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Theme Of Motherhood In James Joyce's Ulysses

3576 words - 14 pages

James Joyce structured Ulysses to correspond with events in Homer's Odyssey. The relationship between two principle characters in Ulysses, Leopold Bloom as a sonless father and Stephen Dedalus as a fatherless son parallels the circumstances of Odysseus and Telemachus. This interpretation of the relationship between Bloom and Stephen, however, does not account for a significant theme of Ulysses, that of motherhood. Despite the idea that Bloom is a father looking for a son and that Stephen is a son looking for a father, the desires of both of these characters go beyond that of a father and son relationship. Although Joyce makes it evident that Bloom is, in face, in search of a son, Bloom is more suited to assuming the role of a mother than a father to that son. In Stephen's case, it is difficult to determine whether he is in search of a father, a mother, or whether he is attempting to free himself from maternal ideas and figures altogether.

Before exploring the role of the maternal caregiver in the lives of Bloom and Stephen's, it is important to first establish motherhood as a powerful theme of the novel. In Ulysses, women are portrayed as unfaithful; Bloom's wife, Molly, is having an affair with Blazes Boylan, Stephen maintains that Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway, was unfaithful to her husband, and in the play that Stephen discusses, Hamlet, Gertrude betrays her husband. Despite these negative images of women, Joyce does not underplay the importance of motherhood. Bloom realizes that "Home always breaks up when the mother goes," and he believes that a mother's duty to her son is "To protect him as long as possible even in the earth [after death]" (pp. 151, 110). Bloom even wants to keep a talisman, a small potato, because it is "a relic of poor mama" (p. 555). Motherhood is also an overpowering issue for Stephen who still wears black to mourn the death of his mother, one year passed. The intellectual Stephen even ponders the first mother of all life, Eve. Finally, Stephen says that "Amor matris," ambiguously defined as either a mother's love for her child or a child's love for the mother (Gifford, p.241), "may be the only true thing in life" (p. 207).

The emphasis on fertility in Ulysses also indicates the significance of motherhood. Stephen expresses his concern for the "Godpossibled souls that we nightly impossibilise, which is a sin against the Holy Ghost, Very God, Lord and Giver of Life" (p. 389). One of the narrators in 'Oxen of the Sun' echoes this sentiment with "Copulation without population! No, say I!" (p. 423) In this same episode, Mina Purefoy, the mother of numerous children, is currently in labor. The narrator of the episode and Stephen's acquaintances at the hospital beatify Mina Purefoy's husband for being a fountain of fecundity and for performing his "man's work" (p. 423). The reference to Molly as "Marion of the bountiful bosoms" by the anonymous narrator of the 'Cyclops' episode again emphasizes the focus on...

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