Following the bustle of activity in Episode 7, Episode 8 finds us back where – if we’ve been paying any attention – there is some comfort. Namely, inside the head of one Leopold Bloom. The “action” of this section can be summed up as rather every-day occurrences. Bloom is out and about, interacting with various people, causing his thoughts to flit in every different direction. He walks over O’Connell bridge and purchases some Banbury cakes to feed the seagulls, at which point he runs into his former girlfriend, Josie Breen. At the time, Bloom has also been further contemplating the impending tryst scheduled to happen later in the day between his wife and Boylan. As he interacts with Josie we learn that her husband is mentally a bit of a wreck, however the conversation largely focuses on Mina Purefoy, a common friend, who is giving birth and has been in labor for three days. Bloom continues on, passing the newspaper office, going in search of something to eat, and eventually he ducks into the National Museum to avoid Boylan who has just passed along the street.
Despite Section 8 being largely focused on the observations of Bloom/total free-association gone amuck, there is also a theme that I can only describe plainly as “movement”:
Yes, yes, there are the ubiquitous Seagulls.
There is also a flock of pigeons.
And moving down the winged animal food chain, there is a fly stuck on a windowpane within Davy Byrne’s pub.
In addition, we have the movement of trams traveling in and out of the city and thoughts about a future eclipse which will occur later on in 1904. Here’s where our friend JJ tries to trip us up: all of this movement is meant to indicate stagnation. Or so I would infer as our dear anti-hero falls into his typical gloomy mood:
“Trams passed one another, ingoing, outgoing, clanging. Useless words. Things go on same; day after day: squads of police marching out, back: trams in, out.”
Poor old Bloom. And yet I’m again struck by how perfectly human he is. In general my reading of the guy is that he is a rather optimistic character, thus prone to disappointment. Maybe this is only in comparison with the truly downbeat Stephen but I find Bloom’s combination of thoughtfulness about the world around him, philosophizing about improvements to the city of Dublin, the nation, Europe; pondering of the role of religion and government and in this particular section, being somewhat discouraged at these things, much more uplifting than Stephens general rancor.
Many readers will also take note of the presence of food as Bloom searches for lunch. There is certainly a good lot of talk about food and food imagery, but I think there is something else going on here rather than Food=Sex or Food=hunger=sex. Take this:
“This is the very worst hour of the day. Vitality. Dull, gloomy: hate this hour. Feel as if I had been eaten and spewed.”
The appetite we encountered during Bloom’s introduction in Section 4 has transformed to something entirely unpleasant. He searches for food and finds the unappetizing and the symbolic.