Study Guide

Ulysses Freedom and Confinement

By James Joyce

Freedom and Confinement

"Yes, of course," [Mulligan] said, as they went on again. "Either you believe or you don't, isn't it? Personally I couldn't stomach that idea of a personal God. You don't stand for that, I suppose?"

"You behold in me," Stephen said with grim displeasure, "a horrible example of free thought." (1.294-295)

What is Haines misunderstanding here? Stephen also has trouble stomaching the idea of a personal God, but what is the difference between his free-thinking and that of Haines and Mulligan? Why does Stephen have so much trouble with the idea of being a free thinker? What personal cares and connections does he have that the other two lack?

"After all, I should think you are able to free yourself. You are your own master, it seems to me.

I am the servant of two masters," Stephen said, "an English and an Italian." (1.299-300)

In "Telemachus," Haines is trying to understand why Stephen feels so oppressed. Here, Stephen refers to English oppression and the Roman Catholic Church (the "Italian" masters). Both were extremely dominant in Dublin life, but why should a free thinker like Stephen still feel that they are his masters? Educated as he is, couldn't he just break from their influence?

"History," Stephen said, "is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." (2.158)

What control does one have over one's actions in dreams and nightmares? Why would Irish history seem like a nightmare to Stephen? How, as an individual, might he awaken from the history of his nation?

Reading two pages apiece of seven books every night, eh? I was young. You bowed to yourself in the mirror, stepping forward to applause earnestly, striking face. Hurray for the God-damned idiot! Hray! No-one saw: tell no-one. Books you were going to write with letters for titles. Have you read his F? O yes, but I prefer Q. Yes, but W is wonderful. O yes, W. Remember your epiphanies on green oval leaves, deeply deep, copies to be sent if you died to all the great libraries of the world, including Alexandria? Someone was to read them there after a few thousand years, a mahamanvantara. Pico della Mirandola like. Ay, very like a whale. When one reads these strange pages of one long gone one feels that one is at one with one who onceā€¦ (3.38)

This is some of Stephen's stream-of-consciousness from "Proteus" where we get a glimpse of his enormous ambition and also his ability to make fun of himself. How does ambition imprison Stephen inside his own mind? What about Stephen's fear that he won't fulfill his ambition? How does Stephen's ability to make fun of himself bend the bars of the prison a wee bit?

Mr. Bloom reviewed the nails of his left hand, then those of his right hand. The nails, yes. Is there anything more in him than they she sees? Fascination. Worst man in Dublin. That keeps him alive. They sometimes feel what a person is. Instinct. But a type like that. My nails. I am just looking at them: well pared. And after: thinking alone. (6.89)

We're in the "Hades" episode and the men's carriage has just passed Blazes Boylan. All the other men salute him and Bloom begins checking out his fingernails. How does this instinct show the way in which Bloom is trapped in his situation? What would Bloom's other alternatives be today (other than letting the affair happen)? In what ways do the society men confine Bloom?

"The sentimentalist is he who would enjoy without incurring the immense debtorship for a thing done." (9.209)

Here is the telegram that Stephen sent to Mulligan after he missed their meeting at the ship. Mulligan now comes to the National Library to read the telegram aloud in front of all the gathered men. What is the debt that a sentimentalist does not pay? How can the need to justify one's emotions to oneself (as if they were debts to be paid off) be incredibly confining? In what ways is Stephen a sentimentalist? Mulligan? What are Stephen's feelings about sentimentality that make him so much more anti-social than Mulligan?

He laughed to free his mind from his mind's bondage. (9.365)

This moment comes in "Scylla and Charybdis," as Stephen is building up to the peak of his argument on Shakespeare. What exactly is Stephen's "mind's bondage?" How would you describe it? How does laughter free him from this bondage? In what ways does laughter allow us to forget ourselves for a moment? Why would one want to forget oneself?

Ireland sober is Ireland free. (12.177)

This is Bloom's thought on drink as the curse of Ireland in the "Cyclops" episode. In an oppressed nation, where people are given to complaining of their oppression and remembering promises of independence in the past, how can alcohol be particularly confining? In what ways is drink also liberating? If drink is such a bad thing for Ireland, then why do men keep going to the bars every day?

"Ah non, par exemple! The intellectual imagination! With me all or not at all. Non serviam!" (15.915)

Drunk on absinthe, Stephen has just had a vision of his dead mother in Bella Cohen's brothel. She is begging him to repent and he denies her, swinging his ashplant desperately and breaking the chandelier overhead. To what extent does Stephen's behavior just seem silly or melodramatic in this scene? How can we take him seriously? Is Stephen right to still resist the urge to repent? What is he gaining by doing so?

"Id rather die 20 times over than marry another of their sex of course hed never find another woman like me to put up with him the way I do" (18.744).

In "Penelope," Molly thinks about how she would never marry again if given the opportunity. In what ways is Molly confined by their marriage? Is it through any overt fault of Bloom's? In what ways is she liberated by thinking that she is the only one that disapproves of their marriage and that Bloom would never leave her?

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