This chapter is patterned on the scene in the Odyssey when Aeolus, the king of the winds, gives Odysseus and his crew a magic bag of wind to help them on their journey home. When they are close to the shore of Ithaca, just out of reach of their goal, one of the crew members opens the bag to speed things up, which has the reverse effect and blows them back to Aeolus.
In this chapter, Leopold Bloom crosses paths again with Stephen Dedaulus. Bloom spends the chapter working to get an advertisement in the newspaper from a man named Keyes. He goes to get approval from the editor of the newspaper, Myles Crawford, who is busy reminiscing and shooting the bull with his friends. They talk about the old days in the newspapers, recall some old speeches they admire, and read an extremely pompous article in a current newspaper full of gaudy language. They don’t seem to be doing much work at all and make plans to go out to a pub. Stephen arrives to deliver an article on foot and mouth disease written by his headmaster and boss at the school in which he works, Mr. Deasy. Crawford likes Stephen and thinks he is a lot like his father who consequently is an alcoholic. While everyone is conversing, Stephen shares a parable about two women who climb a statute so they can gaze upon Dublin and spit the pits of plums onto the streets below. Bloom, meanwhile, hustles all around to see if he can get Keyes to renew his subscription to the newspaper in order to get the advertisement for him, but once he does is blown off by Crawford who tells Bloom to tell Keyes that he can “kiss his arse.”
Each section within the chapter is lead-in with a bold print headline imitating the headlines of a newspaper. One effect this achieves is to call attention to the sensationalist sound bite nature of newspapers. We live in a world of sound bites, video clips and tweets, on the internet, but it is interesting to see that as early as the 1920s Joyce was already exploring this problem. The headlines also allow Joyce to be playful with language and create irony. For example, the headline that appears right when Bloom returns to ask Crawford about the advertisement reads: INTERVIEW WITH THE EDITOR. One headline, O, HARP EOLIAN, is followed by a description of a man flossing his teeth and Bloom making a phone call. Building on the motifs of this chapter, an Aeolian Harp is a musical instrument played by the wind and named after Aeolus, king of the winds.
The “wind” in this narrative is different acts of speech and rhetoric. The discussion of the newsmen revolves around the act of speech making. One character reads a long bombastic speech from a newspaper article that the characters mock for its over-the-top purple prose. They also talk about a speech for and against the Irish tongue that one character says is the best speech they ever heard. All of this speech-making, all of these sound bite news headlines are nothing but wind. Gusts of hot air! They are short bursts that add up to nothing.
All of this rhetoric and speech-making is contrasted with Stephen’s parable, a literary story. All of these speeches and rhetoric are designed to convince the audience to take a position or admire the style of the author (even when those authors are actually demonstrating a lack of style). Stephen’s parable, on the other hand, is designed to represent an experience symbolically and aesthetically without giving a clear answer or solution to the problems it raises. The parable itself seems to be about Irish experience in the shadow of England’s domination, the nightmare of history and its long shadow, which is one of the main themes of the novel. The story describes two Irish women who climb a statue of Lord Nelson, a famous British officer during the Napoleonic Wars, and begin to eat a bag of plums, throwing the pits down below onto the streets of Dublin. The irony is that Lord Nelson fought against Napoleon’s imperialistic ambitions only to become a statue in the heart of Dublin symbolizing British Imperialism in Ireland. The woman gaze upon Dublin from on top this British symbol, suggesting it is impossible to see Ireland anymore from a purely Irish native perspective without the taint of British ideas. They throw down the pits of plums, suggesting the potential for rebirth and growth, but these pits or seeds are thrown haphazardly down into the streets and will just end up as more rubbish rather than as a new tree growing. Notice how Stephen’s fable captures the experience of Ireland under British dominion symbolically and in the details of the story itself in a rather deep way, but doesn’t provide any solutions to the problem. Joyce seems to be saying literature is a superior form of speech-making. It raises our awareness of the deeper issues of the world in an aesthetically-pleasing way without providing simple solutions. It doesn’t use rhetoric for the purpose of trying to convince anyone to adopt a particular side on an issue, but rather it reflects back our experiences to get us to be introspective about our problems and social issues, whereas those other forms of rhetoric are nothing but “wind” or hot air designed to convince others to adopt a certain viewpoint, which ultimately adds up to nothing of importance. This is a powerful statement about the nature of literature, which is not stated explicitly, but is implied through the contrasts of different rhetoric forms in this chapter.
Like Odysseus and his crew on the shores of Ithaca (their goal), Bloom works hard in this chapter to achieve his goal (to get this advertisement from Keyes) only to fail right at the finish line, in imitation of Odysseus and his men, by a “gust of wind” (Crawford’s response). Mr. Crawford’s rebuff of Bloom parallels Cunningham’s rebuff of him at the end of the funeral during the previous chapter. This suggests that Mr. Crawford’s rejection stems from a deep-seated anti-Semitism, a dislike of Bloom for no real rational reason.