So I suppose a book as heavily analyzed as Ulysses is worth a second post. There were some interesting responses in the comment thread on the last post, and I wanted to respond to two of those here. First, from Jay:
Also, there’s a lot more good in Bloom than you give him credit for. He’s a very good father, and a better husband in most respects than the typical Dubliner like Simon Deadalus. He’s a progressive free-thinker (which often makes him seem out of step with the other characters). He’s also financially successful despite having changed jobs so many times. To be sure, he has his strange sexual interests, but these have a bearing on his past and only add to the very interesting Molly/Bloom puzzle. To characterize him as “pathetic, a deviant, simpering ne’er-do-well” is not fair. (You can also let this rant serve as evidence that the book can inspire some intense loyalty among some readers).
This seems to be a common view, that Bloom is a better character than I saw; Blamires called him Joyce’s “Everyman” and other critics just marvel at how well fleshed-out he is. Here’s what I saw, beyond his perverted sexual tastes. He’s not, in my view, a good husband; he’s a provider, yes, and that puts him above the median in Joyce’s Dublin, but he is emotionally tone-deaf and has allowed his marriage to atrophy after the death of their 11-day-old son. At a time when his wife needed him to step up, he appears to have done nothing, and while he’s not happy with his non-conjugal marriage and frequent cuckolding, he’s not doing jack about it, and if anything seems to be ignorant of the fact that things he does and says drive Molly further away from him. Perhaps the marriage is beyond repair, but given what I could glean from Molly’s soliloquy at the end of the book, I don’t think so. I also saw little evidence either way on the quality of his parenting or relationship with his daughter; he cares about her, which, again, may put him above the median for fathers in Joyce’s Dublin, but while that’s a necessary condition for good parenting, it’s not sufficient. And even his efforts to help Stephen Dedalus are rooted in self-interest, mostly the prospect of financial gain, not in genuine interest for the boy. His progressive, free-thinking philosophy has just shifted its locus from God to money.
Another reader pointed to this story on the first Chinese translation of Ulysses, from the Atlantic Monthly. Even if you haven’t read Joyce’s book, it’s a great article, and it gives you some flavor for the wordplay in the book, which leads me to this comment from one of the many of you referring to himself as “brian:”
if you go into ulysses (even moreso finnegan’s wake) expecting plot, narrative, story, then you’re missing a large part of what the novel is trying to do. it brings language….sound, rhythm, cadence to an equal field with what we expect from an a-b-c story. there are sections of the book where it is perfecly advisable (and enjoyable!) to remove your critical mind from understanding the characters and their relationships and the plot from its movement to simply ‘hear’ the words and their sounds in a new way.
I understand, and understood from early on in Ulysses, that the play is not the thing – the language is. That’s great. It’s not what I like to read. I love getting lost in a good story – it doesn’t have to be a happy one, or a funny one, or a fast-paced one, as long as it’s a compelling one that’s well-told, with characters I can understand and with whom I can empathize. It’s analogous to the handful of you who criticized my omission of any Radiohead tracks from my list of my favorite songs from the 2000s, but Radiohead’s electronic, sparse, 2000s sound, while critically acclaimed, is just not what I like. I like guitars. I like plots. Sue me.