Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 1190 words.)
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Summary (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
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.
(The entire section is 161 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised 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...
(The entire section is 755 words.)
Foreword, District Court Decision, and Letter from Joyce
The 1934 edition of Ulysses begins with a Foreword written by Morris L. Ernst, a Random House defense attorney involved in the obscenity case against the novel. Ernst applauds the decision of John M. Woolsey, the presiding judge, to rule against the charge of obscenity and allow the novel to be published in the United States. Ernst claims this judicial decision marks a “New Deal in the law of letters.” The attorney explains the complications involved in the definition and application of obscenity and links this release from “the legal compulsion for squeamishness in literature” with the repeal of Prohibition, which occurred also in the first week of December 1933.
Next, Judge Woolsey describes in his opinion Joyce’s accomplishment:
[He] attempted . . . with astonishing success—to show how the screen of consciousness with its ever-shifting kaleidoscopic impressions carries . . . not only what is in the focus of each man’s observation of the actual things about him, but also in a penumbral zone residua of past impressions, some recent and some drawn up by association from the domain of the subconscious.
This technique, Judge Woolsey explains, is like “a multiple exposure on a cinema film.” In essence, the judge concludes, Joyce’s effort was to show how the minds of his characters operate. Woolsey...
(The entire section is 5707 words.)