Monday, August 19, 2013

James Joyce's Ulysses: Chapter 4, Calypso

The first three chapters of Joyce's Ulysses are focused on Stephen Dedalus, who represents Odysseus's son Telemachus. These chapters parallel the first four books of the Odyssey, known as the Telemachiad. In chapter four of Ulysses, Joyce at last introduces his main character, Leopold Bloom, who represents Odysseus. Right away, Bloom reveals himself to be a very different type of man then Stephen. Unlike the fastidious, squeamish Stephen, Joyce describes Bloom as a man who "ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls" and liked "thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencodss roes" and especially grilled mutton kidneys.  Bloom's love of organ meats likely refers to the many descriptions of feasting that occur in Homer's epics where heroes eat roast meats, especially organs and innards, after a sacrifice to the gods. It also shows that Bloom is a heartier, earthier character than Stephen, and it indicates that he is a more mature adult than him as well.
Bloom begins his morning by making tea and breakfast for his wife, and feeding his cat, who he alternately admires and mocks. He buys a pork kidney at the butcher's for his own breakfast. On his way home, he feels a moment of bareness, possibly as he thinks about (or avoids thinking about) his wife's imminent affair and the history of his people. Bloom is a Jew, one of "the oldest people" who "wandered far away over all the earth, captivity to captivity." Bloom's Jewishness makes him a wanderer, and further links him to that great wayfarer Odysseus, who was held captive many times along his journey as well. Bloom's sense of captivity reflects the chapter title, Calypso, the name of the goddess who held Odysseus captive for seven years on her island.

Once he returns home, Bloom gets the mail, which includes a letter and a card from his daughter, and a letter to his wife from Blazes Boylan, her lover. His brings his wife her tea and makes the kidney for his breakfast. His wife Molly asks him about a word she's read, metempsychosis, and Bloom tells her it means "the transmigration of souls" or reincarnation. The idea that souls themselves can travel around further reflects the chapter's theme of wandering, and the beginning of Bloom's journey.

After talking to his wife, Bloom eats his kidney (which he's accidentally burnt a little) and reads the letter from his daughter. He remembers the day she was born, and that reminds him of the day his lost son Rudy was born (and died). His thoughts about his daughter's youth and promise gradually transition to thoughts about her mother, his wife Molly. He feels "a soft qualm, regret, [flow] down his backbone, increasing." Bloom regrets that his wife is going to have an affair, but when he considers preventing it, he thinks it's "useless to move now."

Having finished his breakfast, Bloom now feels heavy and full, so he gets a paper to go read on the toilet. This is one of the scenes in Ulysses that was considered shocking and vulgar at the time, since literature had never really depicted people going to the bathroom before. As he finishes up, Bloom once more remembers casual moments with his wife--watching her dress, washing her teeth, but his homey reverie is interrupted when he remembers her asking about Blazes Boylan. Bloom wipes himself with the "prize story" he'd been reading (a sly commentary on the state of literature?), checks to make sure his trousers look neat, then heads off to prepare for a funeral.

Blogs for James Joyce's Ulysses: 

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

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"


"The Dead"


  1. Hi. Nicely written post. I've always wanted to read James Joyce's books. Now I'm going to put Ulysses at the top of the list.

    1. Thanks! It's a great book, and more approachable than people think. Let me know how it goes once you start reading it.