Thursday, May 16, 2013

James Joyce's Ulysses, Chapter Two: Nestor


Chapter two of Joyce's Ulysses depicts Stephen Dedalus working as a school teacher. He clearly finds his job tedious, and he resents his wealthy, "sweetened boy" students who take advantage of his lack of rule. Within the context of Homer's Odyssey, the unruly boys represent the suitors who plague Penelope and Telemachus. After class is dismissed, one of the weaker boys stays to redo some math problems he didn't understand. Stephen notes that "the world would have trampled him underfoot, a squashed boneless snail," had his mother not loved and protected him. He sees himself in this weak boy, and thinks about how his own mother likewise protected him (and Penelope once protected Telemachus).
Once the last boy leaves, Stephen visits Mr. Deasy, the headmaster and his boss, for his salary. Mr. Deasy is an elderly conservative gentleman fond of giving Stephen advice. He represents Nestor, the elderly comrade of Odysseus that Telemachus visits in his quest to find his lost father. Nestor gives Telemachus gifts, just as Mr. Deasy gives Stephen his salary. But for all his supposed generosity, Stephen is well aware that his salary is nowhere near enough to pay his debts or cover his expenses. To make matters worse, Mr. Deasy insists on lecturing him about saving money and being thrifty. He ignorantly suggests that Shakespeare advised men to "Put but money in thy purse," unaware that he's quoting Iago, one of the bard's greatest villains. Deasy then references Ireland's conquerors, the English, by insisting that they are proud of having "paid [their] way." By connecting English thriftiness with Shakespeare's Iago, Joyce reflects how England's usury and greed have betrayed Ireland, with the complacency of conservative old men like Mr. Deasy.

After his lecture on money, Mr. Deasy asks Stephen for a favor--he'd like for Stephen to get his "literary friends" to publish a letter he's written on foot and mouth disease in cattle. Stephen skims the letter, which comes across as pompous and tedious. After Stephen peruses the letter, Mr. Deasy insists it must be published to influence the department (of agriculture, I think?), then he tells Stephen he's surrounded by intrigues. He blames the Jews for England's "decay" in a paranoid rant. Stephen defends the Jews, suggesting that all merchants "[buy] cheap and [sell] dear," and if the Jews are sinners, so is everyone else. In a famous line, he tells Deasy that "History...is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake." He sympathizes with the Jews because they are victims of history, just as the Irish are.

At last, Deasy pities Stephen, telling him "I am happier than you are," and in another rant he blames women for all of the world's problems (it's interesting that he never considers men like him responsible for anything). After all, "a woman brought sin into the world," and for "Helen, the runaway wife of Menelaus, ten years the Greeks made war on Troy." Likewise, a woman "brought Parnell low." After Stephen's touching reflections on mother's love being the only thing that protects children, Deasy's casual misogyny reflect his lack of compassion and insight, despite his advanced age. Furthermore, Deasy refuses to acknowledge any responsibility for Ireland's problems, preferring to blame Jews or women instead of examining his own ignorant, narrow-minded complacency. Like Homer's Nestor, his advice feels out-of-date. If Stephen, like Homer's Telemachus, is searching for a father figure, Deasy fails to give him much guidance.


Blogs for James Joyce's Ulysses: 


Blog Posts for James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Blog Posts for James Joyce's Dubliners:

"The Sisters" and "An Encounter"


"After the Race" and "Two Gallants"

"A Little Cloud" and "Counterparts"


"Clay" and "A Painful Case"

"Ivy Day in the Committee Room"

"A Mother"

"Grace"

"The Dead" 

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