Ulysses
Ulysses
by James Joyce
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Ulysses Eumaeus Analysis Summary

So, there's this thing about epic heroes like Odysseus: they don't exist. Duh, right? Except here's the catch: epic heroes are held up as model men. Meaning that we are supposed to try to be like them, and maybe if we imitate their behavior closely enough we can be model men too. But what happens when you're stuck here in reality trying to make yourself a good person by aspiring to an ideal man that actually only exists in fiction. Not fair, right? Think of it this way. Your older brother Donnie constantly steals cookies from the cookie jar and sneaks out at night, but he manages to tell a bunch of little white lies to your parents that'll make him seem like an angel. Plus Donnie's the coolest kid in school because he constantly tells everyone about the crazy adventures he's had on the weekends all of which are completely made up. And everyone's saying to you, "C'mon (You), why can't you be more like Donnie?' It'd drive you crazy, yeah? Well, Homer's Odysseus is a lot like your older brother Donnie: he's not the guy people think he is.

What's that have to do with "Eumaeus?" Well, in 'Eumaeus' we meet a character that at first glance bears a much closer similarity to Odysseus than our hero, Leopold Bloom, does. Almost as soon as Leopold and Stephen sit down in the cabmen's shelter, W.B. Murphy wanders over and starts telling them all sorts of tall tales about his adventures at sea. His wife (he assumes) has been waiting patiently by the window for him ever since he left, and (once he finishes drinking) he's going to go home and see her. Bloom thinks that Murphy is not telling the truth, which seems all but confirmed when he can't remember whether or not he passed the Rock of Gibraltar (since he would've had to pass through the Bospurus to reach many of the place he claims to have been). What Joyce seems to be doing is tempting us to abandon the real Odysseus (Bloom) for the fraud (Murphy). It's like he's checking to see if we recognize the modern hero Joyce has given us when he's pitted against an imposter.

The reader's temptation actually fits in quite nicely with Books 13 through 16 in the Odyssey, where Odysseus returns home to Ithaca. Odysseus doesn't exactly rush into Penelope's arms because he has heard what happened to Agamemnon (he was killed by his wife and her new lover). With the help of the goddess Athena, Odysseus enters Ithaca disguised as an old man. He goes to the hut of his swineherd Eumaeus, who Athena tells him is the most faithful man on his estate. Eumaeus takes him in and is kind and hospitable. A few days later, Telemachus comes to the hut. Odysseus tests his son's loyalty before revealing himself, and the two of them plan how they can approach the besieged house together.

Here, the new correlation (we already have Bloom as Odysseus and Stephen as Telemachus) is that the keeper of the cabmen's shelter is supposed to be like Eumaeus, offering shelter and solace to the two men. But the reader is put in a position not too different from that of Eumaeus or Telemachus. He has to see if he can recognize the real Odysseus amongst frauds and imposters. Here we are mainly talking about W.B. Murphy, but you'll also notice that the keeper may or may not be Skin-the-Goat Fitzharris and the man at the bar may or may not be Henry Campbell. At 1am on June 17, identity's become slippery and hard to pin down.

But who cares because Bloom and Stephen are united. Surrogate father and surrogate son, together at last. Well yes, be happy, but notice that as usual there's something of a catch. Joyce was weary of the dangers and pitfalls of sentimentality, of trying to convey strong emotions not actually justified by the situation at hand (come to think of it, sentimentality itself could be something of a 'false suitor' in this chapter). So, how does he undercut sentimentality? Well for one thing Bloom and Stephen don't exactly get along like two peas in a pod. When Bloom presents his vision for a new commonwealth in Ireland, Stephen becomes cross because a) he thinks it's foolish and b) he thinks that Bloom is condescending to artists and literary men. The other disagreements are more minor, but we constantly see Bloom trying too hard and not really understanding much about the man before him. For example, Bloom thinks that he has an affinity with Stephen but he bases this on the fact that he was politically involved when he was young; he doesn't understand that Stephen is extremely apolitical. Similarly, when Bloom hears Stephen's voice he immediately thinks of the profit to be gained by it and the corresponding high social status that would be awarded to Stephen. Stephen, quite clearly, does not care about any of those things.

Bloom's over-eagerness and attempt to sound educated and wise in order to impress Stephen comes through strongly in the over-all style of the chapter, which is filled with clichés and catch phrases from start to finish. You might miss this on the first pass, but if you really focus on it, the chapter itself reads like a writer that, like Bloom, is trying way too hard. But let's not be too tough on Bloom. In "Lestrygonians," we talked about how the prose becomes sluggish because Bloom's tired and hungry, and now it is, after all, 1am. Bloom's had a long day and even the best among us probably wouldn't be at our most eloquent at 1am after a draining experience in the red light district.

As a last point, let's turn back to the idea of the hero, but this time through the story of Charles Stewart Parnell. (Check out Parnell's "Character Analysis" to find out more about him.) The keeper begins with the rumor that Parnell is not actually dead, but is just lying in wait to make his return to Ireland. Bloom then begins thinking about Parnell, remembering a time that Parnell's hat came off at a rally and he gave it back to him. Significantly, Bloom sympathizes with Parnell despite the fact that he was having an affair with Katherine O'Shea. Why is this significant? Because Bloom has been cuckolded (term for a husband who is cheated on by his wife) this very day and yet he still finds it in him to take Parnell's side. Part of the reason might be good old-fashioned masochism, but more likely Bloom prefers to associate himself with the Irish patriot and not the lame husband (remember that in "Circe" Bloom fantasizes that Charles Stewart's brother says Bloom is the greatest Irishman since Parnell).

Now Parnell, in contrast to Odysseus, was known as a flawed public hero, a tarnished figure. In 1904, thirteen years after his death, people were still gossiping about him and what happened to him. Gossip, of course, doesn't have to be unequivocally bad. For one thing, it expresses interest (if not admiration), and has at times been compared to social grooming, like cats licking one another to increase a sense of community. Parnell had become an Irish mythic hero, but in contrast to Odysseus, he was a real and therefore imperfect hero, as much in the realm of Mr. Leopold Bloom as he was in the realm of the Greeks.

Next Page: Episode 17: Ithaca
Previous Page: Episode 16: Eumaeus

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