Study Guide

Ulysses Sex

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You've probably heard that the plot of Ulysses hinges around the fact that Leopold Bloom's wife is having an affair, and on this particular day, June 16th, Bloom knows that she's going to sleep with Blazes Boylan. Sexuality, particularly in its relation to love, is an enormous problem that the text confronts. The question is: if you love someone, why is sex so important? The answer: sex is important, but it's not clear why. Over the course of the book, we learn more about the character's sexual desires, hang-ups, and neuroses than we could ever possibly want to know. At the same time that sex is revealed as a problem, part of the message of the book is that sex is something that's natural. It is not evil and it need not be hidden. According to Ulysses, though it complicates our lives, sex is something to be celebrated rather than something of which we should be ashamed.

Questions About Sex

  1. What is the relationship between sex and love in the novel? Is sex a necessary part of a loving relationship or not? Must sexual desire and love always move along the same lines?
  2. What are the factors that lead to Bloom's feelings of impotence and sexual inadequacy? Why is it that he's incapable of having sex with his wife, but carries on an illicit correspondence on the side?
  3. Does Molly come across negatively as a result of her affair with Boylan? Is there anything wrong about her sexual desires or how she goes about satisfying them? If so, what is wrong and why?
  4. What is Stephen Dedalus's relationship to sexuality? Is he a asexual creature or do his desires just come out in bizarre ways? Where in Stephen's behavior do you see sexual desire?

Chew on This

The fact that Bloom's sexual desires are always mediated in some way – whether through language or fantasy – shows that he has not yet come to terms with whether or not he and Molly are somehow responsible for the death of their son Rudy.

Molly Bloom has successfully separated love and sexual desire in her mind. Her feelings of love and genuine affection are safely reserved for her husband Leopold, and she is simply using Boylan to satisfy her sexual cravings.

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