Want a simple take-home theme from Ulysses? Love matters. Yet throughout the book, characters struggle with problems related to love. At the end of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus's mother prays that he will learn that word known to all men (i.e., love). In Ulysses, brilliant as the young artist is, he still finds himself incapable of loving, perhaps held back by the need to understand love in an intellectual sense. Leopold Bloom knows the importance of love, but over the course of the book we find just what a risk there is of love falling into sentimentality or easy infatuation: how do you preach love without sounding like naïve? And the other big question the book poses is: how does love relate to sexuality (we'll get into this more in the sexuality section)?
Questions About Love
- How do Stephen's attempts to understand or justify the idea of love prevent him from ever being able to feel love?
- Does Bloom's message of universal love come across as serious or sentimental? Is it possible to preach love without being sentimental? Does it depend on your audience?
- Look again at the thoughts of Gerty MacDowell and Molly Bloom. Is there a fundamental difference between the way women think of love in this novel and the way that men do? Is there a difference between Gerty's and Molly's views on love?
- What is the relationship between love and sex that comes out of this novel? What about the relationship between love and passion?
Chew on This
The female characters in Ulysses tend to think of love on a personal level, as something one feels, whereas the men in the novel think of love as an idea to be either supported or refuted.
As Bloom attempts to come to terms with his wife's affair, the novel begins to present mature love not just as a form of activity, but also a form of passivity.