Study Guide

Ulysses Summary

By James Joyce

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Ulysses Summary

Although Ulysses takes place in the course of one day, a whole lot happens (hence its 783 pages). We've divided up our summary based on the eighteen episodes in the book.

Part 1: The Telemachiad

Episode 1: Telemachus

Ulysses opens at Martello Tower, several miles southeast of Dublin, at 8am on June 16, 1904. Stephen Dedalus (of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man fame) is renting the Tower with his friend (of sorts) Buck Mulligan. An Englishman named Haines is staying there with them. He is very interested in Stephen and his different thoughts and sayings about the Irish, and constantly tries to make conversation with him. Stephen, however, distrusts Haines and acts aloof.

Buck Mulligan is a jovial, irreverent man who constantly mocks Catholic tradition, and treats Stephen deferentially. Stephen, for his part, mopes around the Tower, and can't keep from thinking back to his mother's death, when his mother asked that he pray over her and he refused. At the end of the episode, Buck Mulligan goes swimming in the sea, and Stephen leaves him and Haines there with the final thought that Buck Mulligan is a "usurper."

Episode 2: Nestor

We then move to the school at Dalkey at 10am, where Stephen is teaching some disinterested students. He makes jokes in front of his class that only he gets, and then helps a young boy with some math problems despite thinking that the kid has little chance of learning them for himself.

While the students play hockey, Stephen meets with the headmaster, Mr. Deasy. They settle Stephen's payment, and Deasy asks him to deliver to the press two letters relating to foot and mouth disease.

Deasy tries lecturing Stephen a bit and reveals himself to be a pompous English sympathizer and an anti-Semite. Stephen is not insubordinate outright, but he offers up several quips, the most famous being, "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake" (1.157). As they part, Deasy thinks that Stephen will not remain long at his job, and then chases him outside to tell one last anti-Semitic joke.

Episode 3: Proteus

Stephen has taken public transportation up to Dublin. He kills time waiting for his 12:30 meeting with Buck Mulligan. Mulligan and Haines wander up and down along Sandymount strand. As he does, he lets his mind roam free and he free-associates across a great deal of classical philosophy, Church doctrine, and Dublin folklore.

Stephen is particularly taken with his own role in the human race and its continuity across vast stretches of time. He imagines an umbilical cord that runs from Eden to the present. His mind eventually turns to Paris and the bohemian life that he led there, and he self-deprecatingly thinks of his youthful ambition and pretension.

Toward the end of the scene, Stephen jots down a poem, but then realizes it isn't about anyone and no one is there to read it. He feels lonely as he watches a ship come into the bay.

Part 2: The Wanderings of Ulysses

Episode 4: Calypso

We now move back to 8am, but we are at 7 Eccles Street, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Leopold Bloom. Leopold is preparing breakfast-in-bed for his wife, and in the midst of it he takes a break and goes to the butcher's to get a kidney.

When he returns home, he finds a letter from his daughter, Milly, and a rather suspicious looking letter to his wife from her singing partner, Blazes Boylan. Bloom takes the letter up to his wife, and then brings her breakfast. They discuss the meaning of the word "metempsychosis," which Molly has found in a book that she is reading. Molly didn't like the book much because she prefers smutty literature, and she thought it was too clean (think Harlequin romance novels).

Bloom realizes that he has burned the kidney and rushes back downstairs. He eats alone in the kitchen and reads the letter from his daughter Milly. He thinks about whether or not his daughter is doing well in the photo business, the death of his son Rudy, and the fact that he cannot prevent what will happen between his wife and Blazes. Upon hearing his tummy rumble, Bloom grabs a penny-weekly (small local newspaper) and goes back to the outhouse in his garden to go to the bathroom.

Episode 5: Lotus-Eaters

It's now 10am. Bloom has traveled a little over a mile from his house and is by sir John Rogerson's quay (a dock along the major river in Dublin, the Liffey river). He first goes to the post office to pick up a card from Martha Clifford, a woman with whom he exchanges something of an illicit correspondence.

When Bloom is about to open the card from Martha, he bumps into M'Coy who wants to talk about Dignam's funeral and their wives' singing careers. Bloom is intensely bored by M'Coy, and as soon as he leaves, Bloom reads the letter from Martha. It is addressed to Henry Flower, Bloom's alias, and it ends with Martha asking what kind of perfume Flower's wife wears, which Bloom finds bizarre.

He then wanders over to All Hollows Church where he listens to the end of the service, and thinks about what he considers to be the bizarre aspects of the Catholic religion. Bloom cuts out before they gather donations, and goes to the chemist to pick up some lotion for his wife, Molly. He realizes that he has not brought a bottle and so he'll have to come back later after they complete it. As he leaves, he foresees himself washing in the public baths, and imagines his penis as a "languid floating flower" on the water (5.142).

Episode 6: Hades

At 11am Bloom climbs into a carriage with Marty Cunningham, Simon Dedalus (Stephen's father), and Mr. Power. Dignam's funeral procession begins by his house in Sandymount and gradually makes its way to Prospect Cemetery. On the way, Bloom sees Stephen, and when he points him out to Simon, Simon starts talking about what a scoundrel Stephen's friend Buck Mulligan is.

Bloom begins to feel more and more like an outsider. The other men laugh at a Jewish man in the street, salute Blazes Boylan when they see him, and at one point Mr. Power talks about the disgrace of suicide (not realizing that Bloom's father committed suicide). Of the men, Cunningham is the most sympathetic to Bloom.

Throughout the ride, Bloom's thoughts drift back to his dead son and his dead father. Later, during the ceremony and the burial, Bloom's mind wanders. He thinks how strange it is that people make such a fuss over the dead. His imagination touches on different ways of burying people as well as what happens to bodies after they die. At the close of the episode, Bloom bumps into John Henry Menton, with whom he once fought over a game of bowls. He points out that Menton has a dent in his hat, and Menton responds by snubbing him.

Episode 7: Aeolus

It's noon and Bloom is at the office of the Freeman's Journal and the Evening Telegraph trying to renew an ad for Alexander Keyes. Bloom speaks with the foreman, Nannetti, but then has to run across the street to track down Keyes.

Just after Bloom leaves, Stephen Dedalus comes in to drop off Deasy's article on foot and mouth disease. Myles Crawford wants to recruit Stephen for the paper, and professor MacHugh asks him whether he accosted the mystic poet George William Russell in the street to ask about planes of consciousness. The men sit around and recall particularly fine pieces of oratory that they have heard over the years. MacHugh re-enacts a speech by John F. Taylor arguing for the revival of the Irish tongue and everyone listens on admiringly.

Stephen suggests that they all go out for a drink, and as they make their way out he tells MacHugh and Crawford a parable about two old virgins climbing to the top of Nelson's pillar to look down on Dublin, "The Parable of the Plums." The women take food and drink and sit there eating plums and spitting the seeds through the railings of the tower. Toward the end of the episode, Bloom returns and tries to secure the Keyes renewal with Crawford, but Crawford blows him off and tells him that Keyes can "kiss his arse."

Episode 8: Lestrygonians

At 1pm Bloom is moving south across the Liffey in the direction of Davy Byrne's pub. He's idle, without much to do, and all of his thoughts are dominated by hunger. Bloom runs into an old flame, Josie Breen, and makes small talk with her about how her husband's mind is slipping. After they part, Bloom wanders into Burton's restaurant, but is disgusted by the men eating there like pigs at a trough. Instead, he opts for a vegetarian lunch at Davy Byrne's. Bloom's mind rushes back to a time that he and Molly made love at Howth's Head, and he is struck by the sad contrast between his life then and his life now. He tries to keep himself from thinking of Molly.

After Bloom leaves, the other men make small talk about him. They think that overall he is a decent guy, but also circulate a number of unfounded rumors, such as the notion that Bloom is a freemason. Bloom heads toward the National Library to check out the statues there. When he's almost there, he sees Blazes Boylan. Bloom panics and ducks into the library quickly to hide from him.

Episode 9: Scylla and Charybdis

By 2pm Stephen is in the National Library presenting his theory of Hamlet to John Eglinton (respected librarian) and George William Russell (renowned literary figure in Dublin). Russell thinks that prying into Shakespeare's biography is irrelevant, and that the only important thing about a work of art is its formless spiritual essence. Eglinton is also skeptical of Stephen, but hears him out to the end. At great length, Stephen argues that Shakespeare corresponds more closely to King Hamlet than to the Prince. He re-works some Catholic beliefs about the trinity so as to be applied to art.

In the course of the discussion, Russell gets up to leave. Stephen feels snubbed when Russell and Eglinton discuss a literary event they will be attending that evening without inviting him. Toward the end of Stephen's argument, Mulligan appears and chides him for missing their 12:30 meeting. He tells him that he saw Bloom peeking up the skirts of the statue of Aphrodite in the lounge. When Stephen finishes, Eglinton asks him if he believes his theory and Stephen says he does not. Mulligan and Stephen leave to go get a drink, and as they pass out, they see Bloom. Mulligan kids Stephen that Bloom is gay and that Stephen must be on his guard.

Episode 10:The Wandering Rocks

Beginning at 3pm we follow the paths of over a dozen different characters as they wander the streets of Dublin. The episode consists of nineteen vignettes that overlap in time and often character involved. In the course of the episode, we see that the Dedalus sisters are living in desperate conditions, relying on food donations to get by. When one of the daughters asks their father, Simon, for money he reluctantly gives her two shillings. Stephen runs into one of his sisters in the street and is torn by a desire to free her from the family situation and the fear that he could suffer the same fate.

Meanwhile, Boylan flirts with a secretary as he prepares a fruit basket for someone. He has a plan to meet Lenehan at the Ormond Hotel at 4pm. Bloom buys Sweets of Sin from a bookcart for Molly. Patrick Dignam's son buys porksteaks and thinks about his father's death. A viceregal cavalcade (celebratory procession) moves through the streets of Dublin toward the Mirius Charity Bazaar saluting everyone that it passes.

Episode 11: Sirens

It's 4pm in the Concert Room at the Ormond Hotel. Two barmaids watch the procession pass by and joke amongst themselves. Simon Dedalus enters and flirts with one of them. Bloom sees Boylan in the street and decides to follow him to the hotel. Boylan only stops in briefly to have a drink with Lenehan before making his way to the Bloom's house at 7 Eccles Street to meet Molly. Bloom, however, has run into Richie Goulding and has agreed to have dinner with him. He nearly chokes with anxiety as Boylan leaves.

Meanwhile, Simon Ben Dollard, and Father Bob Cowley gather around the piano and begin singing songs. Simon signs a bit from the opera Martha to great acclaim. Bloom jots out a letter to Martha Clifford, telling Goulding that he is writing in for an ad. Dollard then sings "The Croppy Boy" and everyone in the bar becomes sentimental. Bloom cuts out before the end. He waits for a tram to pass and then lets out all the gas that has built up in his stomach during the meal.

Episode 12: Cyclops

At 5pm an anonymous narrator runs into Joe Hynes in the street and they decide to go to Barney Kiernan's pub to see the citizen. Throughout this "Cyclops" episode, there are 33 parodies of different writing styles mixed into the prose. They generally pick up on something that comes up in the course of the scene, and then greatly exaggerate it. The parodies are in no way set off from the rest of the prose, but in our detailed line-by-line summary, you'll find that we mark each of them.

"The citizen" is a grumpy old man sitting at the bar with his dog. He never misses an opportunity to talk about the greatness of Ireland and the injustices that the country has suffered. Alf Bergan, John Wyse Nolan, and Lenehan all come in to have a few drinks and join in the discussion.

Bloom arrives looking for Martin Cunningham regarding some insurance business related to the death of Dignam. He inserts himself awkwardly into the conversation; often he is far too literal about matters the men are only joking about. Bloom pushes for moderation in their discussion. Instead, he says, "Force, hatred, history, all that. That's not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it's the very opposite of that that is really life" (12.423). Alf asks what he is referring to, and he says, "Love" (12.425).

Bloom steps out for a moment, and the opinion of the group turns solidly against him. Led by the citizen, the other men make fun of his Jewishness and his lack of masculinity. Cunningham arrives, and when Bloom comes back he quickly ushers him out to avoid a conflict. The citizen starts yelling anti-Semitic remarks at Bloom, and Bloom yells back. When Bloom tells the citizen that Christ was a Jew, the citizen becomes furious. He throws a tin after Bloom as Cunningham's carriage pulls away, but the tin falls short.

Episode 13: Nausicaa

We now jump to 8pm. A group of women sits on the rocks down by Sandymount Strand: Edy Boardman with her baby, Cissy Caffrey with her little brothers Tommy and Jacky, and Gerty MacDowell. A religious retreat takes place in Mary, Star of the Sea Chapel nearby.

The first half of the scene is told by a narrator in extremely sentimental prose, in the style of young girls romantic novels. Cissy and Edy play with the kids while Gerty sits and daydreams about finding romance and one day being married. She has recently been spurned by a crush (Reggy Wylie), and she pines for him.

Gerty notices a dark man (who, we later learn, is Bloom) a bit further down the beach. The man stares at her intensely, and she makes a point of showing him her hair and revealing her stockings to him. She wonders who he is, and imagines a relationship between them. Fireworks for the Mirus charity bazaar go up nearby, and everyone rushes to see them except Gerty and Bloom.

As a Roman Candle explodes, we realize Bloom has been masturbating and has just had an orgasm. Gerty stands up to walk away, and Bloom sees that she is lame in one foot. He feels guilty. As he recomposes himself, he thinks about Molly and Milly, and all the mysterious ways of women. Bloom's watch stopped at 4:30 (roughly the time Molly and Boylan slept together as we will see later in this episode), and after a while he decides to drift off for a short nap. As he does so, a cuckoo clock sounds from the priest's house up by the chapel.

Episode 14: Oxen of the Sun

It is 10pm at the National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street, where Mina Purefoy is on the verge of giving birth. Mimicking the gestation period, the chapter is written in a variety of styles, progressing from literal translations of early Latinate prose through Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse, Renaissance chronicles, 19th century realist novels, and finally into the broken slang and dialect of modern day Dublin.

Bloom comes to the hospital and is led to a room where a number of doctors, medical students, and men about town are drinking and having a raucous good time. Stephen is there and is extremely drunk. While most of the men joke about different matters related to giving birth, Stephen pontificates on matters of religion and philosophy. Like Bloom, he is outcast, and when a strike of thunder is heard he is scared that it was caused by his blasphemy.

Mulligan arrives with Alec Bannon, who is dating Bloom's daughter Milly. Mulligan's jokes are greatly appreciated by the men, though they tend to be at Stephen's expense. When Mina Purefoy gives birth, the men become even more rowdy. They eventually proceed to Burke's Pub nearby, but Bloom stays late a moment to tell the Nurse to pass his good wishes on to Mina Purefoy. At the bar, Stephen drinks absinthe (very strong liquor). As they leave, Stephen convinces his friend Lynch to go with him to Nighttown (the red light district). Bloom decides to keep an eye on him and follows at a safe distance.

Episode 15: Circe

It's midnight in Nighttown. The episode is rendered in play dialogue with stage directions, and much of the episode takes place in the minds of Bloom and Stephen. Reality and imagination often merge seamlessly and at times it can be difficult to distinguish the two.

Stephen and Lynch have wandered into Nighttown in search of Bella Cohen's brothel. Bloom follows behind. In the street, he imagines encountering his father, and then imagines an elaborate court sequence in which he is tried for being a lewd man. A number of characters from the novel appear to testify for or against Bloom.

Bloom then imagines that he has been crowned the king of the new Bloomusalem, and people call out to him adoringly. Eventually, however, they begin to denounce him. Bloom wanders into Bella Cohen's where he finds Stephen drunk at the piano, and Lynch flirting with a prostitute. When he meets Bella, Bloom has a long masochistic fantasy in which he and Bella change sexes and she abuses him and turns him into a prostitute.

Meanwhile, Stephen is being free with his money. Bloom offers to guard it for him. Stephen begins dancing with the prostitutes, but then is disturbed by a vision of his mother rising from the grave and urging him to repent. He goes pale and knocks the chandelier with his cane as he runs out, shouting "Non Serviam!" (In English, "I will not serve!")

Bloom follows him into the street where Stephen has become engaged in a verbal argument with the English constable Private Carr. Bloom tries to arbitrate, but Stephen mouths off and Carr hits him in the face. Two Irish policeman arrive on the scene and want to take Stephen's name, but Bloom convinces them that Stephen is not a problem. As Bloom helps Stephen up, he has a vision of his dead son Rudy. Bloom calls out to him, but his son does not respond.

Part 3: The Homecoming

Episode 16: Eumaeus

At 1am, Bloom helps Stephen up and walks him to the cabmen's shelter under Loop Line Bridge to get him some food. Under the bridge, Stephen sees a friend of his father and ducks behind a pillar to avoid him. A moment later, he runs into an acquaintance named Corley who hits him up for a half-crown (British coin). Bloom thinks Stephen is too generous.

Inside the shelter, Bloom tells Stephen the rumor that its keeper is Skin-the-Goat Fitzharris, the get-a-way driver from the Phoenix Park murders. A sailor named W.B. Murphy comes over and tells them about his world travels, though Bloom thinks that they are mostly made up.

Bloom tries to make small talk with Stephen. Stephen gets irritated when Bloom shares his communal vision for Ireland where everyone works and gets their fair share. To Stephen, it seems as if Bloom is condescending to the literary occupation.

The keeper and the men in the bar begin to discuss Charles Stewart Parnell and Katherine O'Shea, and Bloom sympathizes with Parnell instead of O'Shea's cuckolded husband (married man who has an adulterous wife). Bloom invites Stephen back to his house for cocoa, and the two of them begin discussing music in the street. Stephen sings a few lines, and Bloom is blown away by his voice. They walk along arm in arm into the night.

Episode 17: Ithaca

At 2am, Bloom and Stephen approach Bloom's house at 7 Eccles Street. The episode is rendered in the style of a catechism (religious book of beliefs to be memorized), and thus everything is narrated through a series of 309 questions and responses.

At his door, Bloom realizes he has forgotten his key and thus climbs over his fence to the lower door of his townhouse. He comes through and lets Stephen in and the two of them proceed to the kitchen. Bloom makes cocoa, and as he does he reflects on all the different qualities of water that attract him to it.

Stephen and Bloom discuss their different backgrounds and Stephen shows Bloom how to write Gaelic, while Bloom shows Stephen how to write Hebrew. At Bloom's request, Stephen sings an anti-Semitic song. Bloom is not too upset about the fact that it is anti-Semitic, but the song involves a man's relationship with his daughter, which makes Bloom glum as his thoughts turn to his own daughter, Milly.

Bloom invites Stephen to spend the night, but he politely declines. The two of them go out through the backyard and pee together in the garden as they observe a shooting star. Bloom reflects on the vastness of the universe and the infinite divisibility of small particles (evolution and involution). As the two of them walk to the rear door, Bloom is full of plans for the future, but Stephen seems indifferent.

Once Stephen leaves, Bloom goes back inside and bumps into some of the furniture that Molly and Boylan moved during their romp around the house. He sits at his desk and thinks of his father. Upstairs, Bloom undresses and climbs into bed beside Molly. They sleep head to foot, and he notes Boylan's imprint as he crawls into bed. Molly asks him about his day and he tells her, though with notable omissions (Martha Clifford, Gerty MacDowell). Molly thinks that they have not had sex in over ten years, and Bloom nods off to sleep with a nursery rhyme in his head.

Episode 18: Penelope

It's now the middle of the night, sometime after 4am. Joyce didn't list a time in the schema for the final episode because he claims that Molly doesn't live her life by the clock. In eight sprawling breathless sentences, we get Molly's wandering thoughts as she lies awake in bed next to Bloom.

Molly remembers her affair with Boylan in explicit sexual detail and reflects back on other lovers she has had over the years. Molly suspects that Bloom is cheating on her. She knows he keeps pornography in the house and that he has some sort of illicit correspondence going on, but she's not sure how she'll catch him.

Molly's period starts and she goes to the chamberpot to clean herself. As she returns to bed, her thoughts go back to her time in Gibraltar as a young girl and then come to focus on Stephen. She thinks that she'll study so he won't think her a fool if he returns, and briefly fantasizes about a romantic relationship with him.

Molly's last thought before she goes to sleep is the memory of Bloom proposing to her on Howth's head. She didn't answer him at first, just looked out over the sea and thought back to all the other men she'd known, but then she asked him to ask her again. And her answer: "yes I said yes I will Yes" (18.783).

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