I recently read Ulysses and was utterly blown away by what a novel can actually do for a reader. I found that since reading it I've gained a new found confidence in myself and have since started on an exploration of consciousness, mindfulness, and how our brains function.
Somebody had once told me that Ulysses was ultimately about the nature of being. This phrase sounded to me as boring as one could get, but now, it's how I try to live my life. Joyce's narrative style of jumping directly into his character's stream of consciousness makes the reader aware of how we can get lost in our thoughts and how antagonizing this can be. This is especially true for Stephen (Joyce's young alter ego), who knows an awful lot about an awful lot, but still seems to have so many questions. This makes the book quite difficult to read, especially in the third chapter, where Stephen walks along the beach and grapples with philosophical ideas such as; Aristotle's ineluctable modality of the visible - a theory that our eyes limit our knowledge of a thing (A theme that will play over and over throughout the book). By taking you inside the head of a genius, Joyce hints at our limited knowledge of our own existence. Stephen pines over the past and his dead mother and wonders about the future and what his masterpiece will be.
Bloom (Joyce's older alter ego) however, is a much more rational thinker. His thoughts are very much centered around the task at hand. He does ponder about profound ideas like Stephen, but never dwells on them for too long. This juxtaposition between characters states of being seems to me to be the very characteristic of mindfulness. Bloom is in love and has centered his life around it, whereas, Stephen is beginning to realize the worthlessness of the intellect in the absence of love.
Another idea, set up early, is that of the atonement of father and son, a prominent theme in the story preached by the Roman Catholic church, and also what appears to be the basis of Joseph Campbell's career in mythology. Joyce takes the idea of father, that of earthly wisdom and learned experience, and son, abstract philosophical query and unbound consciousness, to be atoned through the holy spirit, or, balanced by their shared wisdom. This could be seen as a left/right brain atonement also, since our evolution thus far has given priority to the left hemisphere and yielded the right mostly unused.
It seems to me that Joyce is trying to show us that the point of our lives is to achieve love, but one thing which makes it so difficult is mans dissatisfaction with his ability to create life. He feels he must prove himself intellectually and pass on his minds worth through literature and thus searching for a lasting manifestation of himself. Although Bloom has a child, Milly, she is very much her mothers daughter. He loves her dearly, and because they lost their only son Rudy, he longs for a son. I imagine the passing on of wisdom from a father to his son is probably the most valuable experience that a man can have. Maybe it could be compared psychologically with the experience of childbirth from a woman's perspective. Stephen will become a surrogate for Bloom, and since Stephen has a poor relationship with his own father, Bloom will do likewise for Stephen.
It's well known that Nora Barnacle, Joyce's wife, was the inspiration for Molly Bloom, and that she, had often teased him in front of friends by remarking that he knows nothing about a woman. Throughout the novel Joyce plays with the idea of form versus substance, by constantly changing his style, or form, of writing, he shows the reader that whatever the subject matter, it will always be effected by form. This constant changing of prose is another reason that the book is so difficult to read, but it is vital to the conclusion.
Using a bias of narration told almost completely through the male's perspective, Joyce makes the male reader aware of all his insecurities and weaknesses of virtue. By parodying the Odyssey, he exposes the heroic version of himself that man has created in his history of literature. Rather than slaying his enemies at the end, Bloom forgives them. He thinks rationally about the situation and decides that it's natural for a woman to be adulterous when compared with the many other horrible things people do to each other, and, that he has been less than a perfect husband himself. He thinks they must provide a secure parental model for Milly and that he truly loves Molly and will move on. He goes to sleep and the odyssey ends.
It's in the last chapter where Joyce really shows generosity with his artistic expression. He writes exclusively from the perspective of Molly, a woman, and fails miserably! After writing with such validity, the different perspectives of many different male characters, he seemingly butchers the perspective of the female, by having her think only about flowers, food and sex. He does it earlier in the novel, with Gertie, by making the prose seem overly romantic and wishy washy. With Molly, he even goes so far as to write the whole chapter without any grammar at all, making it seven long sentences, probably an inside joke of how he poked fun at his wife's poor use of grammar. Earlier, Bloom also thinks of ways to help his wife improve her knowledge of the English language. This is a powerful and personal conclusion to the theme of the parallax, set up earlier in the novel.
I feel like there are certain convictions about Joyce's writings, that he was overly intellectual and convoluted, but these notions may be coming from people who gave up reading for this very reason. The way Joyce uses language in Ulysses is always important to the overall theme he is divulging, and, that at it's heart, Ulysses is a simple story about love. It is by far, the greatest story I've ever experienced, although I haven't read Finnegan's wake yet, so I may have spoke too soon!
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