Ulysses Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-18

Chapter Sixteen: Eumaeus


After Stephen is revived, Bloom directs him towards a "cabman's shelter," a coffeehouse owned by a man named "Skin-the-Goat" Fitzharris. As Stephen begins to slowly sober up, Bloom begins a conversation in earnest, discussing his ideas of love and politics. Bloom's desperation makes his desire for a "son" transparent and even when Stephen is sober, he does not seem to be particularly interested in Bloom's thoughts. The conversation between Bloom and Dedalus resembles the conversation in the Dignam funeral carriage, where Bloom appears as a man who is desperate for acceptance.

In his efforts to win Stephen¹s favor, Bloom attempts to play the role of an intellectual. Upon entering the cabman¹s shelter, Bloom hears a few Italians speaking their native language and he turns to Stephen, to proclaim his love of the Italian language, specifically its phonetics. Stephen (who knows Italian) calmly replies that the Italian melody that Bloom has heard, was a base squabble over money. Though Bloom soon realizes that he does not know the brooding young Dedalus very well, he believes that the student's company would be beneficial for the Blooms. He could perhaps be a singer like his father and his economic potential is all the more pleasant to Bloom because he considers Stephen to be an "edifying" partner in conversation. Later in the conversation, Bloom demonstrates his intellectual deficiencies as he attempts to discuss politics with Dedalus arguing a shallow and superficial Marxist Leninism. Bloom¹s reform calls first, for all citizens to "labor" and second, for all citizen¹s needs to be secured regardless of their varying abilities, provided that this reform is carried out "in installments." Perceiving Stephen¹s negative reaction to be a non-intellectual aversion, Bloom seeks to immediately assuage Dedalus by explaining that poetry is "labor."

Bloom leaves the cabman's shelter and invites Stephen to his home at 7 Eccles Street and the young man grudgingly accepts. While inside the coffeehouse, Stephen's paid less attention to Bloom and more attention to a man named W. B. Murphy, a self-described world sailor who had just come home to see his wife after many years. The comic sea bard adds a comic note to the tiring chapter, with his stories of acrobats, conspiracies and tattoos. As he is leaving the cabman's shelter, Stephen sees his dissipated friend, Corley. When Corley explains that he is in need of work, Stephen suggests that Corley visit Mr. Deasy's school to apply for an opening, as Dedalus intends to vacate his post.


Homer's Eumaeus was a herder who sheltered Ulysses when he first arrived in Ithaca. The "Eumaeus" parallel is the "cabman's shelter" which provides sustenance for Dedalus and Bloom, who are nearing the end of their wanderings. Fitzharris' nickname, "Skin-the-goat," presents a superficial parallel to the Ithaca herder and W. B. Murphy is close to the Ulysses prototype than Bloom is. It is Murphy who has traveled the world and has now returned home, fearing what infidelity may have transpired in his absence.

The long-winded prose of this chapter resembles the anonymous narrating of the fourteenth chapter, "Nausicaa." Both chapters emulate medieval morality tales and Christian parables and this chapter also develops the theme of the story-telling wanderer. Like the "Ancient Mariner," W. B. Murphy performs in a role similar to Ulysses' role in Homer's "Nausicaa" episode. The dissipated, wandering style of the narrative is meant to evoke the listlessness of the weary travelers. The sentences are long and winding; often times, they are not completed and this narrator seems too weary to offer a penetrating gaze into the minds of Bloom and Dedalus.

In his arrangement of motifs, Joyce makes specific reference to Christ's parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son as well as legendary wanderers like Jupiter Fluvius and the "Flying Dutchman." The words of W. B. Murphy ("my wife believes me dead, rocked in the cradle of the deep") link all of these figures together as they bedeviled by questions of recognition. Both Stephen and Bloom have been irrevocably changed on June 16, and after their pained wandering, they may not resemble the people they once were. Joyce realizes this and as Ithaca approaches, the men contemplate the fragility and endurance of love. Bloom thinks to himself: "love me, love my dirty shirt," a maxim of forgiveness that both he and Molly would need to learn. The narrator is more explicit in the questions posed to the reader: "Can real love, supposing there happens to be another chap in the case, exist between married folk?"

Chapter Seventeen: Ithaca


The novel's penultimate chapter marks the pre-dawn hours of June 17, 1904. Stephen returns with Bloom to his residence at 7 Eccles Street and after a strained conversation and a cup of cocoa, Dedalus departs, turning down Bloom's invitation to stay for the night. When the two gentlemen reach 7 Eccles, Bloom realizes that he does not have his key and he is forced to literally jump over a gate in order to gain entry into the house. After navigating his way through the dark house, Bloom retrieves a candle and returns to lead Stephen through the dark house. Their conversation is more spirited as Stephen is considerably more conscious and lucid than he was in the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters. And unlike his demeanor in the cabman¹s shelter, Stephen is less sullen as he sits in the Bloom residence drinking cocoa. Bloom¹s conversation eventually tires Dedalus though, and despite Bloom¹s efforts, he departs without committing to Bloom¹s offer for a future engagement for "intellectual" conversation. Dedalus does not know where he is going to go, as he declines returning to his father¹s house and is locked out of Martello. Guiding Stephen outside of the house, Bloom lingers outside to stare at the multitude of early morning stars. Upon re-entering the house, Bloom retires for the night, focusing his thoughts on the untidy house.

There is visible evidence of Boylan's earlier visit and after briefly contemplating a divorce, Bloom silently climbs into bed, offering Molly a kiss on the rear end. It seems that Bloom is eager to forget the matter, and will sacrifice his self-respect for comforts of married stability. Bloom's submissiveness presents a sharp contrast to the triumphal actions of Homer's Ulysses. In the original "Ithaca" episode, Ulysses and his son Telemachus attack Penelope's suitors, executing them all before re-establishing Ulysses on his throne.


"Ithaca" has long beguiled many literary critics; the chapter is structured as an interrogation or catechism. Through the answers to 307 posed questions, the reader gleans an account of Bloom's early morning activity. Again, an anonymous narrator accompanies Joyce's complicated narrative structure. The tone and scope of the questions alternates from philosophical to personal, effecting a new experience for the reader; all the while, "Ithaca" is bursting with the usual Joycean humor and wordplay. The narrator asks why Bloom was "doubly irritated" discovering the absence of his key; the response: "he had forgotten and because he remembered that he had reminded himself twice not to forget." Later, the narrator describes Bloom's "firm full masculine feminine passive active hand" and refers to Bloom's "clandestine satisfaction of erotic irritation in masculine brothels." The narrator also mimics Bloom's ambiguities and obsequious manners. Recounting Bloom's previous invitation to visit the Dedalus family, the narrator explains: "Very gratefully, with grateful appreciation, with sincere appreciative gratitude, in appreciatively grateful sincerity of regret, he declined." At some points, the obsessive narrator is self-satirical: "they [Stephen and Bloom] drank in jocoserious silence Epp's massproduct, the creature cocoa."

At the same time that the narrator humorously delves into Bloom's psyche, the questions present an equally impersonal universality leading some critics to liken the chapter to a catechism, an Olympian divinity/oracle or the Old Testament "voice of the whirlwind." Others suggest another Old Testament parallel to God's interrogation of the Biblical character, Job. The language of the chapter is both scientific and theoretical, reducing Bloom's spiritual conundrums to neat formulas and observations. Remarking on the human-ness and universality of Bloom's solitude, the narrator describes Bloom as "assumed by any or known to none. Everyman or Noman." "Everyman" and "Noman" link Bloom to a medieval morality play and Homer's Ulysses, respectively. Bloom's fatalism is recast as his cognizance of "the futility of triumph or protest or vindication," ultimately citing "the apathy of the stars" as the source of his anti-heroic stance. Most critics agree that the questions and answers of "Ithaca," whatever their thematic import, produce an "objectivity" that none of the other narrators have created. Bloom's emotional discovery of "evidence" of Boylan's visit could have easily upset the tonal balance of the anti-sentimental novel. Instead, Ulysses remains on track, for even as Bloom experiences his heartbreak, he is reduced to size: Bloom is only one of billions of souls whose "allotted human life formed a parenthesis of infinitesimal brevity."

Joyce's portrait of Bloom defies Homeric heroics to stress the mundane qualities that Bloom shares with all of humanity. Similarly, with a more pacifist and mellow union between Joyce's Ulysses and Telemachus figures replaces the martial vengeance of Homer's father and son pair. Again, Joyce gives Bloom a tint of the religious imagery that was first employed in "Nausicaa." Bloom and Stephen resemble a Catholic procession, as Bloom searches for a "lucifer match" before lighting a candle to guide Stephen into the house. As "Stephen obeys his [Bloom's] sign" to enter, the young Dedalus links Bloom with the Catholic "Fathers" he has obeyed since his schooldays. This Christian imagery is deepened when we learn that Bloom has been baptized three times throughout his life, and his final site of baptism is the same site where Stephen was baptized. The religious imagery ends with Stephen's departure from 7 Eccles and it is described as "the exodus from the house of bondage to the wilderness of inhabitation," ironically drawing attention to Bloom's Jewishness while alluding to a well-known Psalm shared by both Judeo-Christian traditions.

Even as Stephen subconsciously admits him as a "Father," Bloom's messianic ambitions flare and he imagines himself as the "light to the Gentiles." Though Joyce has continually satirized his heroes' messianic complexes, in this chapter it seems that Bloom's imperfect desire to help Stephen is enough to merit the ultimate respect and admiration of the narrator. Bloom has plenty of faults and his schemes for the betterment of others often seem hypocritical. Joyce also paints Bloom as the shallow bourgeois type-he dreams of a utopian settlement called "Flowerville" or "Bloom Cottage" all the while conceding that Marx's "revolution" is both desirable and inevitable, only it must come in "installments." Bloom befriends Stephen, in part, because he believes that his conversation is edifying and that he would be a good tutor to teach Molly how to speak Italian.

Bloom has a sincere desire to "better" the world and the souls around him and this considerably affects his interactions with others. When faced with Stephen's unexpected brusqueness, Bloom is hesitant to judge him, instead suggesting that Stephen is simply in need of etiquette lessons. Bloom's own failings are laughable-at the end of the chapter he considers leaving his wife but after contemplating the Ulysses-like life of a wanderer, he concludes that it is too late in the night for a "departure." And to the catalogue of Bloom's weaknesses and moments of indecision, Joyce adds the details of the unflattering minutia of Bloom's life: his urination, his flatulence and his painful bee sting. For the narrator, and perhaps for the reader, Bloom's heroism comes from his constant desire for a better world, his untiring acts of benevolence and his eagerness to see the best in people while forgiving the most painful offenses. By the conclusion of "Ithaca," Bloom has not mastered the kingliness of a veritable messiah, nor has he amassed a congregation of devotees. Nonetheless, the God-like narrator acknowledges Bloom's faults and forgives him with the same alacrity that Bloom has demonstrated earlier.

In "Ithaca," the relationship between Bloom and Stephen touches upon a few biographical details of Joyce. One of the narrator's tangents discusses the age ratio between the two heroes. Ulysses is set in 1904, as Stephen is 22 years old and Bloom is 38. In "Wandering Rocks," Mulligan and Haines jokes that Stephen Dedalus would perhaps be able to "write something ten years from now." In 1914, Joyce first published selections of his novella, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the relationship between Joyce and Dedalus is strengthened by the fact that in 1904, James Joyce and Stephen Dedalus were both 22 years old. Dedalus, like Joyce, left for Paris in 1902 and the conclusion of "Ithaca" foresees that in 1904, Dedalus, like Joyce, will leave Ireland to take up permanent residency elsewhere.

Bloom is sixteen years Stephen's senior, at the age of 38. Not coincidentally, Joyce completed Ulysses in 1920, at the age of 38, having effectively written two avatars of himself into the novel-a younger Joyce and his older counterpart. In the novel's repeated references to Dante's Divine Comedy, Joyce has suggested the Bloom/Dedalus relationship as a parallel to the Virgil/Dante relationship and now we find that Joyce is effectively mentoring his younger self via Bloom. Not only does this account for Bloom's (perhaps, Darwinian) desire to assist Stephen, but it also explains the excessive similarities between the two characters who are described as the "keyless couple," a pair of Prince Hamlets who ponder whether "to enter or not to enter. To knock or not to knock." For his part, Bloom is largely unaware of what influence he may have had on Dedalus. While under Bloom's beneficent gaze, Dedalus has decided to quit his job at Mr. Deasy's school. We can't know whether Bloom motivated this liberation, we do know that Bloom at least provided a place of "refuge" for Stephen while he was drunk and abused in Nighttown. Bloom's course as a Throwaway officially ends when Stephen leaves his house for the "wilderness of inhabitation," doomed to wander for a time, as he is without key. No doubt Bloom is somewhat relieved to see the burdensome hero's mantle set upon young Stephen's shoulders.

Chapter Eighteen: Penelope


"Penelope" is Ulysses' eighteenth and final chapter. Molly Bloom thinks on her life before marriage and she defends and regrets her affair with Boylan, while bemoaning the social restrictions on women. Mrs. Bloom catalogues the detriments of her married life, describing her nagging loneliness, the deceptive allures of adultery and the betrayals she has suffered on account of her emotionally absent "Poldy." Molly¹s narrative quickly slides between the distant and recent past and we learn of her years as an unmarried and attractive young lady in Gibraltar, a British colony on the southernmost tip of Spain. Her years with her mother Lunita and her father, a military man named Tweedy, seem to offer her the most pleasure as she is largely displeased with Boylan¹s rough manners and her husband¹s effeminate deficiencies.

For all of the negative assessments of hearth and home, "Penelope" is emphatically braced with the word "Yes" at the beginning and conclusion, and we have every reason to believe that-at least for June 17-the Bloom's intend to preserve their marriage. Perhaps in irritation and gratitude for Bloom's "kiss on the rump," Molly intends to turn his servility on its head by waking up early to serve Bloom "his breakfast in bed with a couple of eggs." After analyzing Bloom¹s faults, Molly suggests that she knows Bloom better than anyone else and that their shared memories represent an emotional wealth that she would be unable to duplicate in a relationship with Boylan.


The final chapter is named for "Penelope," the faithful wife of the Greek hero, Ulysses. When suitors overran her husband's palace and forced her to concede Ulysses' death and remarry, Penelope remained faithful, claiming that she had to knit a funereal shroud in memory of her husband before she could choose a suitor. After spending each day earnestly knitting, Penelope would spend the night unraveling the work that she had done. Eventually, her suitors tired of the ruse and Ulysses' triumphal return could not have come a moment later as it had been twenty years (and two Homeric epics) since Ulysses first left Ithaca to assist King Menelaus and the Greeks at Troy. As Ulysses and Telemachus reclaim the palace, Penelope has locked herself in her bedroom chamber and when Ulysses enters the chamber to greet his wife, she does not recognize him. Ulysses must prove himself by recounting the story of their wedding bed's construction, a secret that Penelope knows that only Ulysses would know. The end of epic is a portrait of marital bliss, even as the king and queen are physically altered, haggard and aged. Furthermore, Ulysses has more difficulties to endure.

"Penelope" lacks the few narrative pretenses that are found in other chapters, expressing the simple and unstructured "interior monologue" of Molly Bloom. Unlike the other interior monologues, Molly's is uncorrupted by dialogue or outside distraction because it occurs when she is half-asleep. Because "Penelope" is so heavily foreshadowed in the seventeen previous chapters, some readers erroneously conclude that this final chapter functions like the Earl of Dudley's cavalcade in the final section of the "Wandering Rocks" chapter: a chronology that retraces the narrative timeline from start to finish, existing simultaneously in time. Even though Molly presents a fairly complete chronology of June 16 (as well as a few other historical moments), "Penelope" is very clearly a catalogue of Molly's thoughts beginning at the precise moment when she is stirred by Bloom's arrival into their bed. This is after 3 am and is probably closer to four or five in the morning as the light of the summer dawn is fast approaching. "Penelope" is the novel's final, most daring attempt to capture the essence of the human mind at work. Joyce complicates this mission and the "Penelope" that we see is Molly whose subconscious is at work while she is drifting into sleep. The non-narrative prose skips coherently from fragment to fragment and the lack of punctuation suggests a hallucination that is distinct from the regimented hallucinations of "Circe." That the chapter's mere eight sentences span over 1600 lines of text is evidence enough that "Penelope" is Ulysses' closest approximation to the "stream of consciousness," functioning almost exclusively as a series of linked ideas rather than words.

Just as "Penelope" carries the tropes of Modernism, it also represents a twentieth-century alternative to Homer's scheme of marital bliss. Joyce's revision is "modernized" and made "real" by Molly's infidelity and unabashed sexuality. The obsolescence of epic, battlefield heroism is chronicled in the story of Bloom-as-Ulysses just as the decline of sexual purity and marital devotion is captured in Molly's role as Penelope. The Blooms deviate from the classical ideal but they are able to attain a degree of marital bliss and perhaps it is more meaningful because they have both strained and struggled. Joyce argues in "Penelope" that even though his Ulysses and Penelope are imperfect, they are able to unite because their love for each other is uncorrupted and solid.

The "wedding bed" motif was developed midway through Ulysses, foreshadowing the treatment of the marriage bed in "Penelope." In "Scylla and Charybdis," Stephen's Shakespearean criticism expounded upon Ann Hathaway's infidelity and the "secondbest bed" that her playwright husband bequeathed to her. The "jingle jangle jingling" of the loose bed figured as a musical confession of Molly's rather athletic sexual encounter with her energetic paramour, Blazes Boylan. Joyce's "Penelope" takes place in the mind of the unfaithful wife who is sleeping in the "jingle jangle jingling" bed where she committed adultery earlier in the afternoon. In this regard, Molly cannot be any more different from Penelope who marital devotion is unmatched. This final chapter provides the resolution of the "jingling" while delivering Molly's much anticipated presence. Mrs. Bloom briefly appeared in "Calypso,' in a similarly half-asleep state and Molly is also a fleeting character in "Wandering Rocks," offering a coin of charity to a beggar. The conspicuous narrative presence of Blazes Boylan, the recurring "jingle jangle" of the bed and Bloom's own foreknowledge and reflection of Molly's affair force Joyce to present Molly's "side" of the story.

Molly appears as the sum total of all of the novel's female characters. Fusing Mrs. Breen and Mrs. Cunningham together, Molly presents herself as the beleaguered wife of a difficult man, all the while admitting her own "kimono" antics. Molly's thoughts on maternity contrast with Mina Purefoy and the midwives, because of her dismal attitude, no doubt influenced by her husband's refusal to inseminate her during sex. Molly also evokes the images of sexual conquest and competition, having vanquished Martha Clifford, Molly confirms the superiority of songs over flowers-as the medium of love. In this regard, Molly Bloom resembles Douce and Kennedy of the Ormond Bar, but her closest link is to the "Nausicaa" character, Gerty MacDowell. Molly's first sexual experience involves masturbating a man into her handkerchief and like MacDowell, she found religious confession to be an inhumane institution: "theres nothing like a kiss long and hot down your to soul almost paralyses you then I hate that confession when I used to go to Father Corrigan." Molly's possessiveness and odd sense of piety produce a Nausicaa-like commentary: "hed [Leopold Bloom] never find another woman like me to put up with him."

"Penelope" is perhaps, most notorious for Molly's coarse language and sexual frankness. In considering how she has aged and her beauty has faded, Molly thinks to herself, "would I be like that bath of the nymph with my hair down yes only shes younger or Im a little like that dirty bitch in that Spanish photo." And in regarding her own body and her retentive physical charms, Molly exclaims, "how soft like a peach easy God I wouldnt mind being a man and get up on a lovely woman." Later, Molly explains her sexual frankness saying "it didnt make me blush why should it either its only nature." And with a commitment to honesty, Molly assesses her two paramours. She reveals Bloom's (unsurprising) sexual proclivities, his penchant for voyeurism and pornography ("the smutty photo"), his anal fetishes, and his coprophilia: "hed like me to walk in all the horse dung I could find but of course hes not natural like the rest of the world." Rather casually, Molly admits: "its a wonder Im not an old shrivelled hag before my time living with him so cold never embracing me." It is not difficult to detect the sadness that she has thinly veiled behind her exacting honesty when she compresses her "infertility" and "loneliness" into one charge, citing Bloom as the wrongdoer. When Molly confesses, "the last time he [Bloom] came on my bottom when was it the night Boylan gave my hand a great squeeze," we finally understand that Bloom's emotional distance corrupted their sexual union and forced Molly to seek companionship elsewhere. Like Douce and Kennedy, Molly refers to Bloom's "boiled [greasy] eyes" and in her biting commentary, Mrs. Bloom renames her husband "Poldy pigheaded" because "he thinks he knows a great lot," ending the subject with the backhanded moniker "L Boom." Apparently, she has read the evening press regarding Dignam's funeral.

"Penelope" offers an equally descriptive portrait of Blazes Boylan, confirming his legendary sexual prowess: "he must have come 3 or 4 times with that tremendous big red brute of a thing he has." Molly even considers eloping with Boylan but she quickly admits that Boylan has his own faults. In her overtures, Molly resembles a hybrid of MacDowell's "Nausicaa" and Bloom's penpal, Martha Clifford: "I wishsomebody would write me a loveletter his wasnt much and I told him he could write what he liked yours ever Hugh Boylan." Boylan's rough and casual demeanor complements his athletic sexuality. Molly describes him as "vulgar" and comments that she "didnt like his slapping me behind going away so familiarly in the hall though I laughed Im not a horse." Molly's final judgment of Boylan, "no that's no way for him has he no manners nor no refinement nor no nothing in his nature," is a lasting one and it is not a mere coincident that the word "no" occurs five times in this fragment. Molly's final image, her memory of Howth Head, where she " gave him [Bloom] the bit of seedcake out of my mouth" presents the word "yes" thirteen times within the span of ten lines.

As "Penelope" concludes, Molly's acceptance of Bloom, stems from their shared memories and Mrs. Bloom assumes a defiant tone in her defense of Leopold. To the women of Dublin, she remarks, "let them get a husband first thats fit to be looked at and a daughter like mine." And she chides the men of Dublin for their treatment of Bloom, "making fun of him then behind his back I know well when he goes on with his idiotics because he has sense enough not to squander every penny piece he earns down their gullets and looks after his wife and family goodfornothings poor Paddy Dignam..." Molly admits to the reader that she "loves to hear him [Bloom] falling up the stairs of a morning," suggesting that his awkward foibles ("falling up") have an endearing quality to them, and like Nausicaa, Molly prides herself on her unique ability to perceive Bloom's brooding thoughts and melancholy. Bloom is "a madman nobody understands his cracked ideas but me."

Molly's most revealing confession comes in her discussion of love songs. She remembers Ben Howth and confides that she needed to hear Poldy admit his love of her: "I had the devils own job to get it out of him though I liked him for that." When she explains the nature of Bloom's adoration, Molly takes on the imagery of the Virgin Mary: "O Maria Santisima...he said hed kneel down in the wet" and several times, Molly refers to "a Gorgeous wrap of some special kind of blue colour," a chromatic link between "Penelope" and the avatar of Mary that appears in "Nausicaa." Molly's refrain, "yes Ill sing," is tempered by her confession: "I could have been a prima donna only I married him comes looooves old deep down." Her final conclusion is that the love song that she sings is the song of her marriage, with all of its troubles and joys. Her thoughts on Rudy's death are reflected when she notes that her husband got her on stage "to sing in the Stabat Mater." The Stabat Mater, concerns the sadness of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ, standing at the cross of her dead son; the opening lines of the hymn, stabat mater, dolorosa, confirm the messianic potential of the Bloom-Virag lineage and similarly recall "Dolorosa," the Spanish "Queen of Heaven" whose song commingles beauty and pain. In this regard, the Stabat Mater of "Penelope" is a fitting conclusion to Love's bitter mystery, sung by Stephen Dedalus at his mother's deathbed. In typical Joycean style, a living son's song to his dead mother has been answered by a living mother's song to her dead son.