Important Themes of Episode 1
Appended materials are italicized. Text copyright pending@ don ward 2021
- The Artist’s Isolation: Stephen divorced himself from Church and State. He has already expatriated from Ireland, only returning when notified of his mother’s impending death. Rejecting both British imperialism and Irish patriotism, he refers to Yeats’ elitist theme “The Celtic Twilight” as the cultic toilette. Stephen abandoned religion before his mother’s death. A recurring source of pain is that he refused to kneel and pray at his mother’s bedside as she asked. Stephen has chosen a life without any of the traditional supports of society. This novel is his search for a spiritual, artistic, and humanistic father to fill the emptiness. [Note- Joyce’s brother Stannie tells that biographically their uncle told Joyce to kneel and pray at May Joyce’s bedside. Joyce ignored the request (Ellmann)]. While Stephen continues to have relationships with his siblings, his mother is dead, and he distances himself from his father. He has never known a healthy sexual relationship. Finally, he shut himself off from the community’s economic life, he is soon to be jobless and without prospects.
- A Unique Rejection of Church and State: Although he abandons Catholicism and Ireland, Joyce was the most Catholic and the most Irish creature in his exile. He roundly rejected the hierarchical clergy, denying a vocation to the clergy and invitation to join the Jesuit order. However, he embraced the logic and even the theologies of Thomas Aquinas and others. This rejection tortures Joyce because, as Frank Budgen says, ” He has a theologian’s logic and a churchman’s conscience.” Joyce is so devoted to the place of his upbringing that he vows to describe Dublin in such detail that, were it destroyed, it could rebuild using his book.
- Stephen’s Credo: “I will not serve” (explained in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). Stephen’s established his strategy in the succinct motto-“silence, exile, cunning.” Stuart Gilbert describes the Stephen of the first three chapters of the book as soft-spoken and deferential. You might also think him passive-aggressive. Mulligan’s name for Dedalus is “Toothless Kinch,” a defenseless child. Stephen’s cunning is at work. He is still deferential but has begun his rebellion against Mulligan.
- 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 be reminded of 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.
- Yellow and White: The episode’s colors are yellow and white, the colors of the Vatican’s flag. The banner also displays crossed keys important to this episode and throughout the novel. Stephen will surrender his key to the tower, and he has abandoned Catholicism. Named for a biblical priest, Malachi Mulligan dons a yellow robe, celebrates a sacrilegious mass, and recites a blasphemous poem in mockery of the Church. He represents none of the spirituality of religion but the temporal power, wealth, and adornments of the Church. Campbell points out that the three fried eggs Mulligan “flops” on the plates in the name of the Holy Trinity are also yellow and white (58). Appended 6 Dec 2021
The Omphalos: Stuart Gilbert writes of Ulysses as the connection of lives through birth or perhaps through a blending of souls. Mulligan spoke of a connection to classical Hellenism at Dephi, but that is also the birthplace of Apollo and the location of an Oracle who predicted the future. The novel is about the mutual search of father and son.You will come to see that the father Stephen seeks has qualities that are both male and female. That makes the symbol of the Omphalos or umbilical chord even more appropriate. This theme is again referred to in
—O, shade of Kinch the elder! Japhet in search of a father!
This refers to the novel by Frederick Marryat about a foundling son in search of a father (Gifford and Seidman) and also to Noah’s third son, Japhet, who fathered the Greeks.Appended, 6 Dec 2021.
- Cattle, Oxen, and Horses: 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, 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.