Thursday, October 17, 2013

Review: Ulysses by James Joyces

This is not so much a review of Ulysses (since I've already written about it twice in the last few weeks) as an effort to sum up my feelings as I finished it.

Because I think Ulysses is just about three people whose lives are a mess.

Stephen Dedalus, the young man with life before him but who is unsure of how to grasp it. His friends are unreliable, his finances are in shambles, and he's unable to bring any of his great ideas to fruition.

Leopold Bloom, the older man whose marriage is falling apart because he cannot communicate with his wife. He indulges his appetites (physical, sexual, imaginative) as a way to mask the lack of control he has over his life.

Molly Bloom, left cold by her husband's refusal to sleep with her in the ten years since their son's death.

When Carol and I last re-organized our bookcases, we split most of the fiction between "Lonely Men" and "Awesome Women" because, tongue in cheek, it seems like these could encapsulate all fiction. But here is a book that epitomizes the lonely men. Neither Bloom nor Dedalus can speak their feels to the important people in their lives. Dedalus would not kneel to pray at his mother's deathbed and now she is gone, and his father is too distant. Bloom still grieves for his infant son and cannot come to Molly's bed, and so their marriage dies.

These emotionally stunted men have no examples to draw on, no one to show them a better way of life. But, in Ulysses, Molly is no better off. When she's finally given the room to speak in the book (which is to say, when she is silent and dreaming because she never does really say what she is thinking out loud), she is a whirl of memories and mixed emotions. She is guilty, but she feels (I think, rightly) forced into her action by a decade of Bloom's inaction and grief.

And that's my overwhelming impression of Ulysses: it is a portrait of grief, of the greatness lost to three people who, despite all the words swirling in their heads, can't really speak to the people who care about them.

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