Monday, December 30, 2013

James Joyce's Ulysses: Chapter 6, Hades

It's been a long time since I've written a Ulysses post. It's intense to read such a demanding book and then write about it! I'm hoping to get back on track now with Chapter 6, Hades.

In Chapter 6 of James Joyce's Ulysses, Leopold Bloom attends a funeral for a man called Paddy Dignam, which correlates to Odysseus' journey to the Greek underworld, Hades. Bloom sets off on his modern journey in a carriage with three other men, Martin Cunningham, Simon Dedalus, and Mr. Power. Savvy Joyce readers will immediately recognize Martin Cunningham and Mr. Power as characters from his short story Grace, in Dubliners. In fact, many characters from Grace appear in Hades, including Mr. Kernan, who the men meet in the graveyard. If his short story Grace is a critique of the Irish church, then Hades is a final rebuke--instead of finding true grace, all the characters from the original story end up in hell.

As the men travel to the graveyard, they pass Stephen Dedalus, Simon's son (the same Stephen from Chapters 1-3 and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). Bloom notes that Simon is a "Noisy selfwilled man" who's "full of his son." Yet, if Simon Dedalus is overbearing, Bloom also notes that he's right to be proud of his son, and to want "something to hand on." Simon's pride in his son reflects Achilles, who seems despondent in the underworld until Odysseus tells his of his glorious son, Neoptolemus. Bloom remembers his own infant son, who died at birth, and wishes he could have seen him grow up. Yet, he also remembers his daughter, Milly, who closely resembles his beloved wife Molly, and recognizes that life goes on in her.

To Bloom's chagrin, the next person they see from the carriage is Blazes Boylan, "the worst man in Dublin," who intends to seduce Bloom's wife Molly that afternoon. Boylan's arrogance and seductions make him like Orion, a Greek hunter who seduced women and bragged about his hunting prowess, and like Antinous, one of the suitors who tried to seduce Penelope. Perhaps to change the subject, Mr. Power asks Bloom about Molly's upcoming concert tour. After their discussion, Bloom wonders about Mr. Powers' rumored mistress, which is "not pleasant for the wife." Mr. Powers is like Agamemnon before his fall--his name literally indicates power, and he's cheating on his wife. He may not have yet paid the price for his sins, but his connection to the Greek king casts a pall of death on a man who otherwise seems well off.

The men see one last person before they arrive at the graveyard--an old Jew (Reuben), who Mr. Powers and Simon Dedalus curse and laugh at. Yet Martin Cunningham meets Bloom's eyes and remembers that Bloom is of Jewish descent, although he has since converted to Christianity. Instead of confronting the racist men, Bloom "eagerly" tells a funny story about the Jew they've passed. His enthusiasm reflects his desire to blend in with his companions, despite their racism towards his own people.

Taken together, the three men that the carriage passes on the way to the cemetery have a deep symbolism. They seem to represent three stages in a man's life: Stephen Dedalus is youth, Blazes Boylan is adulthood, and Reuben is old age. Their order is significant as well--as the carriage gets closer to the cemetery, the passersby get older, representing the approach of death as men age. Reuben has a special significance to Bloom: he reflects Bloom's Jewish ancestry and his alienation as a result of the narrow-minded racism of the typical Irishmen of the time. Yet, the old Jewish man has a deeper meaning: he reminds Bloom of his father.

Immediately after passing Reuben, they come to the cemetery where they see a funeral procession for a child ahead of them. After expressing pity for the poor little one, Mr. Power comments that suicide is "the worst of all" and "the greatest disgrace to have in a family." Martin Cunningham, a more compassionate man, tries to quiet him by suggesting the suicides might suffer from "temporary insanity," but Simon Dedalus breaks to say that "a man who does it is a coward." Bloom doesn't say a word, but reflects that Martin Cunningham is an intelligent and sympathetic man, and there's "no mercy on that [suicide] here." Later, Cunningham tells Mr. Power that Bloom's father committed suicide by poisoning himself. The discussion of suicide, especially after they passed an old Jewish man, invokes the image of Bloom's poor father, just as the child's funeral reminds him of his dead son Rudy.

Once at the funeral, the men discuss how Paddy Dignam's death has hurt his family, since he's left behind a wife and five children. Dignam's wasteful and dishonorable death from alcohol associates him with Elpenor, one of Odysseus' sailors from the Odyssey who falls off a roof after drinking too much. After the funeral, they discuss the service with Mr. Kernan, another character from "Grace." Once a drunk rather like the unfortunate Dignam, Kernan now seems caught up in religiosity, claiming that an impressive service touches his heart. Though Bloom agrees out loud, he thinks to himself that a heart is only a pump and once it's broken, you die. Yet, he perceives Kernan's "secret eyes, secretsearching," which associates Kernan with the Greek sage Tiresias, who discovered many secrets about life despite his blindness. Despite his past as a (blind?) drunk, or perhaps because of it, Kernan seems to understand more about that heart of matters than Bloom.

As he talks to Kernan, Bloom hears the men ahead of him talking about him--one man, John Henry Menton (whom Bloom apparently admires as honorable and generous) expresses jealousy and resentment when he hears that Bloom is married to Molly, a woman he once greatly admired. As they leave the cemetery, Bloom tries to get Menton's attention by pointing out his hat is crushed, but Menton refuses to speak to him, leaving him chapfallen. Menton reflects the Greek warrior Ajax, who refuses to speak to Odysseus in the underworld due to jealousy.

Many of the characters in Chapter 6 of Ulysses represent characters from Greek mythology. Although I've covered many of them above, there are a few more to add. Martin Cunningham is Sisyphus--his alcoholic wife is "leading him the life of the damned" and he constantly keeps his "shoulder to the wheel" trying to keep her sober. The graveyard caretaker is Hades and his wife is Proserpina, since she must live in the graveyard with her husband. Bloom, of course, is Ulysses, and his unfortunate father is Laertes. Stephen Dedalus is Telemachus.

Blogs for James Joyce's Ulysses: 

Chapter Two, Nestor

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

Chapter One

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, I am in the middle of reading 'Ulysses'. It is really a very difficult book to read. I read another book from Joyce--a portrait of the artist as a young man, that book is much easier to read. Your blog of Ulysses is very very helpful. However, the blog stopped at chapter 8. Is it because you stop writing the rest chapters? Maybe time for me to give up reading Ulysses.... too difficult....

    1. Well, I enjoyed reading Ulysses, but after I had a baby, I had a difficult time concentrating on such a long, difficult literary work. I still love reading, and I hope to finish it someday, but right now is not the time for me :)