Important Themes of Episode 17
- “a matutinal cloud…no bigger…than a woman’s hand”: The quote recalls Elijah’s signal from heaven. Bloom symbolizes the new Elijah since early in the novel when he received a flyer announcing Elijah’s coming. He launched the paper as a skiff on the Liffey heads toward Butt Bridge, where is now, finally bonding with Stephen. The same priest has baptized the two prophets, “the reverend Charles Malone C. C., in the church of the Three Patrons, Rathgar.” Furthermore, there is a connection by way of lost parents. May Goulding Dedalus’ funeral solemnized on the anniversary of Virag’s death. Astronomical events mark on the births of the new prophets too. The canvasser’s incarnation as the prophet includes harassment by boys and his evacuation from Barney Kiernan’s in Cunningham’s fiery chariot, paralleling the life of the original Elijah. Elijah is not the Messiah but the messenger for the Messiah. The new “restorer of the church of Zion,” Bloom delights in this mission from heaven: “To have sustained no positive loss. To have brought a positive gain to others. Light to the gentiles.”
- The father-son theme complete: The plot completes circumnavigation of the uncomfortable relationship between father and son: Virag/Bloom/Rudy; Simon/Stephen; Shakespeare/Hamnet; Hamlet/Hamlet. Bloom/Stephen is a spiritual rather than a genetic coupling. Bloom and Stephen’s bond satisfies the need for comfort, fills the void left by a disapproving society, and gives approval where family ties are unavailable through death or dissolution.
- Where was Moses when the candle went out?: The rhymed answer says “in the cellar” (i.e., prone to be lost in the darkness) and either “Shirttail out (groggy or semi-conscious)” or “eating sauerkraut (absorbed with pleasure).” Moses here refers to Bloom, of course. The candle is the light of religion, traditional behavior, and morality. Bloom’s candle snuffed dark and cold. He cannot hope for the continuation of his family lineage through a son, or comforts of a conventional marriage, or the traditions of the Judaism he abandoned. When the candle goes dark, Bloom invents new ways to navigate in the dark. He finds a satisfying alternative to biological fatherhood and invents an alternate marital devotion.
- The “massacre of the scruples”: Odysseus slays the suitors. Gilbert tells us BlooPhen destroys the false logic that “has been eating away the hearts of the protagonists.” These include differences in “name, age, race, creed.” Gilbert goes on to say that Stephen strings Odysseus’ bow with logic, and Bloom lets fly the arrows. One example is Bloom’s explanation: “He thought that he thought that he was a jew whereas he knew that he knew he knew that he was not.” Similarities between the languages, Irish and Hebrew, help eliminate the racial impediment. The scruple over “name” refers to paternity. Adoption of younger by elder resolves this barrier. These four named prejudices deal with racism. Other false logics cited by Gilbert are “return” and the possibility of “perfectability” or metamorphosis. There is also a too-long list of Molly’s suitors. The list, conceived in jealousy, is soon made insignificant by logic. Perhaps most impressive is Bloom’s slaughter of the marriage scruple. By relegating adultery to insignificance, he slaughters Boylan’s treachery. Once a wife, Molly becomes a symbol of flesh. Bloom also now discards his responsibility as a husband (Budgen).