Study Guide

Ulysses the Squirrel in Flora and Ulysses

By Kate DiCamillo

Ulysses the Squirrel

More than anyone else in the book, Ulysses goes through an unexpected journey. He starts out as a hungry squirrel with no thoughts other than food and filling his belly, but pretty soon, he's writing poetry, flying through diners, and saving people from nasty cats. And that, Shmoopers, is what we call a radical transformation.

Life Stinks

When Ulysses is vacuumed up, everyone fears the worst, but he makes a quick recovery thanks to Flora's CPR and voice guiding him back. As if surviving being vacuumed wasn't enough, though, when he comes to, he realizes being sucked up by Tootie's machine somehow endowed him with super powers. It sounds like a pretty cool experience all around:

He wasn't sure what, exactly, he was agreeing to, but it didn't matter. He was just so happy. He was floating in a great lake of light, and the voice was singing to him. Oh, it was wonderful. It was the best thing ever. (5.8)

No spider bites or dead parents cause Ulysses's heroic transformation—just a dreamy swirl through a vacuum cleaner. Pretty painless, right? And just like that, Ulysses's days of being chased by raccoons and kids with BB guns are over; now he's got a warm bed and plenty of cheese puffs anytime he wants.

Of course, it's not all a stroll down Easy Street, and Flora's mom turns out to be his arch-nemesis, but still, Ulysses takes it all in stride, fighting back and proving that he's tough and brave, even though he's a little squirrel.

Squirrel Love

Just because he's a fighter, though, doesn't mean he's not a lover. One of the main ways he lets his love shine through is by writing mushy poems for Flora, the girl who saved him. When he first sits down at the computer, he writes, "I am. Ulysses. Born anew" (14.21), which is pretty much the understatement of the century considering what happened to him. And since Flora's the one who helped him be reborn, before long, he's writing her poems all about how special she is.
The final poem he writes her goes like this:

Words for Flora 
Nothing
would be
easier wi
thout
you,
because you
are
everything,
all of it—
sprinkles, quarks, giant
donuts, eggs sunny-side up—
you
are the ever-expanding
universe
to me.
(epi.1)

It's super sweet to think about how much this little guy cares for Flora, not only because she saved him when he was vacuumed, but also because she really cares for him. She is the first to believe in his superhero status, and continues believing in him when no one else does, going to bat time and again to fight for his safety and acceptance.

Superhero or Zero?

Just because the little guy writes poetry doesn't mean everyone's a believer. And we're not just talking about Flora's mom, who sees a mangy rodent instead of a fuzzy gray superhero when she looks at Ulysses, typing skills or not. Though Flora is quick to believe the little guy is straight out of one of her superhero comics, William's not so sure, and he doesn't even budge when he hears that Ulysses can fly. Check it out:

"It's not that shocking," said William Spiver. "There are flying squirrels, you know. They exist." (47.15)

Hmm… makes us wonder whether Ulysses is a superhero at all. Don't get us wrong—we love the fact that he can write poetry and fight off nasty cats, but we can't help but wonder whether he's a superhero if he doesn't fight crime. Ulysses isn't exactly saving Gotham City, you know? Arguably the biggest save Ulysses makes is he thaws Flora's cynical little heart. And while that might make him a hero in her eyes, it doesn't necessarily make him a true blue superhero. So we'll end with a question, Shmoopers: What do you think? Is Ulysses a superhero?