by James Joyce
“The movements which work revolutions in the world are born out of the dreams and visions in a peasant's heart on the hillside.” ― James Joyce, Ulysses
The plot and theme of James Joyce's Ulysses center on life as a journey. Joyce based the framework of his novel on the structure of one of the greatest and most influential epic poems, The Odyssey of Homer. In it Homer presented the archetypal journey of life as a heroic adventure. The protagonist, Odysseus (Roman name, Ulysses), encounters many perils–including giants, angry gods, and monsters–during his voyage home to Ithaca, Greece, after the Trojan War. In Joyce's Twentieth Century novel, the author also depicts life as a journey, in imitation of Homer. But Joyce presents this journey as humdrum, dreary, and uneventful. Joyce's Ulysses is a Jew of Hungarian origin, Leopold Bloom, who lives in Dublin, Ireland. His adventure consists of getting breakfast, feeding his cat, going to a funeral, doing legwork for his job, visiting pubs or restaurants, and thinking about his unfaithful wife. His activities parallel in some way the adventures of Homer's Ulysses. For example Bloom attends a funeral in a chapter entitled "Hades"; paralleling an episode in The Odyssey in which Ulysses visits Hades, the land of the dead (or Underworld) in Greek mythology. Bloom's unfaithful wife, Molly, represents the faithful wife of Ulysses, Penelope. A young aspiring writer, Stephen Dedalus, represents the son of Ulysses, Telemachus, who searches for his father. Although Dedalus is not Bloom's son, Dedalus nonetheless is depicted as searching for a father figure to replace his own drunken father.
But why, when almost everyone who has heard of this book and many others who have read Ulysses, would so many say it is "difficult"?
Perhaps it is a difficulty that is an inescapable aspect of the human condition and as such, when presented as literature, is accessible to humans. Perhaps it is a difficulty that may be overcome by simply reading the text, enjoying the story, and waiting for the moments, christened "Eureka" moments by Claudia Traudt (Instructor in the Basic Program of Liberal Education at The University of Chicago), where the text will become more understandable, part of your soul, if not less difficult.
Reading it reminds me of my own experience reading William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, another notoriously difficult book. After at least three readings and countless partial attempts one summer I found myself finally "in the zone" with the text suddenly alive and the voices of the characters, their streaming consciousnesses, clearer than ever before. "Eureka!"
This takes work and both serious reading of and listening to the text. It is a text that echoes and reechoes Homer's Odyssey. One example of this jumped out at me when references to the sea from Ulysses brought to my mind the image of Odysseus sitting on the shore of Calypso's island pining for his home. The result of reading and rereading this great text is that its fundamental humaneness comes to the fore and you can celebrate the greatness that is Joyce's Ulysses.
Ulysses by James Joyce.