Ulysses is a novel by James Joyce, which was published in 1922. This work of classic 20th century Irish literature is known as the Bible of Modernism, and it became a unique phenomenon in the history of the English-language novel. The theme of the novel is one day from the life of Dublin, namely, June 16, 1904. This paper aims to provide a literary analysis of the mentioned novel, focusing on its stream of consciousness, the endlessness of the day, and modernism. Although Joyce refers to the stream of consciousness to narrate his story, which can be difficult to read, Ulysses is an expression of the 20th century and the most remarkable modernist literary work.
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Endless Day, Stream of Consciousness, and Modernism
Joyce undertook an attempt to create an epic like Homer’s Odyssey, which is quite rare in modern literature. Odysseus is a Roman name of Ulysses, who was the first of the ancient heroes having not only physical strength but also intelligence and various skills. Homer’s Odysseus is shown in all the life roles that a person can have: he is a son, husband, lover, father, leader, beggar, and diplomat. In other words, Odyssey concentrated all the fullness of life experience, and Joyce created such a universal person, Leopold Bloom, the main character of the novel (Schwarz 42). Bloom’s wife, Marion, or Molly, is the modern Penelope, and the young hero of the novel, Stephen Daedalus, is a parallel to Telemachus, Odysseus’s son.
Each of the three key characters of Ulysses has its line, themes, and motives. For example, intellectual characteristics are represented in Stephen. He is well-educated as the vastness of his knowledge is conveyed in a complex stream of his consciousness, including elements from the texts of Shakespeare, Virgil, Aristotle, Homer, and other prominent authors. Stephen’s speech involves historical names, and the stream of his thoughts includes words in many languages, such as Latin, French, Greek, Italian, Spanish, and German. Bloom’s line is designed in a different style: the details of an everyday character prevail as something vital, material, and quite real is important (Thurston 8). This unsophisticated bourgeois is sympathetic and kind, which is evident through his priorities. He is attached to his family, grieves the loss of his son, readily helps people, and suffers from Marion’s betrayal.
In Ulysses, Joyce seems to set the task of showing life in a way that no one else did, namely, to make the day endless. The triumph of life, the originally earthly essence of a person, is affirmed in the inner monologue of Marion, which concludes the novel. These 40 pages that are not separated by punctuation marks compose a rushing stream of memories, associations, and interrupting thoughts (Travis 935). It is a synthesis and, at the same time, the most powerful manifestation of the essence of the novel. The allusion to the myth as a repository of the universal properties of human nature gives integrity to Ulysses. Due to the stream of consciousness method, the reader knows not only more about Joyce’s heroes than about any other heroes of world literature but learns about them more intimately and directly.
The difficulty is that the novel is written in a specific language. The author describes the stream of consciousness of each character. Moreover, not only the main characters but all those whom they meet during this day are presented through the mentioned method. Sometimes, there are not enough punctuation marks, and readers can be lost in who the thoughts belonged to. Time after time, it can be necessary to return to the beginning to track this flow again. Nevertheless, the maelstrom of thoughts often constantly leads to confusion and misunderstanding. Despite the difficulty of reading, the stream of consciousness provides some advantages.
The stream of consciousness allows fixing the conscious and articulated thoughts of the character. Joyce reaches a new level of psychological certainty when he shows interruptions in the work of human thought, its associativity, as well as the role of external impressions (Weir 78). In the morning, while the consciousness of his characters is not yet loaded with accumulations during the day impressions, they think quite clearly, use complete sentences, and seem to be relatively logical. As their day unfolds, consciousness gets more tired, it has less formal logic and more individual, bizarre moves (Müller 25). Accordingly, the author’s method of narration translates the emotions and feelings of the characters and the relationships between them.
One of the modernism features of Joyce’s narration is its democratic nature. The author rejects the hierarchy of genres and the barrier between the so-called high and low literature. The artist willingly used the elements of poetics and stylistics of popular genres, including adventurous, sentimental, ladies’ literature, and so on. The techniques of the detective genre also play a constructive role in Ulysses. To a certain extent, they are close to the stream of consciousness writing since they also include deliberate ambiguity of expression. However, in the novel, these elements are part of a clear, formalized system of “the game”, the purpose of which is to grab attention, raising and maintaining the tension of the story. The main technique is to pose unanswered questions to the reader. In other words, the author seems to be intending to delay information. In Ulysses, this is a common and constant technique, and the author rarely communicates information as soon as he awakens the reader’s need for it.
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Most often, hidden information is communicated in metered and widely spaced portions. Each next chapter is written in a peculiar style, or, rather, with a predominance of a different style. The entire stylistic variety of the novel can be divided into three groups: original writing, stream of consciousness, and parodies (Cuthbert 132). These stylistic experiments allow Joyce not only to create the uniqueness of each episode but also to portray his characters in a deeper, versatile manner. In addition, the diversity of Joyce’s techniques is a reflection of the searches of most artists of the era of modernism, a reflection of the tragic perception of reality, a deep understanding of the complex world of a person.
To conclude, Ulysses is a specific novel that is written in the stream of consciousness style to reflect the internal and external environment of its characters. The content of the novel and its compositional construction have explicit and implicit analogies with Homer’s poem, Odyssey. The depiction of the endless, but quite ordinary day of Bloom leads the reader to the idea that human life and the characters of both the Homeric era and modern Ireland are similar. The readers can note that there is an eternal repetition, though with a reduced meaning. While the novel can be difficult to read, its labyrinth of themes, ideas, interactions, emotions, and actions reflects psychological processes that show life as it is.
Cuthbert, Adam James. James Joyce and the Arts. Brill Rodopi, 2020.
Müller, Wolfgang G. “From Homer’s Odyssey to Joyce’s Ulysses: Theory and practice of an ethical narratology.” Arcadia, vol. 50, no. 1, 2015, pp. 9-36.
Schwarz, Daniel R. Reading Joyce’s Ulysses. Springer, 2016.
Thurston, Luke. “Unclean Stream: Representing Selfhood in Joyce and Lewis.” Literature Compass, vol. 17, no. 6, 2020, pp. 1-10.
Travis, Charles. “Visual Geo-Literary and Historical Analysis, Tweetflickrtubing, and James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922).” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 105, no. 5, 2015, pp 927-950.
Weir, David. Ulysses Explained: How Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare Inform Joyce’s Modernist Vision. Springer, 2015.