Episode 12, Cyclops – Your typical night out

Barney_KiernanFinally, we arrive at the chapter dedicated to the pub. We’ve been flirting around this setting for sometime now. Bloom has only just escaped the Sirens of the Ormond Bar, while earlier in Episode 8 we found him lunching at Davy Byrne’s pub and elsewhere in the windswept Aeolus, Stephen wrangles a group of men toward the pub. There are still more drinking locales to come, and more thorough drunkenness. Why, at this stage, do we need another chapter set entirely in the pub? Ask this question and you have never visited Ireland.

My husband has said that the three places he would bring a visitor to Ireland, to indoctrinate them in the culture of the place and its people, would be a funeral, the pub, and his Aunt Chrissy’s house. For those not acquainted with my husband and therefore not finding the invitation to Aunt Chrissy’s forthcoming, and if you are not visiting for mourning purposes, the pub is then the only option. This setting is also the most readily available insight into the country and its people under any circumstances.

So here we have Bloom entering into the supposed conversational arena of the pub. He is not without his ability to socialize, though the last time we saw him in conversational form in a group he was in the carriage on the way to Dignam’s funeral in “Hades”, where he found the punch lines of his jokes stolen away from him and generally was  ignored by the other men.

Now, he becomes the focus of the surrounding men as he enters into Barney Kiernan’s pub and faces the great Cyclops, cleverly transformed by Joyce from an actual monster to “the Citizen”, a single-minded character representative of all of the hyperbole and nationalist rhetoric of the time in its worst form. Through this Episode we are shown the limitations of conversation throughout Ulysses, and in comparison with the depth and rapidity of thought it is a poor and limiting means of expression.

The Citizen is xenophobic and latches on to Bloom while the others are only too happy to follow his example by gossiping about Bloom’s supposed stinginess, rumors about his unfaithful wife, his sexual orientation, the parentage of his children, and his “Hungarian origins”. The greatest insult however has to do with the misconception that Bloom had, earlier in the day, won a bet and having come into some spare cash has not bothered to buy a round for those assembled.

The chapter is also notable for its narrator. We are now squarely outside Bloom’s head and the chapter is the first to give the privilege of narration to another actual character, though he remains unnamed. Here we touch upon one of the over-arching themes of the book — that of the unreliable narrator and the limitations of a defined narrative.

The episode concludes with the Citizen following Bloom out of the pub as he makes his way to leave, making a general scene and screaming antisemitic slurs while finally throwing a biscuit tin toward him as a final insult.

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