What They Are Saying, Episode 5
Bloom has a busy wandering hour at the post office, the chemist, the church. Why does Joyce by way of Gilbert place the scene at the bath? There is only an imaginary soaking during the chapter.
I looked to my favorite Joycean thinkers and find less written about Lotus Eaters than about most topics. A few “Ah, ha’s” from Hugh Kenner. One questions the timing of the episode. He argues the events couldn’t begin before 10:30 or so. Bloom must have returned to the bedroom to see Molly again before sailing forth. It’s then he learns Boylan will arrive at 4PM. The other interesting piece comes from critic Clive Hart. Hart argues Poldy’s purposeless path leaves footprints that trace two mirrored question marks joining at the post office (See Gifford and Seidman if you are meandering yourself). It takes some openness to accept this proposal, but Joyce is working within the confines of the map of Dublin, actual and historical.
But there is nothing to answer my question: Why the Baths?
Gilbert’s symbol for “Lotus Eaters” is the Eucharist. While most of the sacraments are tied to life events (birth, death, marriage, coming of age, consecration into the clergy), there are two rituals that cycle through Roman Catholic lives (other faiths too in various forms). These two linked ceremonies are Confession (now known as Reconciliation) and Communion (The Eucharist). Together these offer forgiveness of serious transgressions and the reentry into the community of the saved.
I can think of no symbol that would satisfactorily communicate confession, but the Eucharistic is dramatically symbolic, and so it makes the list of totems on Gilbert’s matrix.
A chemist’s potions relieve pain. Sweny could lift Martha’s headache. Could her headache be the result of guilt? The ladies of the sodality at Saint Andrew’s rinse dingy souls in the confessional. The last stop on the Purgative Path could be the Turkish bath where patrons might use a nice lemon-scented soap for the kind of compulsive absolution favored by Lady Macbeth. Absolution is only finalized when the sinner has submitted to perform a penance which might be the performance of good deeds. Poldy has yet to perform his good deeds. He will. He will.
Most Joyceans accept that Bloom did bathe. This is based on ruminations later in the day. He is glad later that he didn’t do “it” at the baths. That suggests but doesn’t prove that Bloom did go to the Turkish Bath. He simply states that he didn’t do what he intended to do at the bath.