(U) Episode 15: “Circe,” ~pp. 422-593.

Important Themes of Episode 15

  • The fox, the hollybush, and the grand/mother:  The fox theme reemerges as a moving force of the novel in “Circe.” Foxhunt imagery scurries into the episode’s burrows into how the would-be artist is harried by conventionalism. From her rest among the “fabled mothers of memory” rises the fox’s mother May Ghoul-ing resurrected in another attempt to save her son’s soul. Stephen reframes the riddle of the fox. In the new version, his mother leaves heaven on her mission. Stephen is “the thirsty fox,” thirsty for ale but also for the rarified atmosphere that destroys Icarus, unmentored and untempered. Having refused the Church’s call, Stephen next refuses the call to arms against the British issued by Old Gummy Granny (Ireland). She urges him to sacrifice his life for independence. He will, but it’s personal, not political. He’ll sacrifice for personal, not national independence. Stephen destroys the chandelier’s old chimney, extinguishing the light with his ashplant, the flames of Church and country flicker and die freeing his art. 
  • Bloom-ing: Passive Bloom asserts himself in “Circe.” He has risked verbal and physical abuse in defense of Judaism and to protect Stephen, but never before has he spoken stood up to insults against himself. “The Nymph-(With a cry, flees him unveiled, her plaster cast cracking, a cloud of stench escaping from the cracks) Poli…!” Teapots are scalded per Molly’s instruction to prevent cracking. Now the pot cracks, and his obedience with it. The title of the “Calypso” episode honors Molly. Now the MollyNymph becomes Bella, another iteration of Molly. Samuel Butler observed that neither Calypso nor Circe have male attendants in The Odyssey, being powerful without men. Bloom is suddenly brave. He stands opposed to ferocious Bella negotiating for Stephen’s debt. Bloom’s new assertiveness will continue into the final episode. In a footnote, Tindall tells us the “Circe” episode’s central question is “Who wears the pants?” With the popping of his button, it’s clear Bloom does. The summer solstice is just ahead, and Florry predicts “the last day” will come this summer. A new life is about to begin for Stephen (Campbell). “I have gone as far as I can in this egoistic single way of mine, and I am about to embark on my way home” says Stephen under guidance from his new mentor. Bloom sets a new course too. Campbell continues,” So his (Joyce’s) essential message…is that the face of God is the face before you: your friend, a stranger, or whomever.” Bloom saves Stephen from a bludgeoning, bankruptcy, and incarceration; Dedalus reciprocates by launching his “dance of death” to distract from Poldy’s shame of cuckoldry. “I and the Father am One,” says Stephen. And Bloom imagines his protege as Rudy.
  • Anima/Animus: The novel builds to this gender shifting, cross-dressed episode, proving that Bloom is not only Everyman but Everyperson with qualities gentle and generous. He has become staunch and formidable too. Campbell explains that Odysseus is “initiated to female power” and comes to accept the “equal but other” distaff influence through instruction from gender-shifted Tiresias. Bloom, Bella/o, and Molly in pants are all more powerful symbols, both masculine and feminine. One source of transvestitism in “Circe” is the experience of Nora Barnacle as a teen. She and her friend Mary would dress as men and stroll the streets of Galway. Once when cross-dressing, she dared to greet her unsuspecting, brutish Uncle Tommy.


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