James Joyce's Ulysses
Where It's Always June 16, 1904
The twelfth chapter of the book, Ulysses, is Cyclops, where again we are presented with Leopold Bloom in a quite unsavory fashion. Not only does he face the recurring themes of exile and identity, but he is also dealing with the issues of impotence in both a physical and mental capacity. In this chapter, Bloom is continually challenged, first verbally and then almost physically, as he is forced to flee the bar to keep himself safe from the attack of the ‘citizen’.
The chapter is told in a first person narrative with a seemingly, ‘unknown’ narrator. Throughout the chapter many characters are evident and some new ones are introduced as well. There is Martin Cunningham, Jack Power, Bob Doran, of course Bloom, the unknown narrator, the citizen, and his mangy mutt Garryowen. It seems that the main plot of this chapter is for Bloom, Cunningham, and Power to meet at the bar and continue on to Patty Dignam’s house to consult with his widow about the family’s financial affairs. In trying to accomplish this goal though, Bloom is sidetracked by the overall negative, abusive, and extremely anti-Semitic remarks made by the citizen, and the narrator.
In dealing with the theme of exile and anti-Semitism, Adam Woodruff of the University of Wales writes, “The very unsettling force of the novel in general – and of the ‘Cyclops’ episode in particular – can be located in the way that it stages those processes of natural identification which allow certain citizens, but not others, to feel at home.” (Nobody at Home, Woodruff). Remarks such as, “Swindling the peasants, and the poor of Ireland. We want no more strangers in our house.” (323) and, “I’m told those Jewies does have a sort of a queer odour coming off them for dogs…” (304), are evident throughout this chapter. These remarks are all either said to Bloom or while in his presence and it is his choice on whether he should become the hero we all want him to be and stand up for himself. Though it seems that Bloom will again succumb to prejudices put before him, he surprises us by ending the chapter with comments like, “Mendelssohn was a jew and Karl Marx and Mercandante and Spinoza. And the Saviour was a jew and his father was a jew. Your God.” (342). Even though, because of these remarks remarks, Bloom must leave the bar for his safety, it does seem as though he is challenging the everlasting themes of exile and anti-Semitism for the first time, which may lead the reader to believe that he is finally ready to take on his role as the hero and father-figure of this novel. When following the theme of identity in this chapter, we are left wondering just who this ‘unknown narrator’ could be. E.I. Schoenberg, a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo writes, “The Cyclops episode of Homer’s Odyssey turns upon a pun and upon the guessing of an identity. Odysseus has told the one-eyed giant that his name is No Man, and when at the climax of the tale the Cyclops shouts that no man is hurting him, his friends turn away and Odysseus escapes. This is the pattern of many primitive tales, including fairy tales, and of all riddles. James Joyce, who teased his friends to guess the title of “Work in Progress” and loaded that work with riddles and other identity games, placed a Cyclops episode very near the center of his own Odyssey story, Ulysses. Although it is the only episode of the novel written in first person, and although Joyce pointedly leaves the man’s name unspoken by any of the other characters in the episode, no one – strangely – has tried to identify the loquacious nobody of Kiernan’s pub.” (The Identity of the “Cyclops” Narrator, Schoenberg). Along with not knowing the identity of the narrator, the reader is left in the dark on the true identity of the citizen. Only through close readings of the next chapters are you to find out who the citizen and his mangy mutt, Garryowen, truly are.
With both these themes, an underlying feeling of animosity towards Bloom is evident. Many of the characters in the book, and especially this chapter, do not like him very much and are not afraid to let the reader know just how they feel. For example, on page 304 of the text, the unknown narrator mocks Blooms speech about what happens to a man when is hanged… “The distinguished scientist Herr Professor Luitpold Blumenduft tendered medical evidence to the effect that the instaneous fracture of the cervical vertebrae and consequent scission of the spinal cord would, according to the best approved traditions of medical science, be calculated to inevitably produce in the human subject a violent ganglionic stimulus of the nerve center, causing the pores of the corpora cavernosa to rapidly dilate in such a way as to instantaneously facilitate the flow of blood to that part of the human anatomy known as the penis or male organ resulting in the phenomena which has been dominated by the faculty a morbid upwards and outwards philprogenitive erection in articulo mortis per diminutionem capitis.”
Overall, it is evident in the chapter, Cyclops, that not only does Bloom still have many obstacle to overcome, but he may soon transform into the character that we, as the reader, would like him to be. There are many other themes throughout this chapter, but it seems that exile and identity are the two that are most evident and are challenged more frequently than anything else.
Davison, Neil, R. "Cyclops, Sinn Fein, and "the Jew": An Historical Reconsideration." Journal of Modern Literature Fall95: 245-57.
Nunes, Mark. "Beyond the 'Holy See': Parody and Narrative Assemblage in 'Cyclops.'". Twentieth Century Literature Summer99: Vol. 45 Issue 2, 174-86.
Schoenberg, E.I. "The Identity of the "Cyclops" Narrator in James Joyce's Ulysses." Journal of Modern Literature Sep76: Vol. 5 Issue 3, 534-39.
Woodruff, Adam. "Nobody at Home: Bloom's Outlandish Retreat in the 'Cyclops' Chapter of Ulysses." European Journal of English Studies Dec99: Vol. 3 Issue 3, 275-84.