Compare the characterization of Ulysses and Telemachus in Tennyson's "Ulysses."

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For Tennyson, the most evident mode of comparison between both figures is that they are both leaders. It becomes evident in the poem that Tennyson sees both figures as leaders of Ithaca.  Ulysses is the traditional leader of the island, while Telemachus has been elevated to a point where he is now leader, as well.  Yet, it is here where there is some pivot.  In his words, Ulysses sees Telemachus as more equipped to handle the administrative and more practical elements of leadership on the island.  The idea that Ulysses speaks of his son as "He works his house/ I mine," indicates that the father sees his son as capable of being able to handle Ithaca, an island that has suddenly dwarfed in importance for Ulysses.  At the same time, while there is love for the son from the father, there is a distinct statement that the dreams of grandeur and transcendence that the father holds are elements that the son does not possess the capacity to hold:

Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere/ Of common duties, decent not to fail/ In offices of tenderness, and pay/ Meet adoration to my household gods,/ When I am gone.

The "common duties" is the realm where I think the largest difference can be seen between both leaders, something that makes the son needing to stay behind and tend to his father's island, while the father goes off to somewhere uncertain and unknown.