Sex and Death: Loss in Joyce's Ulysses

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Brendan O'Connell ENG 440 6/9/09 Final Essay

In James Joyce's most famous novel Ulysses, the theme of loss is rampant through out the entire story. In every chapter there is at least one reference to loss of life, hope, religion, love, or an object. In the chapter titled Nausicaa we see the final moments of Leopold Bloom as a loner. Joyce is also able to raise many questions about what type of person Bloom is. The chapter starts by not being narrated by Bloom or Stephen, but having an omniscient narrator. Having one of those men not be the narrator is used in a few other chapters, but this is the last one that really shows who Bloom is from an outside perspective. With the Homeric parallels, it would make sense that he doesn't talk. He just came from fighting the cyclops and swam/floated to land. If Bloom is Ulysses and Gerty is Nausicaa, I read the rest of the chapter to be that she rescued him by getting him off. Much earlier than that though, The question “who is your sweetheart?”(285: 66) shows up and although Bloom doesn't hear it, it makes us question who he really loves and if Molly still is his sweetheart. The death of Rudy seems to have affected their relationship so much that he doesn't really know what love is anymore. Fear of failure seems to be what holds Bloom back, failure as a man is what he constantly thinks about and he is thinking about his manliness throughout the entire book. The little boys included in this chapter seem to be a reminder of what Bloom once had and then lost. Gerty's description, before he sees that she is crippled, makes her out to be the fairest “specimen of winsome Irish girlhood” (286: 81). Gerty and Bloom are two flawed characters that seem to be shown as beautiful in this chapter, at least for a while. She is described Greekly perfect, and then it is said that “his eyes burned into her as though they would search her through and through” (293: 412). It's also important to note that his face was the “saddest she had ever seen”(292:370). Gerty's likeness to the Virgin Mary is in this also, seen in her gentle ways and also in the blue that she wears. Blue is the color of her eyes and also of the stockings and dress that she is wearing. The fact that Bloom is aroused by the Virgin Mother is meant to show that he really only cares about the body. Bloom is the character in the story that cares manly about how people look and what they are physically made up of. Bloom never really thinks of himself as a sexual person. The fact that he is changed into a desirable person in this chapter shows us that something might be off with the person analyzing him. He sees every woman as a sexual object,

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except for his mother perhaps, and although he is so focused on sex it is always copulation without reproduction. This doesn't really help his idea of his manliness and to me it makes him more of a pathetic character that we can only really feel sorry for. At one point, Edy Boardman says “if you fail, try again”, Bloom is unable to do this though and only thinks that he will fail again. This is not to say that he feels that Milly is a failure, he loves her and is very proud of her. He is worried that he will be a failure to a son. He thinks that not having a son makes him less of a man, he won't ejaculate while having sex with Molly, but will when he is on the beach. Somehow he is missing the fact that he is wasting his seed on something that will never really do anything for him. Seeing that he does this while looking at Gerty it would seem to mean that he needs someone flawed in order to have another son. Another way of saying that is, Molly is too good for him. Gerty, being Greekly perfect and a version of the Virgin Mary, makes her an interesting character that shows it is possible for Bloom to have a son, without even having sex. It sounds absurd, but she is the only person that Bloom has sexual relations with, even if it was a type of mutual masturbation. This whole sex, but not procreation, is an interesting idea through the story, and in this chapter it makes it seem like children are involved as a bother and not something that Bloom should really want. Gerty certainly wants them to “take their squalling baby home” (293: 404). This seems to go against her caring, gentle, Mary like qualities, and show that even the best of people still have carnal desires. Bloom isn't even the person that she really wants though, she would much rather have Reggy Wylie, her “dreamhusband”. Yet, she proceeds to show Bloom her stockings, and goes against those “womanly woman” traits that Bloom liked. Bloom fetish with undergarments is seem many times in the story, but he only seems to really like it when he has to work for it or sees them in a mistake, the “cyclists showing off what they hadn't got”, and the “other flighty girls” are the ones that he is not interested in. Gerty has a natural beauty that Bloom is intrigued by, unlike Cissy Caffrey who has to make herself attractive. That respect is what Gerty really likes and she seems to have a rather middleclass dream of becoming a wife, just a wife. Her aspirations are rather low, but for someone like her, with her disability, that is a dream that never may come true. If we look deeper than what is said, these are two sad characters that have next to no idea what they are doing with their lives. They may be great people and have a type of beauty that they can each see, but it's unlikely that these two will ever really be happy.

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They have a similar loathing of women that walk with “the soldiers and coarse men with no respect for a girl's honour”. Those are people that degrade their sex, it's interesting that she says men are so different, because he really is exactly like that and only cares about the body and what she looks like. She realizes this later when he looks at the skirtdancers and then she realizes that he really is just a brute, no matter what his eyes had shown earlier. The fireworks at the church are a minor part, but the order of the color that Joyce put them in is important. Blue, Gerty's color and also the color of the Virgin Mary comes first. Blue is also commonly thought of as the color of Judaism and is recognized as one of the colors of Israel. Having a single color represent two major religions and then followed by green, the color of Ireland, makes is seem that Joyce is putting faith and religion over country. Purple is commonly thought to be the color of nobility, I suppose this could be a subtle form of Joyce putting Ireland over England and the Queen, or it's possible that it was just a random pretty color that Joyce liked. It seems like very little in this novel is random though and Joyce had a clear purpose to everything that he wrote. The fireworks are also a clear way to point out a climax for both Bloom and Gerty. When there is a sudden change to Bloom's narration, it's almost like a shock back into reality. Bloom has no idea who she is, and he feels sorry for her simply because she's lame. Saying that a defect makes women polite, is odd considering what they have just done together. In Blooms mind he may think that he is still a virgin because he doesn't have an active sex life with Molly. He feels that this is one of many points that makes him less of a man. But this also brings up the fact that he thinks “Virgins go mad in the end”. He still believes that he is better than her because he is a male, and even if he did have a defect, it's “ten times worse” to be a woman with a defect. With this change of narration we also jump straight into Bloom's stream of consciousness style of thinking in the chapter from here on. He is able to jump from subject to subject without a transition at all. The following two hundred or so lines in the chapter are all about women. His thoughts on women may seem a bit sexist, but really Bloom is so confused by the female body that he doesn't know what to do around them. It's a type of fascination that makes him seem rude when he really would like to be educated. Bloom may be a bit of pervert, but he also seems like a very scientific man that always needs to know more. He wants to know why all women don't menstruate, and even if it is an odd question, this is an example of the type of thing

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that pops into Blooms mind and lead him to wondering if women like him or if it's just an act. His thoughts on women are interesting as it seems he sees them all as the same. The fact that he sees Milly and Molly as almost one person is alarming, but also shows that he really only cares about what they look like. An interesting contradiction is when he calls Milly a “clever little minx” but then says “ Always see a fellow's weak point in his wife” on the next page, and then following that sentence he says that some men would “go to the dogs” without a woman. I think this concept has been shortened to can't live with 'em, can't live with out 'em, it makes his ideas on women difficult to define. For Bloom it seems that there is one necessary loss that he is missing out on. The fact that he still has a foreskin seems to make him not Jewish. How he managed to get by without being circumcised, I'm not sure, but it is one of the things that makes him more manly. Since being Jewish was considered to be a feminine, this small disassociation with Jewishness seems to make him more of man and it also makes him feel better about himself even if it was unpleasant and hurt to detach. After loosing his son, it was probably traumatic and obviously affecting him in a large way. He also feels that he has lost his wife to Blazes Boylan. A large section of the chapter is devoted to smell. He talks about how animals smell and that is the one thing that connects us to the rest of nature. The ability to smell seems to be the sense that Bloom is most interested in. If we ever lost the sense of smell, Bloom would be nothing. He smells Molly's perfume and then he smells himself by putting his nose in his waistcoat. His own smell is not really important, but the fact that he also smells the soap is important as it is a symbol of Molly and also his love for her. Bloom also uses the end of this chapter to summarize the entirety of his day up to this point. It's one of the only times that we see a reflective bloom that is really looking back on his own actions. With all the talk about women he does here it seems to me that perhaps he didn't need Gerty to “rescue” him. Bloom seems to be saying that Ulysses would have been fine on his own and that Nausicaa really needed him, being that for women, “being lost they fear”. To imply that women could not get on with out men is an old idea, but Joyce is also sure to include the fact that some men would not be able to function without women. I think the main point is that all people fear loss. No matter how big the loss is, it will have some affect as to how we behave in our lives. Bloom makes every action out of fear that he will either fail or lose something.

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Bloom seems to go back and forth on how he feels about women, at one point he is able to sympathize with a woman who is married to a drunk, but then he ends the phrase with “Maybe the women's fault also. Nicki Mahaffey makes the argument that although Gerty is physically mature, she is unable to realize that maturity...because she must constantly identify herself on her own mind with beauty”(Mahaffey 160). Gerty is not a simple person, but she is a lot like Bloom and seems to do things just to please herself. Until Bloom sees that she is lame, he is pleased also and thinks that she is honestly beautiful. Molly is not beautiful in the cosmetic sense, but rather in gravitational sense as Mahaffey puts it. She argues that Molly's size is what makes her attractive, but not beautiful. Part of me wants to explain Bloom's behavior by saying that he is no longer sexually attracted to Molly. The problem with that is that thinks about her much too often and obviously still has love for her. Molly and Bloom are a couple that seem to work well together despite their flaws. Gerty is included to show what Bloom and ,to a lesser extent, Joyce may have defined as beautiful. Women are a big part of Blooms life and he always seems to be loosing them. Molly leaves with Bolyan, Milly leaves for school, and Gerty leaves with Cissy. All this loss of women seem to make Bloom feel like less of a man. Gender obviously plays a large role in this story, and the differences in how men and women are portrayed may show us just a bit about how Joyce feels about both genders. Given that the ideal male and female is focused almost purely on the body, at least in western culture, we can see that Bloom, Gerty, and even Molly are not anywhere near the ideal, yet they are all described with a sense that there is still something special about them. From Gerty we get beauty even though she has a defect. She also gives us a clear idea about what they worst type of man. By her saying these things it made me think that Joyce must have felt the same way and thought that “the man who lifts his hand to a woman...deserves to be branded as the lowest of the low.”(290:301) On the other side of that we see her description of a perfect life with her husband and his “glistening white teeth under his carefully trimmed sweeping mustache”(289:236). The fact that she wants a manly man to rescue her is interesting considering how Bloom feels about himself. The entire description that she gives certainly is not what Bloom is, which raises the question why does she continues to reveal herself to him. I believe that as much as men need women, women need men and Gerty in particular needed to feel pretty, it may have been a crude way of doing so, but the fact that someone thought she was beautiful makes her feel good.

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Mahaffy says that Joyce depicts beauty as a sleight-of-hand, a trick of costume. An accident of lighting...designed to make women feel less ordinary and to provoke sexual desire in men.”(Mahaffey 163) In Ulysses I think this is exactly the case. Each person sees beauty differently, and it is not something that the person in question can change. The men in this story seem to think that you either have beauty or you don't. The person determining beauty has the final say in whether a person is beautiful or not. If a person's perception of beauty is lost, that is something they can never really recover from. Bloom is reevaluating his thoughts on beauty during this chapter and is really trying to find what is attractive to him. Joyce shows us that by setting a bar for beauty we are actually “showing a distaste for real beauty”( Mahaffey 163). Showing this also gives another sense of when loss can be good. If we throw away these ideals, we will no longer be subject to the tricks of female beauty and will be able to finally see what is truly beautiful. Masturbation and sex is a giant part of this novel that cannot be skipped over. The masturbatory events in Nausicaa are particularly interesting because Bloom ejaculates. Effectively doing something that he cannot do with Molly, he has spilled his seed, but for nothing. Masturbation is an issue with some people because it's nonprocreational, and other people don't like it because they think it's a sin. If he wants a son so badly, why would he do that on the beach, with another woman instead of trying for a child? It's because he is scared, scared that he will have a repeat of Rudy and will fail as a father to a son. He is connected with Milly, but it is not the same type of relationship that a father and son have. Masturbating on the beach is part of Bloom's flawed character, but it also links him to Stephen, who will become a sort of son. Stephen talked about his “wretched sin” in A Portrait of the Young Artist. It's odd that masturbation is normally thought of as a solo act, yet we see it bringing two pairs of people together. When Bloom is with Gerty it's more of what Dr. Paul Garnier would call an “onanisme a deux”. Garnier wrote a bit about masturbatory insanity and also the catholic condemnation of nonreproductive sexuality. In Richard Brown's book James Joyce and Sexuality, he makes the point that Bloom's Masturbation may be lonely, but it is not sad or “traumatically isolated from any form of human contact. This could even be seen as a redeeming point for Bloom because he stops running away from people and actually has some, albeit odd, form of contact with another person. While reading Nausicaa I only saw masturbation as a form of death, or throwing away something that he

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wanted. Bloom needs someone that he can protect and teach. Understanding that he is still tortured by his son's death, you would think that he would be able to get over it at some point. Throughout the entire book, I never saw him as a remarkable character. He is always shown as a pushover that will pretty much do anything that he is told or doesn't take action when it is needed. He lost control of his wife a long time ago, I mean control in the sense that he he can't make sure she doesn't cheat on him. No one in this book really has control over another person, except for maybe Bello in Circes, and when he is on the beach he doesn't even think about her. Brown shows us that Joyce is constantly asking us to define words as they apply to this novel. Can this event really be defined as sexual? In my opinion the answer is yes, undoubtedly this was a sexual act, and to me it makes me think that Bloom is unfaithful to Molly, and makes me think, why can he judge her so harshly and follow Blazes around for hours, and not do the same to himself? Brown says that Joyce did this to “show the inadequacy of the definitions” ( Brown 62). No matter how we define love, sex, family, or marriage, we will always be wrong. These words cannot have one definition, it limits us to so much that they loose all meaning and value. The power that a single word can carry is large, if this one thing can be defined as adultery, would Molly and him last or would he end up losing the one woman he loved for ever. Even if there is a sense of loss in this book, there also seems to be an underlying theme that says things can be repaired. When Joyce isn't talking about words, he is probably talking about the passage of time. He seems to have a rather bleak view on life, but it might also be that he has realized remembering the past can't really help him now. Bloom can't bring back his son, or his sex life with Molly. With the loss of his son , he also loss his sex and ultimately another part of his masculinity. There are only a few things that Bloom could have lived without, and there is no way that he would have stood by while somethings was happening. Bloom is they type of person than lives and acts "in the now" and makes impulsive ideas that only affect the actions that he is talking about. There is one person that is able to reduce Bloom to a child, and that is Martha, Lindsey Tucker would argue that Martha has taken the place of Molly and as "his thoughts move back to the present we lose sight of Molly"(Tucker 74). Molly is far too important a character to have her just simply disappear, She holds a lot of symbolism and encapsulates everything that Bloom liked about the world. Molly is the only one that "spouts her seed to Bloom, an inversion of insemination that Bloom is unable to do. To imply that she has more power than

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Bloom makes her a strong character, but it could also just be showing off how weak he is. It may also be used to show "the fecundating powers of the goddess are neither duplication of male fertility nor threatening replacements of it"(Tucker 76). Men are still the most important part of reproduction is what it seems like Joyce is trying to say. I think that it's used to show that Bloom was a feminine man, and was weak for not being able to come in Molly. Looking back on our lives can't really help us, even if we have made some mistakes. If we fail, try again. The saying goes with the type of person that Bloom is. He is a person that will constantly look forward. He wants to be a better man so desperately that he would rather forget about his emasculating past, which he regards with disdain and looks toward a brighter future. Early on in the book when he tears up the letter it may seem like he has killed the Henry Flowers side of himself, but later we see that Flowers has just gone away for a while. He attaches Flowers and Martha to an older time that he didn't particularly seem to like. Taking the translation of his grandfather's name "Virag" the name holds the ever important letters "V-I-R" meaning man. I found it odd that an old name probably with multiple meanings, had been turned into flowers, something generally though of as being feminine and delicate. With his getting rid of the letter it could also symbolize his loss of a gentle self that care about Molly and constantly needs to be praised. Bloom knows that things will never be like they once were and understand that it would be childish to think that. Tucker says that "Bloom feels used up creatively" which we explain his lack of insight on the beach. When we look at what he is thinking, it is really just things that he has said before in different ways. He talks about metempsychosis, menstruation, a bit about homerule, and a long bit about smelling, all things that have been mentioned earlier in the novel. Nausicaa is really a chapter about growing up and moving on. Bloom is only really trying to fill a need. Joyce includes somethings in this that show Bloom and Stephen are bound to be together. One instance of this happening is when Bloom attempts to write a poem in the sand, proving that he has lost his creativity he stops after "I. Am. A." and throws the stick away. Bloom is not exactly an artist like Stephen, and as shown, he cares much more about the physical body than the soul. This chapter is all about Bloom's relaxation. And since it is the last daytime scene, how the passage of this day has gone is also quite important. Bloom also uses it to capture how difficult Bloom's day has been. There is a finiteness to life that I thin Joyce wanted us to see. His characters

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obviously have some problems that they need to work out. James H. Madoxx Jr. says that the theme in Nausicaa is that "the young grow up to repeat the lives of the old."(Madoxx 77) This is precisely what Bloom wants though, he wants a son that will grow up and continue his name. Bloom knows that he doesn't really have the best live and wants better for whomever he would call his son. Bloom has some form of wisdom, I'm not quite sure how useful it is, but he needs to give it to someone and attempt to get over the trauma of Rudy's death. Relating this to loss, Bloom has lost most of his desire to be a father. At least it seems that way considering he won't have sex with Molly, or anyone else for the matter. If Bloom and Gerty are a parody of Stephen and his birdgirl in Portrait, that would make it definitive that this is pure lust and he is not really attracted to her but more just amazed by her beauty. Richard Ellmann and Madoxx agree that "echoes from the Portrait are fairly clear", and while that is true, the effect his has on the story is minimal. Madoxx goes on to says that "parody is destructive to an extent rare in Ulysses"(Madoxx 79). Reading the chapter as a parody instead of for the story that it is really holding doesn't really help what Joyce is trying to say. He most likely used this to compare Bloom and Stephen and show that they had yet another thing in common. The chapter is supposed to show more of Bloom and it really is meant to focus on what he is like from an onlooker's perspective. He has essentially lost everything that he wanted and to me it seems like masturbating on the beach was just another thing that he could do. I want Bloom to succeed and be happy and get on with his life, I really do. But it seems like he has too many issues for that to ever happen. Bloom is a man that we are supposed to sympathize with even if he does have some quirks, we all do. The way Joyce wrote him is to show that he means well and really wants to help someone. His need for fatherhood is exactly the type of thing that Stephen is looking for. Near the end of this novel, the story goes quickly from being about loss and the things that Bloom may never have, to a story that shows two men searching for each other that finally found what they were looking for. Gerty is the ideal woman only for a few, Joyce was probably not one of those and Bloom was really just looking for anyone. Stuart Gilbert notes that "Gerty is a true Phaeacian"(Gilbert 289). She is obviously not unattractive, but for Bloom it seems like that one defect is also her downfall and prevents her from being truly beautiful. It makes Bloom seem like a bad person when it's said like that, but maybe that was intended. Bloom is

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certainly not a perfect character, his flaws are what make him who he is. Without this individuality, it would be a boring story about some guy that the reader wouldn't really care about. How Bloom behaves around women compared with how he talks about them makes him seem like he is a decent person that cares about people. That would explain why he needs a son, a person that he can mold in his own image. He wants to make something that is better than himself so he can repent for anything that he may have done in his past. Gerty is the one that we should feel sorry for, her father was a drunk, an allusion to Nausicaa's father who had a nice cellar, and liked to drink, and also because of her lame foot. One defect is apparently enough to turn all men away at this time unless they don't notice it at first. Our own lives are something that we take for granted, something that could be taken away from us at any moment, Yet Bloom and Gerty don't seem to mind. They live each day to it's extent, or at least the one day we are given they use the whole day. Life is ultimately just a precursor to death, so we ought to live and do as much as possible. Bloom falls short of this by not trying to have another son, not fighting Blazes Boylan, and not questioning Molly about what she's been doing. Masturbation and menstruation can be seen as two forms of sacrificing a life. For men, masturbation may seem like nothing, but it really is throwing away something that could have been a human. Women would probably be under more criticism seeing that they are responsible for not having a child. It's a ridiculous way of thinking yes, but this is also the way I image Bloom thinks, but never says. The idea that without sex there is only death is completely correct, and in this novel, Nausicaa is the chapter that shows just a few examples of that. The theme of death is seen many times in the story considering that Rudy, Paddy Dignam, and Stephen's mother all died. The purpose of that is to show that there is a finiteness to everything that we do. Bloom seems to have lost a lot in this novel, and that is why I see it as being a major theme. Bloom feels that he has lost his manliness by being Jewish, Rudy's death, and allowing Blazes Boylan to sleep with Molly. I see Bloom as a weak character that doesn't know what he wants. There are only a handful of reasons for wanting to write about this. James Joyce wrote this story and used multiple subtle ways to include how he felt on certain subjects. Putting these two overly self conscious people together he was showing us that sometimes it's better to just live and not worry about how we appear to others. In the end we are going to be judged the same, at least I hope so.

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Sources Used
Tucker, Lindsey Stephen and Bloom at Life's Feast: Alimentary Symbolism and the Creative Process in James Joyce's “Ulysses” Ohio State University Press, Columbus, Ohio © 1984 pg. 74-76 Brown, Richard James Joyce and Sexuality Cambridge University Press, Cambridge © 1985 pg. 54-62 Madoxx Jr., James H. Joyce's Ulysses and the Assault upon Character Rutgers University Press, New Jersey ©1978 pg 75-84 Mahaffey, Vicki. "Ulysses and the End of Gender."A Companion to James Joyce's Ulysses. 'Ed'. Margot Norris. Boston: Bedford Books, 1998. Print. Gilbert, Stuart James Joyce's Ulysses Vintage Books, New York © 1958