Banned in the United States and United Kingdom throughout the 1920s, Ulysses turned conventional ideas of the novel inside out with its bold new form, style and theme. Deeply rooted in the Greek myth of the hero of the Trojan War, Joyce bases his novel on Ulysses or Odysseus, who is doomed to voyage for ten years before returning home to Ithaca. Joyce had been deeply influenced by the Iliad and the Odyssey, which he had read from Charles Lamb's adaptations as a child. In fact, he considered him the epitome of the heroic ideal and constantly thought of giving the myth a new dimension in modern literature. However, the reader must be cautioned that it is not an easy book to read. It was also burdened by a strange and complicated publication history. Joyce's original handwritten manuscript was typed by a number of less than competent typists who made a series of grammatical and spelling errors, leading to great confusion. It went through 18 different versions, each of which was full of more and more mistakes. Attempts to “correct” the text were being made as late as 2010 but the appeal of the book lies in its overall theme and in its rich symbolism. Ulysses is divided into 18 chapters, or episodes, each one referring to a Homeric character or episode in the Greek myth. Though Joyce did not originally title the chapters, he did refer to them by such names in private letters to his friends. He also gave them obscure titles from his researches in French translations of the Homeric sagas. Joyce himself understood the significance of his work. He is reputed to have remarked to the effect that he had stuffed the book with so many enigmas and puzzles that it would keep academicians buzzing for centuries! The names of each character are rooted in the deep symbolism and every episode sets the reader harking back to the Homeric myths. Apart from Greek legend, Joyce also used aspects of Celtic traditions of storytelling. Essentially, the plot deals with many ideas that have found echoes throughout human history. Paternity, the idea of the everyday hero, regret and personal conscience, the paradox of individual perspectives all conveyed through a plethora of symbols and motifs makes Ulysses a compelling if difficult read.
Episode 1, Telemachus
It is 8 a.m. Buck Mulligan, a boisterous medical student, calls Stephen Dedalus, a young writer and the protagonist of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, up to the roof of the Sandycove Martello tower, where they both live. There is tension between Stephen and Mulligan, stemming from a cruel remark Stephen overheard Mulligan make about his recently deceased mother, May Dedalus, and from the fact that Mulligan has invited an English student, Haines, to stay with them. The three men then eat breakfast and walk to the shore, where Mulligan demands from Stephen the key to the tower and a loan. Departing, Stephen declares that he will not return to the tower that night, as Mulligan, the "usurper", has taken it over.
Episode 2, Nestor
Stephen is teaching a history class on the victories of Pyrrhus of Epirus. After class, one student, Cyril Sargent, stays behind so that Stephen can show him how to do a set of algebraic exercises. Stephen looks at Sargent's ugly face and tries to imagine Sargent's mother's love for him. He then visits school headmaster Garrett Deasy, from whom he collects his pay and a letter to take to a newspaper office for printing. The two discuss Irish history and Deasy lectures on what he believes is the role of Jews in the economy. As Stephen leaves, Deasy said that Ireland has "never persecuted the Jews" because the country "never let them in". This episode is the source of some of the novel's most famous lines, such as Dedalus's claim that "history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake" and that God is "a shout in the street."
The work and life of Joyce is celebrated annually on 16 June, known as Bloomsday, in Dublin and in an increasing number of cities worldwide, and critical studies in scholarly publications, such as the...More about James Joyce
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