to define him as one thing, but he also illuminates, for the rest of the novel’s characters, the complexities of their own identities.

Works Cited

Blamires, Harry. The New Bloomsday Book (Routledge: London, 1996)

Gifford, Don. Ulysses Annotated (University of California Press: Berkeley, Calif., 2008)

Gilbert, Stuart. James Joyce’s Ulysses (Vintage: New York, 1955)

Homer. The Odyssey trans. Fitzgerald (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York, 1998)

Joyce, James. Ulysses ed. Gabler (Vintage: New York, 1984)

Kiberd, Declan. Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Living in Joyce’s Masterpiece (Norton: New York, 2009)

All Yale Modernism Lab in-text citations of Ulysses have been formatted in the following style:

(Episode #.Page#). For example, the opening “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan,” which is on the first line of the first episode of Ulysses, would be cited as (1.1). All citations come from the Hans Walter Gabler edition of the text.