Ulysses by James Joyce: Chapter 8

The corresponding episode in the Odyssey for this chapter of Ulysses is when Odysseus and his men meet a tribe of Cannibals called the Laestrygonians.

Leopold Bloom wanders the streets of Dublin during lunchtime in search of a place to eat. Along the way he meets an old acquaintance named Mrs. Breen and talks about her husband and an old friend who just went into a tough labor. He reminisces about when he first met his wife and the first time they made love. Thoughts of his wife’s impending infidelity with Boylan Blazes keep disturbing these happier thoughts. He tries one restaurant, but becomes disgusted with the animal-like way people are gorging on their food and leaves for another pub. At the other pub, he consumes a Gorgonzola sandwich and some Burgundy wine before leaving.

By thinking of his early experiences with Molly, Bloom is recognizing that their relationship has changed since they first married for the worse. His happy past has degenerated to the state it is currently in the present due to an interceding bad event (the death of their son Rudy, which seems to have changed Bloom’s relationship with his wife), making even these personal histories of the characters fit into the larger theme of the events of the past haunting our present.

This chapter also does a wonderful job at humanizing Bloom. We finally get to see his relationship with Molly. Not to mention we witness him interacting with people who don’t snub him or look down upon him, but seem to have a positive view of him. Bloom sees the world through his senses more than the intellectual Stephen did in the early chapters, yet careful reading of Bloom’s chapters suggests that Bloom, too, is a very thoughtful person.

Following the Odyssey’s cannibals, this chapter is structured around eating. Cannibalism is one of humanity’s ultimate taboos. Hunger and gorging, especially upon a blood, is a running motif throughout this chapter. Early in the chapter, Bloom is given a religious pamphlet about G-d that causes him to think about a bloodthirsty G-d who desires blood sacrifices, there is Bloom’s overwhelming physical hunger that reappears throughout the chapter, there is his fears about his wife’s infidelity (which reappears even when he tries to consciously ignore it in the same way that physical reflex like hunger bothers us when we try to ignore it), and there are the people who gorge on their food like inhuman beasts that repulses him. Besides being a motif that translates the Odyssey episode into various modern contexts, the hunger in this episode illustrates the struggle of Bloom to maintain his own humanity in the face of physical necessity (despite being really hungry he refuses to condescend and eat at the first restaurant like the other people, he refuses to become like an animal just to fulfill his needs), disturbing psychological problems (he refuses to become inhuman in response to his wife’s pending infidelity), and a disgusting world (to be belittled or act less human in the face of the anti-Semitism and subtle snubs he has experienced in the other chapters). In other words, to put it in a more grandiose way, this chapter shows Bloom maintains his humanity before all the cannibalistic forces of this modern world that threaten to eat  his very soul, to destroy and swallow the very person he is. 


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