Ulysses by James Joyce: Chapter 11

This chapter is patterned on the episode in the Odyssey where Odysseus and his crew must sail passed the sirens, a group of monstrous women who try to lure sailors to their death with beautiful music. Bloom is eating at a restaurant where he is joined by Simon Dedalaus and many other men. At this restaurant there are many beautiful women servers who flirt with the men, while the men get drunk and start to sing. Blazes Boylan appears briefly (in the restaurant I think, but he might’ve been outside it) and he tells a friend about his upcoming conquest of Molly Bloom. While everyone else is singing and having fun, Bloom is deep in his usual introspective thoughts and thinks about Molly. Then he writes a letter.

The intoxicating effect of beautiful women and music is a running motif throughout the chapter and serves as the modern tale’s equivalent of the sirens. Otherwise, this was a particularly difficult chapter to understand. Part of me feels like I should re-read the chapter again to see if I can make more sense out of it, but I’m starting to get anxious to complete this book and move on to other works, and quite bit remains to be read, so instead I’ll rely on some literary criticism about the chapter’s structure. I get the impression this was a student’s essay, but it is very well-written and researched about the experimental musical structure of the chapter, which is based on “fuga per canonem.” The competing narratives/voices that Joyce’s literary adaptation of this musical form entails might explain some of the difficulty of following events in this chapter.

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