“The cracked looking glass of a servant”: …expands the narrative in three ways. The Irish as slaves of the English are deprived of their natural culture (language, education, religion, and political self-determinism). The mirror reflects not a true image but one distorted and dictated by overlords. Secondly, that the mirror has been stolen from the slavey (some servants were called slaveys) shows the predatory ways of imperialism. Thirdly, art requires scrupulous self-examination by the artist. Joyce’s hero Ibsen said: “To be a poet is to preside over oneself as a judge.” Joyce does that somewhat harshly in Portrait. In Ulysses, he abandons some of his juvenile egotism, but his self-image is still flawed. Isn’t that true of us all?
Mother Grogan, the milk crone, and Cathleen ni Hoolihan: … are personifications of Celtic Ireland. Once vibrant and beautiful, Celtic Ireland is now barren, wretched, poor, and toothless. Cathleen ni Hoolihan is not directly referenced in the text here but is in the poems of Yeats among others. She changes physically as the fate of the island changes. In the ancient oral tradition, first written down by monks in the 6th Century Ta’in bo’ Cuchulain tells the tale of the struggle between Queen Maeve of Connaught and the Ulster hero Cuchulain over a powerful brown bull. The heroine here (the milk crone) has faded into an unlettered derelict insulted and cheated of her penny by Mulligan. This theme is revisited in Episode 2.
“He proves by algebra…that he himself is the ghost of his own father.”: Mocking Mulligan ridicules Stephen’s theory of Shakespeare not as Hamlet the son but as the dead king. Betrayed by his wife, the ghost roams in search of his son. The search of father and son for the absent “other” is a theme common to The Odyssey, Ulysses, and Hamlet (Popeye the Sailor too but I won’t wander there). Stephen searches for a spiritual father and Poldy a son to replace the biological son who died just after birth. Poldy’s father was lost to him through suicide. Stephen’s father is also lost through spiritual decay.
Drowning; This theme recurs throughout the novel. We have already encountered Stephen’s fear of water, Mulligan’s lifesaving adventure (a historical event from the life of Oliver Gogarty), the mention of suicide at sea, and the nine days wait for the resurfacing of the corpse. Perhaps his phobia describes Stephen’s struggle with the decision to cut all ties. In Episode 3 we will become familiar with the transformative nature of the sea. For Stephen, however, drowning is also an indication that he must sacrifice his egotistical thinking. He needs to bond with humanity under a new philosophy. That is, he needs to die and be reborn.
One of several keys: Despite payment of the rent by Stephen, Mulligan takes back the key (and two pennies more), evicting him. Keys are significant on several levels in the novel’s plot. Symbolically, the key indicates belonging. Stephen does not belong at the Martello Tower. Frank Budgen in The Making of Ulysses calls Mulligan “a blightingly negative force,” a cynic mocking a country paralyzed by Church and a British master.
A Panther: This symbol is a reference to a Roman officer named Pantera said to be the father of Jesus ( Joseph Campbell) and plays with Mulligan’s blasphemous “Ballad of Joking Jesus” with lyrics including “My father’s a bird,” (The Holy Ghost). The panther is dreamed by the Englishman Haines whose name in French means “hate.” The resulting gunfire is emblematic of British imperialism.
Agenbite of Inwit: This is a medieval text on the hierarchy of sins. The literal translation of the title is “remorse of conscience.” This concept is of particular interest to Stephen who chose between his vow to refuse service to the Church and his obligation to comfort his dying mother.
Messengers: Homer tells of Hermes (Mercury to the Romans) and Athena bringing advice and warnings to Telemachus. William York Tindall explores these visits in his analysis. The milk crone represents Athena and is an honest messenger. Mulligan is an unwitting messenger for the coming of Stephen as a true artist. Given-named Malachi from the Old Testament meaning “messenger,” he is also referred to as “mercurial.” He is not just changeable without warning, but Mercury, messenger of the gods. His Anglophile middle name St. John suggests that Baptist, who heralded the coming of Jesus.