In Books 7 and 8 of the Odyssey, Odysseus is entertained by King Alcinous at Scheria. Odysseus tells Alcinous about the early years of his voyage back from Troy. Shortly after departing for home, he and his men were stranded on the land of the Lotus Eaters by a storm. When some of his men ate the lotus, they longed to stay on the island forever. Odysseus had to herd the drugged men back onto the ship and push off himself.
The idea of the lotus, a sort of lazy drugged mindlessness, runs all through this chapter. Bloom is killing time before Dignam's funeral at 11am. He is largely idle, running small time errands for himself and Molly, and sitting in at the back of the Church ceremony. This is the first time we get a whole chapter of Bloom alone. In contrast to Stephen's hyperactive thoughts in "Proteus," a lot of Bloom's thoughts are pretty simple and ordinary (probably much more like our own). The episode opens with him thinking about idleness in the East, and the idea is omnipresent in the next fifteen or so pages. It's undisciplined thinking, street-wandering grogginess.
In this chapter, we also learn that Bloom is carrying on a dirty correspondence with Martha Clifford under the pseudonym of Henry Flower. Whereas in "Calypso," Bloom seems nothing but the cuckolded husband, we here notice that he has something of an active role in the distance that has arisen between him and Molly. Yet whereas Molly is actually having an affair, Bloom's affair exists entirely in words. Martha wants to meet, but he knows that they never actually will. Sex is something that Bloom always keeps at arm's length. His fantasies are all in his head, and he chooses not to act on them.
Considering that this is the chapter where we learn about Bloom's own correspondence, it would seem that he isn't spending too much time thinking about Molly. But if you look closely she crops up everywhere. In "Calypso," we learn a bit about Molly's childhood in Gibraltar and her stern father Major Tweedy. Bloom's thoughts on the Far East are often entangled with his idea of Molly's childhood as exotic. When he is in All Hallows church, he thinks of Molly singing Stabat Mater and wonders that he couldn't get her into the church choir. Contrasting the scentless flower of Martha, we have Martha's request to know what kind of perfume Molly wears. Then, at the chemist's, we learn much more about Molly's sensuousness as Bloom tries to recall the recipe for her lotion. Whereas Martha just exists in her letters, Molly is very real to Bloom and he can't stop thinking about her.
Now let's return to how the Far East functions in this chapter. The East is something that is unknown and exciting to Bloom. We mentioned that he associates it with Molly's exotic childhood in Gibraltar. Now let's consider how this relationship works in a bit more detail because it's a cool example of how association functions in Joyce's free stream-of-consciousness style. The Molly – Far East connection is an example of how Bloom's temporal thinking (his thoughts about Molly's childhood) gets mixed up with his spatial thinking (Europe versus the Far East). To a certain extent, Bloom maps Molly's past onto the Far East. As a result, in the free play of his mind, time and space get confused.
There is also an event that is hinted at briefly in the chapter and that we'll just point out because it's easy to miss. When Bloom sees the advertisement for Leah and begins thinking of the lead actress, Kate Bateman, he recalls discussing the play with his father. When Bloom pities his father and thinks that he might have been better off, what he is alluding to is his father's suicide in 1886. There will be other allusions to the suicide later in the book, but we suddenly get a glimpse of Bloom as a man very much alone – a man whose father and his son both died prematurely.
Now, let's think back to "Proteus" and to Portrait for a moment. In both we got a sense of how obsessed with religion Stephen was, even as he renounced it. In "Lotus Eaters," we get a new perspective on Catholicism: that of the outsider, the Jewish man. Stephen's thoughts on religion are serious and heart-felt even if they are heretical. Mulligan's are light-hearted and outright blasphemous. While some of Bloom's thoughts are as heretical as Stephen's and as silly as Mulligan's, we can tell that his intentions are different; he's just incredibly curious. When Bloom wonders why they don't use Guinness instead of wine and then thinks of confession as "God's little joke," he's just trying to get a handle on rituals that he honestly does not understand (5.99). Because of the fact that Bloom is an outsider, his relation to the service is largely an aesthetic one. He can enjoy the music and admire the priest's frocks without struggling with the beliefs the way that Stephen does.