Comparing Joyce’s Ulysses and T.S. Eliot’s Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
In Episode 8 of Ulysses, Joyce sends Bloom and the reader through a gauntlet of food that enlarges one of the novel¹s main linguistic strategies, that of gradual digestion. While Episode 10 may seem like a more appropriate choice for a spatial representation of the city, this episode maps digestion out like Bloom wanders the streets of Dublin, with thoughts entering foremost through the body and exiting them. In T.S. Eliot¹s poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," the stanzas deescalate the city from skyline to sea-bottom in accordance with the mock-hero¹s own inability digest thoroughly any complete thought all the way through.
Bloom describes the process of eating with realism appropriate to the task: "And we stuffing food in one hole and out behind: food, chyle, blood, dung, earth good: have to feed it like stoking an engine" (144-5). Indeed, this is the path words take in the novel; they begin in a pure form, as written on a page (such as Martha¹s "Are you not happy in your home you poor little naughty boy?" which, despite its impure implications, is at least black ink on white paper) and filters into every stage of Bloom¹s journey (as in Episode 8, 137). The gradual digestion of words fits with another of Martha¹s lines, the typographical error "I called you naughty darling because I do not like that other world" (131). These words become "worlds," carving out a space as they travel throughout Dublin with Bloom. Bloom tosses the "throwaway" into the Liffey, and its words sail down not only the river, but alongside Bloom, causing him trouble and marking him as a throwaway himself. Words often hint at their own creation or foreshadow another episode: "Pen something. Pendennis? My memory is getting. Pen Š?" (128) Speaking both to the "pen" Joyce wields and to Molly as Penelope, the words are empty until endowed with meaning. Consider "plump," which starts the novel off ambiguously. "Stately plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead" can be read with "plump" as an adjective for rotund or as a "sudden or abrupt fall or sinking down" (OED, 10.2), and eventually comes to stand for another of its 10 meanings prescribed by the OED, "cluster, bunch, clump" (OED, 1).
This kind of word-digestion finds its spatial form in the blind stripling Bloom helps cross the street. The stripling is initially delineated by his relationship to food: "Stains on his coat. Slobbers his food, I suppose. Tastes all different for him. Have to be spoonfed first. Like a child¹s hand, his hand. Like Milly¹s was. Sensitive. Sizing me up I daresay from my hand" (148). The stripling¹s sensitivity to food, his loss of dexterity compensated for by his other senses, makes him more aware of Bloom in other ways: "Sense of smell must be stronger too. Smells on all sides,...