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Ithaca is a complicated chapter in James Joyce’s book Ulysses. The chapter gives details about two protagonists Bloom and Stephen. Bloom returns home together with Stephen. The chapter is written in form of questions and answers. The chapter does not follow the conventional writing style. Joyce gives an outline of events that happen instead of giving a linear plot (Lawrence 559).
The chapter is written in a radical style that does not follow the convention literary style. James goes against the rules of prose and writes in his own unique style that makes the chapter difficult. For instance, as the chapter begins, Joyce uses a narrative style full of repetition. The style shows that Bloom’s homecoming is not triumphant, as it would have been expected after being away from home form such a long time.
The narrative style does not go up to the end of the chapter but changes to encyclopaedic narrative (Ulysses 1). The encyclopaedic narrative does not lead to a climax in a story like the way the narrative style does to give a lesson or meaning of the story. At the end of the chapter, no meaning can be derived and a reader can have many conclusions. At the end, Bloom finds out that his wife has been unfaithful.
The evidence of her infidelity stares him in the face but he does not do anything “New clean bedlinen, additional odours, the presence of a human form, female, hers, the imprint of a human form, male, not his, some crumbs, some flakes of potted meat, recooked, which he removed” (Joyce 1).
Molly his wife’s affair with Boylan does not seem to bother Bloom much even though he thinks about divorcing her or confronting Boylan. The two ideas play in his mind just as fantasies. He thinks about the other things that are worse than adultery and the idea that a man sleeps with a woman thinking he is the first in her life but in reality he is one among previous men.
Therefore, Bloom decides to forgive her. A reader has to decide between Bloom being a very forgiving man for overlooking his wife’s betrayal or a foolish man who does not have the nerve to stand up for the right thing. Moreover, one can forget about Bloom entirely with his flaws.
Joyce does not lead the reader to any moral at the end story but he leaves ends hanging loose. The chapter does not give answers to the questions that arises in the readers minds about the happenings. The explanation and happenings in the chapter are many and demonstrate futility (Gibson 16).
The chapter employs anti-climax. The opposite of our expectations happen because we expect Bloom and Stephen to form a meaningful friendship but at the end, they drift apart. Stephen shows he has no consideration for his friend’s feelings when he tells Bloom an anti-Semitic narrative. The narrative shows a lack of understanding between the two friends. Moreover, Stephen declines the offer to sleep over at Blooms and does not seem enthusiastic about meeting in the future (Ulysses 1).
Third person narrative
Joyce uses the third person narrative in Ithaca. The story is told in a cold manner and often repetitive by a narrator who sees the characters minds. The details given about ordinary things make them very complicated and the details do not seem important. He employs a scientific style and uses complicated words that often leave a reader wondering what the author is writing about in the story.
For example, Joyce describes how water gets into the tap that Bloom fetches. The details about how the water runs through the water system in the town is explained in detail making the process look very complicated. Ordinarily, a person just fetches water without thinking about how the water gets to the tap.
In another instance, Stephen explains to Bloom his reasons for declining to take a bath. He says he has hydrophobia and hates either partial or total immersion in water. The words used in the explanation are complex and not used in everyday conversation by mundane people (Ulysses 1).
Joyce employs catechism style in Ithaca. Catechism is a style used in the Catholic Church to teach using questions and responses that students memorize. The students are asked questions and expected to give the memorized responses to show that they have strong faith. Ithaca is written in form of questions and answers.
The responses are not a sets of believes like in Christian catechism but the responses give details regarding people, and how they live their lives in spite of their faith or what it may demand of them. The responses are long and wandering in the strained conversation between Stephen and Bloom. The language used is theoretical and scientific.
It makes Bloom’s spiritual appear as observations and orderly formulas. Bloom shares characteristics similar to other human beings as portrayed by his experiences (Ulysses 1).
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Stream of consciousness
The stream of consciousness shows the thoughts of a person in an edited form. Through the technique, Joyce shows us the thoughts of some characters and explains their action. The character’s thoughts are shown to us unedited and we are able to connect their thoughts and actions to make better judgement about their character traits.
Through Bloom’s thoughts, we see how he sees himself through various perspectives such as in a lifetime work, single night sleep or universe’s lifetime. He is able to shift his perspective and judge himself hence he avoids condemning his wife. The stream of consciousness is embedded throughout the chapter (Report on James Joyce Ulysses 1).
The structure of Ithaca is complex because of the question and answer technique employed by the author. The words used in the denotative language are complex to understand. Furthermore, Joyce uses sentences from other languages such as Irish and Hebrew. The structure of the chapter is further complicated by use of gibberish words. Some of the sentences are difficult to understand and a reader has to think hard about what the author means.
In other words reading Joyce’s works becomes an active process. The sentences are like riddles or knots that one must undo to understand their meaning. However, once the knots are undone the sentences become clear and the meaning easily understood. For instance “From outrage (matrimony) to outrage (adultery) there arose nought but outrage (copulation) yet the matrimonial violator of the matrimonially violated had not been outraged by the adulterous violator of the adulterously violated” is a difficult sentence (Joyce 1).
The sentence means that Bloom has accepted his wife’s adultery. He thinks that the affair must have occurred because he was not around to take care of his wife’s needs. Therefore, her action is justified because she needed a man and she must have enjoyed the affair. He shifts the blame from his wife to himself and decides to accept her. He uses the passive form of English a shift from the active form to arrive at the acceptance of his wife’s action.
The chapter has many facts but it also contains nothingness. Some of the words have no meaning and leads to disorderliness. The purpose of the chapter to lead to a system fails, as one gets lost in language.
The author uses awkward words and combines a deliberate effort of employing an incorrect method of writing (Gibson 18). The chapter shows many imperfections such as Bloom’s marriage and his injuries to the head. Joyce uses the errors and imperfections in the chapter to shutter the “illusion of objective reliability” (Gibson 18).
The author also incorporates repetition in the structure. The repetitions help the author to play with words and bring about a sense of humor. For example when Bloom remembers how he turned down an invitation to visit Stephen’s family “Very gratefully, with grateful appreciation, with sincere appreciative gratitude, in appreciatively grateful sincerity of regret, he declined” (Joyce 1).
Ithaca shows us how Bloom becomes the hero through his action of selflessness forgiveness of a sin many would not consider forgiving easily. Joyce takes us through the characters’ lives and shows us how real life is, and how human beings respond to the things, they encounter along their journey through the world.
The chapter is long and the many questions can leave one confused about what the characters are saying because sometimes the narrator does not give all the details. However, the chapter remains an important one in the book as many questions are answered through the catechism style.
Gibson, Andrew. Joyce’s Ithaca. Netherlands: Rodopi, 1996.
Joyce, James. Episode 17- Ithaca. 2011. Web. <http://www.online-literature.com/james_joyce/ulysses/17/>.
Lawrence, Karen. “Style and narrative in the Ithaca chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses.” ELH, 47.3 (1980): 559-574.
Report On James Joyce Ulysses. n.d. Web.
Ulysses. n.d. Web.