Important Themes of Episode 2
- A Mother’s Love: May Joyce is the fondest (to put it in the Irish way) of mothers under the worst circumstances. Her son regrets his refusal of her request to pray. He cannot believe. He will not serve. The break with Mulligan is over the insult not to a dead mother but the affront to Stephen’s commitment to independence from the Church and State. Sure of his conviction, Stephen is none the less sorrowful for her pain. He sees himself in Sargent, the ink-stained, pencil-necked academic weakling that only survives by the grace of his mother’s nurturing.
- Horses and Cattle: Like the natives of the American western plains, Bronze Age Celtic wealth and warfare were shaped by raiding other communities’ stock. Irish lore includes a great struggle between Queen Maeve and the legendary Cuchulain over a cattle raid. With the Normans’ coming and accelerating for many hundreds of years of British occupation, arable land became pasture for cattle and horses owned by Anglo landlords. Deasy’s writing on hoof and mouth disease is in the interest of the wealthy landed gentry who own virtually all livestock in the country. Odysseus’ troubles begin when his crew slaughters and eats the sacred kine. A horse will soon cause undeserved grief in the novel protagonist.
- “a cry in the street”: Aristotle taught a divine essence reflects from every created being and object. Jakob Boehme says every creation carries God’s signature directing the observer back to the divine. Stephen’s immature crisis is the search for the unique signature in himself. One oversimplified definition of Humanism touts the relative importance of the individual over institutions like Church and State. Stephen accepts this, but the limited definition is too impersonal. The Humanist life is complex, rich in internal conflict. You might be a Humanist if… https://humanism.org.uk/humanism/
- The nightmare of history: Stephen teaches history and literature for Mr. Deasy. On this day, he teaches about the invasion of the mercenary Phyrrus, invited to Italy to fight against Rome, paralleling the Norman invasion of Ireland. In class, the readings include a famous but mistranslated quote. Deasy’s warps history in his curation, too, perhaps intentionally. The Stuart coins he collects in a dish are his badge of Protestant support for Catholic emancipation. King James and his followers devalued Irish wealth then abandoned Catholic supporters after the Stuart collapse. Deasy also hints that Orange Lodges supported greater Irish independence. He doesn’t clarify that Irish Protestants opposed Union with England, not for the sake of Catholic emancipation, so Orange Lodges could exercise even greater control over the island. The schoolmaster adds a story about how his forebearer voted against union with England, then changes the story to say he died putting on his boots before the NAY vote. However, the Blackwoods were blacklisted among those who voted for union with England (Gifford and Seidman). Their history is murky, at best. Finally, Deasy claims Ireland never persecuted the Jews because none were allowed to immigrate. Ulysses’ plot gives the lie to Deasy’s “history” of the treatment of Jews in Ireland. While there may have been no pogroms in Ireland, there was mistreatment, both official and personal. Like a nightmare, bad history recalls “facts” that are vaguely familiar and believable but filled with terror and hidden meaning. Deasy’s history is deceptive if not wholeheartedly dishonest. That brand of history is the dream from which Stephen struggles to wake. Aristotle taught (“an actuality of the possible”) that history is an accident of one option chosen among infinite possibilities. The choice results in a flood of unforeseen consequences. Sacrifices in support of unforeseen and arbitrary consequences are unfair burdens. Personal options selected have consequences too. Tindall says like Pyrrhus: “Another hollow victory like his exile and Stephen is (also) done for.”