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Themes

Leopold Bloom, the main character in Ulysses, is an Irishman. But in 1904 Dublin there are a lot of people that would not have thought so. The reason is that Bloom is also a Jew, and Jews were looked on as being somehow different – a separate (and inferior) race. The fact that Joyce makes the hero of his great Irish novel a Jew is a case of him stirring up a fuss. There's no doubt that he enjoyed driving Irishmen mad, but he's also challenging the prejudices of the time. Anti-Semitism was common throughout Europe, and Ireland was no exception. Throughout the novel, other characters speak disparagingly of Jews and Bloom does his best to stand up for them. It seems that Joyce already had a scent of the horrible prejudice that would become infamous world-round in World War II, with one of the most awful human rights disasters in the history of humanity.

Questions About Prejudice

  1. Both Haines and Deasy seem to have a view of history that suggests it is beyond the control of any one individual. Who is responsible for the injustices of history if it is outside of human control?
  2. How does your view of prejudice change when you see the roots of the characters' prejudices? Why is prejudice such an easy trap to fall into when one is actually motivated by a number of complex personal feelings? How can one denounce someone's prejudice while simultaneously empathizing with that person's perspective?
  3. What are some of the different ways that Leopold Bloom opposes prejudice in the novel – both explicit and implicit? What are the pros and cons of the different approaches to fighting prejudice? Is one more effective than the other?
  4. Is there any character in the novel that seems to be above prejudice? If so, who? How do they stay above it? If not, how are some of the least prejudicial characters still hemmed in by it?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In the novel, many characters think of themselves as objects of history – history happens to them and they cannot control it. Throughout Ulysses, this view leads to prejudice and narrow-mindedness. It is only when Stephen imagines himself as an agent of history that prejudice begins to subside.

In "Cyclops," Bloom's impossible position comes to light, and the two-heads of the prejudicial chimera can clearly be seen. First, if Bloom lets the men's prejudice pass uncommented, they will think him a coward and it will confirm their biases. Second, if Bloom actively opposes their prejudice, then they will become defensive and feel that his opposition merely confirms their preconceptions.

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