Ulysses by James Joyce: Chapter 6

This scene is patterned on the episode in the Odyssey in which Ulysses visits the underworld. Leopold Bloom attends the funeral of Paddy Dignam with his friends, Martin Cunningham, Mr. Power, and Simon Dedalus (Stephen’s father). At one point, Bloom notices Stephen wandering through the streets and points him out to Simon, bringing Stephen temporarily back into the story who hasn’t been in it since the very beginning chapters. Simon talks about his fears that Buck Mulligan is being a bad influence on Stephen and threatens to do something about it, revisiting one of the novel’s problems from the earliest chapters. More discussions ensue between the men as they head to the funeral. These scenes of death cause Bloom to think about his dead son and dead father. We learn in this chapter that Bloom’s father committed suicide. At the funeral, Leopold ponders death and the culture of death (the priest, the pallbearers, gravediggers, requiems, Latin prayers, etc.). He rejects Christian belief in an afterlife, but simultaneously rejects being gloomy over death. He reaffirms the importance of living life as he leaves the funeral and returns to the world of the living, echoing Ulysses leaving the underworld and returning back to the living. On his way out of the cemetery, he sees John Henry Menton, a solicitor who never liked Bloom from the moment he laid eyes on him, but Bloom tries to be polite and tells him there is a dent in his hat. Being told this John Henry Menton just stares at him. Then his friend, Cunningham, tells him about the dent in the hat and Menton fixes it and thanks Cunningham, snubbing Bloom.

At first it seems like all the men are fairly good friends, but then in the carriage ride to the funeral, the men start talking about a Jewish moneylender. They mention how most of them has been ripped off by the guy, except of course Bloom. Hoping to fit in with his friends, Bloom attempts to interject a funny story about the Jewish moneylender, but they won’t even let him finish the story. Instead one of the others interrupts him and finishes the story for him. While never talking directly about his Jewishness, at the funeral many of Bloom’s friends whisper to others behind his back, sharing his business with others (such as his father’s suicide). The final scene with John Henry Menton also implies that Menton’s problem with him is anti-Semitic. This chapter depicts in subtle tones that Bloom doesn’t quite fit in and is treated as an outsider, despite having converted to Christianity, precisely because he was Jewish. This fits in with the novel’s larger theme of the past controlling the present. Even though he has converted, the fact that he was once Jewish and the historical anti-Semitism of Europe still affects the way people treat him now in the present.

Bloom ponders all this death around him. All this death stirs his imagination. He imagines making love to a woman among the graves, he pictures a society of dead communicating with the living through gramophones, he considers how we living eternally through decomposition feeding new life forms, and decides that all this money spent on religious mementos for the dead and flowers would be better spent on living life. All this death at first makes Bloom confront the sad memories of his son and father, but eventually leads him to a sense of hope and desire to enjoy life. Bloom is suggesting that this life might be it and there may not be an afterlife, but this possibility shouldn’t discourage us, but rather should encourage us to live the life we have to the fullest. In this way, Joyce is invoking the pagan conception of afterlife and making a connection with The Odyssey not just in form, but with its ideas. While the Greeks believed in an afterlife, it was an existence of being a dull bored shade; it wasn’t something to look forward to. Yet, even without a Christian conception of an afterlife, they still found meaning in their lives. Indeed, their conception of the afterlife encouraged to make the most of this life.

In this chapter, there is also a fascinating scene where the men walk passed the grave of Parnell (an important Irish politician who advocated for Irish Home-rule).

“Some say he is not in that grave at all. That the coffin was filled with stones. That one day he will come again (112).”

The image here associates Parnell, the hoped for savior of Ireland, with Jesus and his resurrection. The allusion suggests not only that Parnell is the savior of Ireland who will bring her to glory, but that his ideas of independence will one day be resurrected.

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