by James Joyce
Ulysses Calypso Analysis Summary
Please allow us to introduce you to our hero, Mr. Leopold Bloom. Mr. Bloom is a middle-aged Jewish man living at 7 Eccles Street in northwest Dublin. He is married to a beautiful singer, Mrs. Marion Bloom, who he strongly suspects is having an affair with one of her singing partners, Mr. Blazes Boylan. He has one fifteen year old daughter named Milly Bloom on whom he dotes and who is living away from home for the first time this summer, trying to start a career in the photo business. And he had a son Rudy, who died when he was young, and would be eleven if he were still alive. This is the first thing to note about Calypso: this episode marks our introduction to Leopold Bloom. His name means "the people's prince," he is our everyman, and the Ulysses figure of this particular narrative.
There are a couple things worth keying into with regard to this section. First, it begins (famously), "Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls" (4.1). Throughout the chapter, we see that Leopold has an enormous appetite. We might also observe that his appetite might outweigh the customs of his religion, as he has a craving for a pork kidney, which isn't kosher. You'll recall how in "Proteus," Stephen's thoughts are so abstract and intellectual that it's only about half-way through the episode that we really get a sense of Stephen on the beach, walking up and down Sandymount Strand.
In contrast to Stephen, Bloom is a corporal, i.e. bodily man. He has a voracious appetite; he eyes his neighbor's daughter in line at the butcher's and tries to hurry through his purchase so he can catch up to her and get another look at her backside. The chapter closes with Bloom going out to the outhouse and quite graphically going to the bathroom. (It's worth noting that this scene was the one that was most responsible for the uproar surrounding Ulysses when it was released). Bloom is very much a man in the world.
Now, in Book 5 of the Odyssey, Odysseus is trapped on the island of the goddess Calypso. (A fun little aside is that Calypso's island is named Ogygia, which is sometimes translated as "the navel of the sea," which plays into Stephen's whole idea about there being an umbilical cord that runs through time and binds all of humanity together.) Athena begs the god Zeus to intercede on behalf of Odysseus, and as a result he sends Hermes to the island to tell the goddess to free Odysseus. At this point, Odysseus has been on her island for seven years. Shortly after she lets him go, Poseidon stirs up a storm to hinder Odysseus's voyage, but Athena calms it and gives him "the gift of self-possession."
What on earth does this have to do with a middle-aged Jewish man preparing breakfast for his wife? There are a couple correlations that Joyce noted down. One is the fact that Molly and Leopold have The Bath of the Nymph painting over their bed, a painting in which Calypso would have been a central figure. Looking at Molly in bed, Leopold compares her to the goddess in the painting. Molly is the Penelope figure in Joyce's book – Leopold's earthly wife. Though Leopold loves his wife, he can't help but occasionally get wrapped up with the beauty of other women, whether it be the goddess in the painting or his neighbor's daughter at the butcher shop.
There might also be a rough correlation between the storm that Poseidon stirs up in the Odyssey, and the emotional turmoil that Leopold experiences as he thinks of the fate of the Jews as they are sent wandering aimlessly around Europe. Leopold's Jewishness is another thing that is emphasized throughout the chapter. He is aware of how Jewish persecution is extremely common at the turn-of-the-century, and when he reads the ads about a Zionist colony being set up in Turkey, the idea of it becomes for him a sort of Ithaca: a promise of home and peace.
Of course, there is another emotional storm that Leopold is attempting to suppress, which is the fact that he thinks his wife is having an affair. He briefly considers this while he eats his breakfast, but quickly casts it out of his head. He remains calm and "self-possessed." We'll learn much more about this affair and what led to it later on in the book, but "Calypso" is the first place that we catch a glimpse of it.
A point to end on: While Stephen's stream-of-consciousness can be dazzling it is also rather heady and intellectual. Bloom may not be a budding literary genius, but he does have a brilliant imagination. His thoughts are often playful and childlike in contrast to Stephen's. For example, he thinks that if one were to travel around the world in front of the sun constantly, then one would "never grow a day older technically" (4.28). At another point, he recalls a time when he jotted down everything Molly said to him as she got dressed and the different times that she spoke to him. There's one way for a hen-pecked husband to stay entertained. As you move through Bloom's stream-of-consciousness try to pick up on these fun little flights of fancy, and it'll make the book that much more enjoyable.