Many little things start happening in this chapter. None of them too consequential in my mind, and in fact I found my mind wandering a bit in this chapter, ur, episode. That said, Joyce’s cleverness hits me as I realize (after consulting a cheat sheet via Spark Notes) that Bloom’s attention was in fact also meant to be wandering in this episode.
Here are the things I remember/could piece together: Bloom has a pen pal, i.e. a pre-cursor to an Anthony Weiner-type internet relationship; Bloom goes to church and as a Jew thinks about the pros and cons of confession and various other topics related to ritualism; Bloom inadvertently gives a horse race tip to a guy named Bantam Lyons who then heads out to place a bet; there is a good deal of focus on sex. In fact, we see that Bloom is quite randy but hasn’t, we suppose, made the leap of being fully unfaithful to Molly, despite his knowledge of her own infidelity.
More specifically, Bloom has been exchanging suggestive letters with an woman he has never met, under the pen name “Henry Flower”. However, after reading through the latest letter from his erotic correspondent, he destroys it, possibly as evidence but just as likely as an effort to get rid of his own feelings of doing something untoward.
Going under the railway arch he took out the envelope, tore it swiftly in shreds and scattered them towards the road. The shreds fluttered away, sank in the dank air: a white flutter then all sank.
At the same time, the business with the letter all seems a bit of fun. I wonder if the controversy of the book was caused due to such episodes with explicit language and suggestion, around sex, or due to its expression toward the Catholic church. My vote would be for the latter:
The priest was rinsing out the chalice: then he tossed off the dregs smartly. Wine. Makes it more aristocratic than for example if he drank what they are used to Guinness’s porter or some temperance beverage Wheatley’s Dublin hop bitters or Cantrell and Cochrane’s ginger ale (aromatic). Doesn’t give them any of it: shew wine: only the other. Cold comfort. Pious fraud but quite right: otherwise they’d have one old booser worse than another coming along, cadging for a drink. Queer the whole atmosphere of the. Quite right. Perfectly right that is.
Again, you can see the humor he brings to most of his observations. Bloom is less critical of the world around him than he is creative in his theories and observations. He looks at most things, no different than the church offering, with a sense of how they could be improved.