What They Are Saying, Episode 16
“The wandering jew,” Buck Mulligan whispered with clown’s awe. “Did you see his eye? He looked upon you to lust after you. I fear thee, ancient mariner. O, Kinch, thou art in peril. Get thee a breechpad.”
There is more than one theory about Iago’s malice in Othello. One theory is the lieutenant has an abiding lust for the Moor. Iago pleads pure devotion to his commander but creates a lecherous misdirection to hide his sexual desires. This may be displacement, the attribution of one’s motives to another person, or an unconscious attempt to disguise guilt.
Displacement or intentional malice may also have been at play when Mulligan indicts Bloom of having lustful designs on Stephen. Medical Mulligan’s ambivalence toward Dedalus, including clothing gifts and promises of continental excursions interspersed with insults and backbiting, suggests feelings of guilt. Minor exhibitionism on the part of Mulligan and a flamboyance of style (yellow dressing gown and rose vest) out of step with Twentieth Century early days may also be hints from Joyce about Mulligan’s natural inclination.
The name Buck is a protestation, perhaps too bold, of bellowing masculinity. Mulligan is ever boastful about his pursuit of females. Females of low repute and servants who would be helpless victims of his attention are particular targets of his verbal pawing. However, he never actually abuses a woman during the novel. He is prone to steal a servant’s mirror to look at himself rather than to ogle a slavey. When Lynch and Stephen dispatch to Bella Cohen’s, Haines and the Buck run off alone to the undeniably phallic tower. Stephen might have been initially invited to the tower to be courted. When Stephen was unencouraging, he was replaced by the more receptive Haines, explaining Stephen’s eviction.
Returning to Shakespeare’s tragedies, we find another corollary from The Merchant of Venice. Senor Antonio has fond feelings for young Bassanio, who ironically needs funds to finance his courtship of Portia. Antonio risks and loses a fortune for his generosity. Antonio is also the name of Pseudangelos Murphy’s lost lover, eaten by the sharks. His inked image smiles and relaxes from Murphy’s tattoo. That they were lovers is confirmed by the tattooed “16” according to Gifford and Seidman. And Mulligan has referred to Bloom as the ‘ancient mariner,” a title most Murphy.
That Bloom might experience sexual attraction for Stephen as he does for Milly is possible. He is physically demonstrative in helping Dedalus back onto his feet and brushing him clean after Carr pummels him. You may recall that Maddox tells us Milly is sent away because Bloom has acted inappropriately toward her. Whether Poldy’s intentions were sexual toward his daughter or his protege seems empirically insoluble, but during the episode, Bloom thinks of section two of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, the law under which Wilde went to prison (Tindall).
The mystery of Bloom’s hidden thoughts persists to the episode’s final paragraph with the memory of the lyrics from “The Low-Backed Car” as Bloom and Stephen complete their wanderings. The song predicts domestic bliss— “as he sat in the lowbacked car to be married by Father Maher.” But Murphy is the wanderer who strayed too long, abandoned his child, and replaced his life’s companion with Antonio. Bloom is now returning to 7 Eccles Street, to the bed where Molly sleeps. He is now in the company of a son newly bound.
A Final Tonsorial Observation
For me, the Trinity of Joycean commentary consists of Tindall, Budgen, and Keener. Many others are beatified. This week for the first time, I read an extraordinary observation by Hugh Keener that buckled my knees. Joyce works an articulate weave into the fabric of Ulysses, doesn’t he?
I suppose everyone who has even bent the binding knows of Mulligan’s malicious mass. Keener keenly notes the words “brush,” “shaving” and “Buck” on the first page and the reappearance of the thread when Mulligan is supplanted by Bloom.
“Preparatory to anything else Mr. Bloom brushed off the greater bulk of the shavings and handed Stephen the hat and ashplant and bucked him up generally in orthodox Samaritan fashion, which he very badly needed.“