Wednesday, June 25, 2014

James Joyce's Ulysses: Chapter 8, Laestrygonians

Chapter Eight of Ulysses begins with a list of sugary sweets--pineapple rock, lemon platt, butterscotch.  This chapter focuses on food--contrasting true hunger with gluttony, and sacred vs. profane meals. It's inspired by Homer's depiction of the Laestrygonians in the Odyssey, who are depraved cannibals. As lunchtime approaches, Leopold Bloom is getting hungry, and his thoughts drift towards food. He sees a Christian brother who's buying candy at the start of the chapter, to give to students at a school. Bloom notes sweets are "bad for [children's' tummies." This subtle criticism suggests that the priest is using the candy as a lure, perhaps to manipulate the children into better behavior without giving them any true substance--a profane meal instead of a wholesome one.

As he continues walking through Dublin, Bloom sees Simon Dedalus' daughter (Stephen's sister) waiting for her father outside an auction house. He notes that she, who comes from a family of fifteen children, looks underfed and ragged, while the priests, who have no children of their own, "[live] on the fat of the land" with their "butteries and larders." The stark contrast between the dire situation of Dedalus' daughter and the priests who manipulate and threaten women into constant childbirth reflects Joyce's criticism of the church. It further establishes the contrast between what's truly wholesome with the enticing, but ultimately hollow promises of the church.

While Blooms reminisces about his marriage before their son died (when they were still happy), he runs into Mrs. Breen, an old flame who's trailing along behind her husband, who's losing his mind. Bloom listens to her sympathetically, while she explains her husband woke her up in the middle of the night over a dream that the ace of spades (a symbol of death) was walking up the stairs. To change the subject, she tells Bloom that Mrs. Purefoy is in the hospital giving birth. Bloom's conversation with Mrs. Breen contrasts images of madness and death--Mr. Breen, the mysterious man who passes them by, and the ace of spades--with the life affirming birth of Mrs. Purefoy (her name even begins with the word "pure").

After Mrs. Breen rushes after her spouse, Bloom considers Irish politics, imagining politicians luring men to their cause with hospitality, "Michealmas goose," "thyme seasoning under the apron." and "goosegrease." He remembers a squad of constables he saw earlier, and how the cause of Irish independence lead to so many deaths and betrayals. All these thoughts of death lead to his darkest moment so far; Bloom feels "as if [he'd] been eaten and spewed," another reference to the Laestrygonians, the cannibals of the Odyssey. He passes John Howard Parnell, the famous Parnell's "woebegone" brother, who looks like he has "eaten a bad egg," and has "poached eyes on a ghost." This dismal appraisal of Parnell's brother suggest that Ireland's hopes for independence died with the more vigorous man. The "bad egg" reference suggests that at best Irish politics make a sickening meal, and in the context of the "Laestrygonians," that Irish politics has cannibalized one of its best man, Charles Stewart Parnell.

Still hungry, Bloom first goes to the Burton restaurant to eat, but he's completely disgusted by the "dirty eaters" who spit out "halfmasticated gristle." Bloom decides to go to Davy Byrnes' instead. Although he had earlier laughed inwardly at vegetarians, after seeing men tearing into meat at the Burton, he reconsiders, thinking of the "pain to the animal," and the "wretched brutes there at the cattlemarket waiting for the poleax to split their skulls open." His sudden compassion for animals reflects Bloom's symbolic rejection and escape from the "Laestrygonians." At the quieter Davy Byrnes' pub, he orders a cheese sandwich and a glass of burgundy. Yet even here, Bloom has moments of despondency, as of the other patrons asks about his wife's singing tour, which was organized by her soon-to-be lover, Blazes Boylan.

Davy Byrnes Pub in Dublin

Yet after his moment of pain, Bloom remembers the love he felt for Molly, and the joy he felt when she once passed him some seed cake from her mouth. Unlike the profane, disgusting meals he saw at Burton's, or the chaste one he has at Byrnes', Molly's seed cake represents the life-giving and joyful qualities of food, as well as love. In his better mood, Bloom shows himself to be generous; he helps a blind man cross the street. But after he leaves the pub, he sees Blazes Boylan on the street and his heart aches once more.

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" - Read eBooks using the FREE Kindle Reading App on Most Devices


  1. When your comment of Ulysses chapter nine will come out...... no clue to read it without your comment :)...thank you.

    1. You're welcome, I'm glad my comments helped you.