Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Ulysses by James Joyce-Episode I:Telemachus

I have finally decided to put together a chapter by chapter summary of one of my favourite books, Ulysses. Due to the myriad books of criticism of Joyce's work and the overwhelming nature of the text itself, I offer here only a condensed summary based on my interpretation and my reading of other critical texts. The copy of the text I quote from is The Oxford World's Classics Edition with notes by Jeri Johnson.

The novel opens with an omniscient narrator describing 'plump Buck Mulligan' as he prepares for a morning shave. The setting is a Martello Tower located in Sandycove, a few miles from Dublin. Mulligan's shaving ritual is likened to Catholic Mass with the Latin phrase 'Introibo ad altare Dei'. Then Stephen Daedalus, the same character from Joyce's previous novel A Portrait of the Artist, appears and is described as 'displeased and sleepy'. The pair then discuss the origins of Daedalus' surname, then they talk of another character, Haines who dreamt last night 'about shooting a black panther'. The dialogue here is a mixture of interior monologues and casual conversation, yet there is a metaphorical aspect behind it all. Buck announces 'a new colour for our Irish poets, snotgreen'. This perhaps hints at the increasing vulgarity of Irish poetry at the time. But there is also a greater issue in the tower, the death of Stephen's mother. Buck's aunt believes that Stephen could have saved her.
Whilst Buck is shaving he picks up a small mirror, Stephen notices a crack on it and announces 'it is as symbol of Irish art. The cracked lookinglass of the servant.' This is one of the most famous quotes from the text and pertains to the fractured existence of Ireland's servile class. Buck, however, sees it merely as a witty aphorism. However he then says on page 7: 'if you and I could only work together, we might do something for the island. Hellenise it.' This ties in with the Homeric element of the work, Joyce parodies the rich patriotism of the ancient Greeks.
The subject of the death of Stephen's mother is brought up again by Buck. Stephen then drifts into a stream of consciousness, lists of his mother's possessions and her mannerisms are described. He then visualises her ghost with the term 'ghoul, chewer of corpses'.
Buck intends to go to The Ship, a public house, where Stephen will reveal his theory of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Before this, Haines enters and sits at the table with Stephen and Buck. A milkwoman enters, she is likened to the mother of Ireland. Haines, though an Englishman, speaks better Irish than the natives and attempts to converse with the milkwoman but she thinks he is speaking French. After a brief conversation about Ireland, Buck says that he pays 'twelve quid' rent for the tower, Stephen hands him the key. Buck then sings a song called: The Ballad of Joking Jesus. The episode concludes with a conversation about two lovers, Lily and Seymour. Stephen arranges to meet Buck and Haines at The Ship at half-past twelve.

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