Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1190
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 for Bloom is a call at a newspaper office to arrange for the printing of an advertisement. While he is there, Stephen Dedalus also arrives at the office. The two men see each other, but they do not speak.
Bloom leaves the newspaper building and walks across the O’Connell bridge. He meets Mrs. Breen and gives her an account of Dignam’s funeral. She tells him that Mrs. Purefoy is in the maternity hospital in Holles Street. Bloom walks on, watching the sights...
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of Dublin on a summer day. He enters Davy Byrne’s pub and orders a cheese sandwich. Later, he goes to the National Library to look at some newspaper files. There Stephen, flushed with the drinks he had at lunch, is expounding to Buck Mulligan and some literary friends his own ingenious theory of William Shakespeare’s plays and the second-best bed mentioned in Shakespeare’s will. Again, Bloom and Stephen see each other but do not speak.
Bloom goes to the Ormond Hotel for a late lunch. Blazes Boylan comes into the hotel bar before he leaves to keep his appointment with Molly.
Late that afternoon, Bloom gets into a brawl in a pub where the talk is all about the money that Blazes Boylan has won in a boxing match. Bloom escapes from the jeering crowd and walks along the Sandymount shore. In the dimming twilight, he watches young Gertie MacDowell. The moon rises. Bloom decides to stop by the hospital to ask about Mrs. Purefoy. As he walks slowly along the strand, a cuckoo clock strikes nine in a priest’s house that he is passing. Bloom considers that he has been cuckolded while he has sat dreaming his amorous fantasies on the Dublin beach, looking at Gertie MacDowell. At the hospital, he learns that Mrs. Purefoy’s baby has not yet been born. There he sees Stephen Dedalus again, drinking with Buck Mulligan and a group of medical students. Bloom is disturbed to find the son of his old friend Simon Dedalus in such ribald, dissolute company.
Bloom goes with the medical students to a nearby pub, where Stephen and Buck Mulligan begin a drunken argument over the possession of the key to the old tower. When the group breaks up, Stephen and one of the students go on to a brothel in the Dublin slums; Bloom follows them slowly. All are drunk. Bloom has a distorted, lurid vision of his wife and Blazes Boylan together. Stephen is befuddled and thinks that he sees his dead mother suddenly appearing from the grave to ask him again to pray for her soul. Running headlong into the street, he is knocked down in a scuffle with two British soldiers.
Bloom takes Stephen home with him. Exhausted by his wild night, Stephen remains silent and glum while Bloom talks about art and science. Bloom begs him to spend the night, to leave Mulligan and his wild friends and come to live with the Blooms, but Stephen refuses. The bells of St. George’s Church are ringing as he walks off down the silent street.
Bloom slowly goes to bed. As he drifts off to sleep, he tells Molly firmly that she is to get up and prepare his breakfast in the morning.
Molly Bloom lies awake thinking of Blazes Boylan. She thinks of the mysteries of the human body, of people she has known, of her girlhood at the military post on Gibraltar. She considers the possibility that Stephen Dedalus might come to live with her and her husband. Stephen is a writer—young, refined, not coarse like Boylan. She hears a far-off, shrill train whistle. She recalls all of her past lovers, Bloom’s courtship, their years together, the rose she wore in her hair the day Bloom asked her to marry him as they stood close under a Moorish arch. Her thoughts flow on, while her Ulysses, Bloom, the far wanderer of a Dublin day, snores in the darkness by her side.