English Literature » Summary » James Joyce’s “Ulysses”: Summary
Ulysses by James Joyce

James Joyce’s “Ulysses”: Summary

James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) is considered to be his landmark novel, one of the finest ever written. His groundbreaking stream-of-consciousness technique and sexually explicit content, James Joyce became a literary celebrity.

Ulysses features three main characters: Leopold Bloom, Molly Bloom, and Stephen Dedalus. Middle-aged Leopold Bloom works as an advertising salesman and is Jewish. He is married to Molly Bloom. Stephen Dedalus is a teacher and aspiring writing, who was also the main character in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Joyce creates a series of parallels between Ulysses and Homer’s Odyssey. Ulysses is the Latin version of the name Odysseus, who is the hero of Homer’s epic poem. There are similarities between the experiences of characters Odysseus and Leopold Bloom, Penelope and Mary Bloom, and Telemachus and Stephen Dedalus.

In short, Ulysses follows Leopold Bloom as he goes from place to place in Dublin over the course of June 16, 1904, from 8 a.m. until 3 a.m. Joyce chose that particular day because it wasthe day of his first date with his wife, Nora Barnacle. The date has become known as Bloomsday, an annual celebration of James Joyce, and is observed in Dublin and around the world.

Ulysses is not short;it is approximately 265,000 words in length, divided into three parts: The Telemachiad, the Odyssey, and The Nostos. The novel is also divided into eighteen episodes. Even the episode titles are long and difficult to decipher. Each episode’s title comes from a character or incident in Homer’s Odyssey and is also is labeled with the time it took place and location. Many episode titles also include a bodily organ, art, color, symbol, and literary technique. For example, Telemachus (8:00 a.m.; the Tower; theology; white, gold; heir; narrative [young]). In addition, the stream-of-consciousness technique makes Ulysses a difficult read. The novel is also full of puns, parodies, and allusions.

Stephen Dedalus leaves for work. He gives his friend Buck Mulligan his house key, and they agree to meet at the pub at 12:30.Stephen teaches a history class at Garret Deasy’s boys’ school around 10 a.m. After class, Stephen gets paid by Deasy. He also agrees to share an editorial piece on cattle disease written by Deasy with acquaintances at the newspaper. Stephen spends the rest of the morning walking on Sandymount Strand, thinking and composing a poem.

The same morning, Leopold brings Molly her breakfast and her mail in bed. Blazes Boylon, Molly’s concert tour manager, writes that he will visit at 4 p.m. Leopold reads a letter from Milly, their daughter.At 10 a.m., Leopold picks up a love letter from Martha Clifford at the post office. He reads the letter in a church and goes to the pharmacy for lotion for Molly. He runs into Bantam Lyons, with whom he discusses a horse race.At 11 a.m., Leopold attends a funeral. during which he thinks about the deaths of both his father and son.

At noon, both Leopold and Stephen are at the offices of the Freeman newspaper. Leopold is negotiating an ad, and Stephen is there with Deasy’s letter.At 1 p.m., Leopold bumps into a former girlfriend, and they discuss Mina Purefoy, who is in labor. He eats lunch at Davy Byrne’s. He goes into the National Library to avoid Blazes Boylon, who in addition to being Molly’s concert manager is also her suspected lover.

At 2 p.m., Stephen makes a presentation on Hamlet theory at the National Library to librarians and a poet. His friend Buck teases Stephen for forgetting to meet him for lunch. Stephen and Buck pass Leopold, who is there on business. At 4 p.m., Molly is scheduled to meet with Blazes Boylon. Leopold enters the bar at the posh Ormond Hotel as Blazes is leaving to meet Molly. Also in the bar is Stephen Dedalus’s father, Simon, who plays the piano.

At 5 p.m., Leopold gets yelled at for being Jewish while in Barney Kiernan’s pub waiting to meet Martin Cunningham.Around sunset, a young woman reveals her legs to Leopold, who is relaxing on Sandymount Strand. Leopold secretly masturbates before dozing.

At 10 p.m., Bloom checks on Mina Purefoy at the maternity hospital. Stephen is also at the hospital drinking and talking with friends who are medical students. Leopold is invited to join them at Burke’s Pub. Stephen leaves to go to Bella Cohen’s brothel, followed by Leopold who feels protective of the younger man. Leopold finds Stephen knocked out after a drunken brawl with a British soldier. Leopold invites Stephen to his home.After midnight, Stephen and Leopold talk over cocoa at his home. Leopold goes to bed, tells Molly about his day, and surprises her with a request for breakfast in bed. Molly remains awake, thinking about her day and a memory of a time with Leopold.

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