What They Are Saying, Episode 6
…Mr Bloom … invites what he gets from Mr. Menton, whose dented hat, taking its place beside Mr. Bloom’s imperfect hat, invites speculation. In the previous episode Bloom’s hat was a pot. Yet though Bloom’s hat is as conspicuous as Kernan’s in “Grace,” Bloom’s remains mysterious and so does Menton’s….
Tindall A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce (161)
As recently as the 1950s, females needed building permits to construct stylish coiffures. Flying buttresses and rebar held mammoth curls aloft. For males, the situation was worse— hair hopelessness. Men’s shampoos and primping products lacked octane. Middle age came early in the Eisenhower Era. To hide their embarrassment, men wore hats.
Have you seen Joyce’s sketch of Bloom with his hat?
It aspires to be a derby but falls short. Quality as the hatband boasts? Perhaps but not stylish. In attempting to hide Bloom’s blotches of conscience, he betrays himself. Poldy acknowledges his failings and wears a lousy hat in penance like a heretic’s distinctive cap, but he is not the graveyard’s blackest soul.
Menton, for example, makes a show of his donation to the widow’s collection. If we balance this gift Dignam’s firing, this seems a small recompense. Self-important Menton deserves the ding in his dome.
Tindall calls Tom Kernan’s hat “conspicuous” in Dubliners. In the story, Kernan has fallen drunk and bitten off a bit of his tongue. His rescuers’ first act is to fit his hat back, squarely on his head as if dignity could be restored through haberdashery. The false reclamation of Kernan’s dignity is no more dishonest than Old Dedalus’ top hat donned while his brood of children sell books to buy bread and share crusts of toast.
Stephen’s Latin Quarter hat is a deception too. The badge announces a Parisian student. Stephen is no longer a student, not yet an artist either. He clings to a previous station of life wearing a disguise.
I think it unfair that Tindall mentions Dubliners when writing about Ulysses. Unfair, so I will follow suit and blame Tindall. In Dubliners, the story “Counterparts” offers the best example of a hat used to hide sin. The anti-hero, Tom Farrington, leaves his hat on the hat rack leading his superiors to think he is in the toilet. He is instead at the bar, covered with the soft cap he pulled from his pocket upon leaving the office.
Neither Farrington, nor Kernan, nor the late Paddy Dignam “As decent a little man as ever wore a hat” is the greatest hat-hoisting deceiver in “Hades.” This distinction belongs to Blazes Boylan. Boylan handles a stylish straw lid but won’t bother to hide his shame. Defiantly “airing his quiff,” he is proud to be called “the worst man in Dublin.”
The mourners bend forward, holding their top hats to better hear the caretaker’s blasphemous joke about drunks at the memorial monument of the Savior. “Not a bit like the man,” goes the punchline. Who am I to judge? I own a Pyrenees cap, floppy and shapeless.
One of the most coldly debated mysteries of the novel is “Who is M’intosh?” You’ll find my opinion on these pages. It’s not the only good guess, but it is defensible.
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