James Joyce was born in Dublin on February 2nd, 1882 and he was the oldest child in a financially unstable family. James Joyce was an Irish, modernist writer and poet who wrote in a ground-breaking style that was known for its complexity and explicit content. He is now known as one of the most influential authors of the 20th century. In 1904 he met Nora Barnacle who became his lifelong companion and he used the date of their first date as the day on which Joyce’s Ulysses, would be set, June 16th, 1904. He first started writing Ulysses in 1914, moved to Zurich when World War I started, and then in 1922 he published the whole novel in the form of a book in Paris. The name of the novel comes from Homer’s Odyssey (in Latin form Ulysses) opening our minds to a possible connection and similarities between the two.
In this paper, my goal is to show how two great works that were written in two very different times are connected, and how James Joyce used the Odyssey as a stepping stone to write his most famous novel. To do that, this paper is going to give standpoint on both works and give a short summary of Odyssey as well as point out many resemblances that occur through Ulysses.
Ulysses, a reconstruction of Homer’s epic The Odyssey, was James Joyce’s first epic-length novel, which at first was only supposed to be a short story as a part of Dubliners. He had already published a collection of short stories named Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, his play Exiles, and Finnegan’s wake just before his death in 1941. Ulysses is sort of a sequel of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, whose character Stephen Dedalus, appears again in Ulysses. Ulysses is still considered to be the greatest of Joyce’s literary works as the novel was written over the period of several years from 1914 to 1921, during which Joyce continued to live, work and travel with his family around Europe.
Even though with Ulysses Joyce perfected his stream-of-consciousness style and became a literary icon, the novel was banned from the United Kingdom as well as the United States for obscenity. It was not until 1934 that permission was granted to print and sell the novel in the United States and two years later it was legalized in Britain, with Ireland being the last country to lift the ban on the novel. With the novel Joyce wanted to give a detailed picture of Dublin that would stay relevant for many years to come even if Dublin ‘disappears’, but after so many years have passed only few of the landmarks can still be found, such as the Martello tower (now a James Joyce museum) and the Davy Byrne’s pub.
Intertextuality suggests that the meaning of one literary text can be understood in relation to other literary text for example in structure, themes, imagery and so forth. Intertextuality in Ulysses refers to the connection which is found between Joyce`s novel and the ancient work of Homer, the Odyssey. (Graham, 2011)
The Odyssey, written by Homer near the end of the eighth century BC is a sequel to Homer’s Iliad whose main character is Odysseus (Ulysses in Roman myths) and it centers on his journey from Troy to his home in Ithaca after ten years. The Greek hero, Odysseus, after the fall of Troy was captured by the nymph Calypso and wasn’t able to return to his wife Penelope and son Telemachus and was presumed to be dead. Their son even though young, he kept his mother safe. Penelope had a lot of suitors but she remained faithful to her husband. With the help of gods, Odysseus returned home disguised as a beggar trying to win back his wife, with the help of their son. With only one task that Penelope gave the suitors, she recognized her husband and reunited with him. Odysseus and Telemachus later kill all the suitors together.
Ulysses is divided into three main parts with eighteen episodes altogether. Each of the eighteen episodes of Ulysses corresponds to a different adventure from the Odyssey, and each character in Ulysses seems to have its own ‘replica’ in the Odyssey. The three big correlations are considered to be, Leopold Bloom to Ulysses only not as a hero but as an ordinary man, Stephen Dedalus portraying as a son figure to Bloom similar to Ulysses’ son Telemachus, and Molly to Ulysses’ wife Penelope, only not as in love with her husband and with many problems in their relationship.
Bloom is certainly not a hero like Ulysses, he is a middle-aged Jew traveling around Dublin for his advertisement career. He runs errands Molly is supposed to do and prepares breakfast while she sleeps. He is unsure of his thoughts, his marriage and has a mind filled with sexual fantasies. And while he is the focus of the novel, in the first episode Telemachus we see that the hero in this novel is young Stephen Dedalus who is a central character in the first three episodes and Bloom sees him as his son. Bloom sees Stephen as a vulnerable intoxicated person, he takes care of him after he passes out and he sees a window of opportunity to bond with Stephen. After the loss of his mother, Stephan says that a mother’s love is probably the only true thing in life, pointing us to the similarity with Telemachus and his love for his mother.
We get to know Bloom’s wife Molly from her point of view in the final episode of Ulysses. Molly, a singer, unlike Penelope, is being unfaithful to her husband with her co-worker, making her look like an unsympathetic adulteress. But Bloom still adores her, considers her to be a wonderful singer. In the episode Calypso, Molly embodies the nymph named Calypso that has captured Ulysses, by holding her husband ‘a prisoner’ in their marriage while she cheats on him. In the final chapter of Ulysses Penelope, we get to know Molly’s inner thoughts and understand that she does love Bloom, no matter what is going on in their marriage.
Also, in the episode Circle, the similarity is found between Bloom’s potato and Ulysses talisman that keeps him from falling under the witches spell. Bloom’s potato is an inheritance from Ellen, his mother, but also it’s a connection to his home country Ireland. In the chapter Hades where Bloom goes to Dignam’s funeral where we see Bloom as a Jewish outsider in mostly Catholic society. With that we can draw the parallel with Ulysses’ visit to the Hades, the land of the dead where he makes offerings to the Circle who later discuss his destiny. In the episode Eumaeus we meet a sailor Murphy. The stories W. B. Murphy tells about his travels around the world while he sails make him sound a lot like Ulysses but Bloom highly doubts his stories and believes that they are false.
We can also see religious parallels, in Odyssey characters pray to various gods and mystical creatures, while in Ulysses we see mostly Catholic religion and Stephan’s detachment from it, he believes that God is all around us which dissociates him from the community.
The differences between the modernist novel Ulysses and the ancient Odyssey refer obviously to the time the plot is set at and mythological parts, and also mainly to settings, while in Homer`s work the setting in not very specific and it shifts, in Ulysses the whole action is set in Dublin, a boring gray city where Bloom takes a walk. Also, Ulysses’ journey lasts ten years, and in Joyce’s novel the journey lasts only eighteen and a half hours.
Some of the episodes that were not stated earlier but still have a connection with Odyssey are for example Nestor and Sirens. In the episode Nestor, named by a wise man advising the Greek army, Stephan meets the headmaster Deasy whom Joyce uses to parody the Odyssey because Deasy was far from wise. In Sirens, while having dinner Bloom meets several beautiful waitresses who are embodying the sirens we encounter in Odyssey.
In conclusion, it is very apparent that Ulysses reflects Homer’s Odyssey. Not only by the way Joyce named his novel, but also with the way he named each episode making it very clear which character or event is similar to the one from Odyssey., The plot of Ulysses and Odyssey shows life as a journey. Joyce used Odyssey’s structure as the foundation for his novel as well as some of the events. By naming his novel Ulysses, Joyce wanted to show that not only heroes can do heroic acts but also ordinary people in their everyday life, demonstrating that all people are worthy to be written about. Joyce’s novel Ulysses shows the adventures of a common man as well as the journey of his mind. Even though he is not liked by all and many consider his novel to be a bore and difficult to read until the very end, James Joyce continues to influence all writers who strive to write about the ordinary, common people.