Ulysses by James Joyce Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Buck Mulligan mounts the stairs of the old tower and prepares to shave himself on the morning of June 16, 1904. A moment later, Stephen Dedalus comes to the top of the stairs and stands looking out over Dublin Bay. When Mulligan speaks of the sea glinting in the morning sunlight, Stephen has a sudden vision of his own mother; he had been called back from Paris to her deathbed a year before. He remembers how she begged him to pray for her soul and how he, rebelling against the churchly discipline of his boyhood, refused.

After breakfast, Stephen and Mulligan go off with Haines, a young Englishman who also lives in the old tower. Despite the Englishman’s attempts to be friendly, Stephen dislikes Haines, who is given to nightlong drunken sprees. Stephen feels that his own life is growing purposeless and dissolute through his association with Mulligan and other medical students. Stephen is a teacher. It is a half-day holiday at school, and the boys are restless. One of his pupils is unable to do his simple arithmetic problems, and in the boy Stephen sees for a moment an image of his own awkward youth. He is relieved when he can dismiss the class.

Later, Stephen walks alone on the beach. He thinks of literature and his student days, of his unhappiness in Dublin, his lack of money, his family sinking into poverty while his shabby-genteel father makes his daily round of the Dublin pubs. He sees the carcass of a dead dog rolling in the surf and remembers how a dog had frightened him in his childhood. He is, he thinks wryly, not one of the Irish heroes.

Meanwhile, Leopold Bloom has crawled out of bed to prepare his wife’s breakfast. He is a Jewish advertising salesman, for sixteen years the patient, uncomplaining husband of Marion “Molly” Tweedy Bloom, a professional singer of mediocre talent. He is unhappy to know that she is carrying on an affair with Blazes Boylan, a sporting Irishman who is managing the concert tour that she is planning. Bloom munches his own breakfast and reads a letter from his daughter Milly, who works in a photographer’s shop in Mullingar. Her letter reminds Bloom of his son Rudy, who died when he was eleven days old. Bloom reads Milly’s letter again, wondering about a young student his daughter mentions. For a moment, he is afraid that Milly might grow up to be like her mother.

Bloom sets out on his morning walk. At the post office, he stops to pick up a letter addressed to Henry Flower, Esq., a letter from a woman who signs herself Martha. Bloom, unhappy at home, is carrying on a flirtation by mail under another name. He idly wanders into a church and listens to part of the mass. Later, he joins a party of mourners on their way to the funeral of an old friend, Paddy Dignam, who died suddenly of a stroke. During the service, Bloom watches Father Coffey. He thinks again of little Rudy and of his own father, a suicide. The day’s business...

(The entire section is 1190 words.)

Ulysses Summary (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Unfolding in a single day—June 16, 1904—Joyce’s novel re-creates the Dublin, Ireland, of his youth, as seen through the eyes of its inhabitants. With its individual sections patterned after Homer’s Odyssey, the novel centers on that day in the life of Leopold Bloom—a Jew whose roots are in Hungary. Joyce’s work was perhaps the most avant-garde of its time, but its most radical innovation is in the narrative format through which it unfolds. Informed by Sigmund Freud’s theories about the subconscious, Joyce utilizes the stream-of-conscious technique to explore the innermost thoughts of his characters. It creates a polyphonic interplay of moods and impressions that were a radical departure from the work of Joyce’s contemporaries. In it the unconscious mind is uncensored, and it is often prone to dwell on bodily functions—a subject that was taboo in the polite society of the early twentieth century. Therein lay the root of the book’s censorship problems.

Ulysses Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ulysses is based on Homer’s Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.; English translation, 1614) but compresses the action of the earlier epic into one day. The basic narrative of the Odyssey is maintained: Leopold Bloom, the modern counterpart to Ulysses, returns home to his wife and son and then overcomes the suitors and reclaims his place. Stephen Dedalus, the counterpart to Telemachus, needs to grow into a man and be united with his absent father.

The first section of the book, the “Telemachiad,” deals with Stephen. Stephen has returned to Ireland from Paris to face the death of his mother and is haunted by the ghost of his mother and oppressed by the demands of his real father. He needs to purge his mother’s ghost and find a new father. Stephen is oppressed, as is Telemachus, by the usurpers in the tower where he lives. Stephen’s thoughts are abstruse, philosophical, and filled with guilt; he no longer seems to be a potential artist. He wanders around Dublin in search of some relief. One noteworthy episode takes place in the National Library, where Stephen expounds his theory of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (pr. 1600-1601, pb. 1603), which is really a theory that is directly related to Joyce’s own life and work. Stephen also goes to visit a newspaper and tells two of the editors his short story “A Pisgah Prophecy,” which is similar to early stories in Dubliners. The proposing of a theory and creation of a literary work by Stephen is also found in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Perhaps Stephen is beginning to fulfill his claim to be a true artist.

Leopold Bloom is an ordinary man with an extraordinary curiosity about everything around him. He, like Stephen, has problems within his family. His wife, Molly, is...

(The entire section is 755 words.)

Ulysses Summary

Foreword, District Court Decision, and Letter from Joyce
The 1934 edition of Ulysses begins with a Foreword...

(The entire section is 5707 words.)