Ulysses by James Joyce: Chapter 12

In this chapter we meet the “Cyclops.” In the Odyssey, the Cyclops was a one-eyed monster that tries to eat Odysseus and his men.  In this chapter, the Cyclops is an ultra-nationalistic anti-Semitic Irish man called the citizen who talks about Irish politics with his friends in a pub. While they are talking about these topics, Bloom comes in looking for Michael Cunningham and decides to participate in the conversation, much to the resentment of the citizen who accuses Bloom of dominating the conversation, being sophistic and antagonistic on purpose. Bloom decides to leave for a few minutes, which causes the anti-Semitic citizen and his friends to claim that Bloom is just going to pick up his winnings from a horse race, playing on the stereotype of greedy Jews who only care about money. The more moderate in the group start defending Bloom and talk about certain Pro-Irish policies he came up with and shared with his newspaper, which the citizen disbelieves. Michael Cunningham arrives and confirms Bloom’s patriotism and good nature. Bloom returns to find the citizen in an anti-Semitic rant. Bloom responds by standing up for Jews, pointing out that Mendelssohn, Karl Marx, Spinoza, and even Jesus was a Jew. This last one really sends the citizen fuming at the mouth; he takes a biscuit box and chucks it at Bloom, missing him completely, just as he is leaving out the door.

This chapter is told entirely from the viewpoint of an anti-Semitic narrator sympathetic to the citizen’s racist and nationalistic point-of-view. For this reason, we always view Bloom through the lens of this extreme anti-Semitism. Not only does the citizen verbalize these anti-Semitic sentiments, but the narrator thinks negatively about Jews. Despite a narrator who dislikes and stereotypes Bloom, Bloom’s good qualities still shine through, even when we can’t view his thoughts, and it is actions are being interpreted through the lens of an anti-Semite.

The citizen accuses Bloom of sophistry, but we’ve seen in the earlier chapters that Bloom has a rather sophisticated and complex way of viewing the world.  Bloom stands up for Jews in the end, but explicitly tells us in this chapter he views himself as Irish. The citizen, on the other hand, is narrow-minded and bigoted.    He views the world in simplistic black-and-white terms and can’t handle ideas that don’t fit into that world-view, so in his mind it must be Bloom that is being sophistical in the way that Bloom refuses to accept black-and-white thinking. The idea that Bloom might think of himself as Irish rather than Jewish (despite having converted to Christianity) and could add to the Irish National cause are data points that doesn’t fit into the citizen’s simplistic worldview.

By associating the nationalistic anti-Semitic citizen with the ancient Cyclops, Joyce is suggesting that extreme nationalism and anti-Semitism produces monsters. Joyce, unlike his citizen eschews simplicity by showing that the Irish are legitimately oppressed and this nationalism isn’t the nationalism of the majority in power, but the minority out of power. Those fighting oppression can be just as monstrous as their oppressors if they turn to the wrong ideas. We see a contrast in Bloom in that he holds his tongue, despite being snubbed and harassed for being identified as a Jew throughout the novel, and only speaks up at the very end of this chapter for Jews, despite technically not even being Jewish and identifying as Irish!  He fights against oppression, but for the right reasons and with a moderation that contrasts with the citizen’s zeal and endless irrational rants. Another strategy that Joyce uses in this chapter to critique the idea of nationalism is to rewrite the modern characters in the style of an exaggerated medieval epic interpolated between the dialogue, to show through parody the futility and ridiculousness at looking back on some glorified golden age.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s