Ulysses – Part One: Discussion (#ulyssesRAL2017)


This won’t be a word-for-word recap of what happened in part one because 1) I get a lot of students looking for help with their book reports and I always tell them to just read the book, 2) It’s nearly impossible to give you a full recap without me rambling on too long.

My reaction to part one is surprising because everyone, and I mean everyone has called this a BEAST of a book. That may be but part one seemed pretty timid to me. We meet Buck Mulligan. He’s rather over-the-top and likes to play people off against each other. Mainly, his friend Stephen Dedalus against everyone else. Buck believes that Stephen has some darkness within him. Why? Because Stephen refused to pray for his own mother when she was on her deathbed. This is a huge deal and is mentioned many times in part one.

The writing at this point is all over the place. Buck spouts off interesting observations like the color of water being “snot green”. Buck is wildly interesting but keeping track of his thoughts is a challenge.

Right when I thought I had figured Buck out, we switch to Stephen and learn a little about him and his innermost thoughts. We also get to know a fellow named Haines a bit better although the three of them seem to be at odds with one another.

Buck is what I call a “swing” friend. A friend who will swing in whatever direction that suits him at the time. Sometimes he is insulting you and other times he appears to be supportive but it’s unclear why.

All in all, not a bad start. On to part two which is super long. For those who joined us, how are you doing? What do you think so far?

Not sure what kind of discussion is to be had because there are only a few of us reading it but I ask these two questions:

Does Ulysses succeed in its goal of elevating the common man or does it come across as literary pandering to lower class people?

After part one and some of part two, I feel as if the common man is anything but common in this novel. No matter how mundane the task, everything is built up to be larger than life. I suppose you could say that everything is an adventure.

Are there any benefits to be gained from the difficulty of Ulysses? How would it be a different book if it were easier?

If it were easier to read, I think more people would give it a chance. However, the difficulty lends itself a certain cachet. I feel incredibly smart toting the book around town. I get curious stares everywhere I go.

It’s interesting though because if someone tells me they’ve read it, I ask for their impression of the book and they just stand there staring at me and then end with “It’s a beast!” That is what I have heard over and over again.

That’s all I have. Until next time, Happy reading.

11 thoughts on “Ulysses – Part One: Discussion (#ulyssesRAL2017)”

  1. I’m not sure this elevates the common man because Stephen is an academic of sorts which sort of places him above the rest even though he is poor. Then you have Buck who seems to want to tear him down and I really don’t have a true sense of who he is because he changes perspective based on who he’s closest to at the moment. It also seems as though he wants to pit Haines against Stephen for some reason, which is also unclear.

    I think part one is easy to follow for the most part until episode three when Stephen is off on a philosophical discussion with himself. It’s odd but seems to demonstrate how lost he feels. He seems unmoored.

  2. Yay for me! I finished part one and am midway through part two! Perhaps the fact that I am well into part two is clouding my judgment, but no, I definitely do not think this elevates the common man. For this first part, the three characters are in academia. How many men at the time the book was written can relate to that milieu? How many today? If you were trying to elevate the common man, don’t you think you would write about the common man? Where are the laborers? The dockworkers? The equivalent of modern-day blue-collar workers? That’s the common man, and as far as I can tell, Joyce stays far away from them.

    The writing is esoteric as well, further separating the common man from the novel. You want to elevate that class, then you write in a way that will relate to them. Joyce seems to antagonize the common man by purposely creating passages that are obtuse. I can envision him chuckling evilly to himself as he wrote them.

    I do agree that if the book were easier to follow, more people would read it. There is something charming in the mundanity of the characters’ lives. That being said, there is also something rewarding about discerning what Joyce was trying to do with a passage that would be lost were the answers more forthright. It’s not an easy read, and I often find myself looking back at a bookmarked synopsis to make sure I understand the general gist of a scene. Yet, when those moments of clarity occur, I feel like the most brilliant reader alive. There is something to be said for that.

    1. Your comment about reviewing the synopsis online made me chuckle. I did the same thing after part one and was surprised that I followed it as well as I did. Part two seems easier to read but there is so much of it.

      The common man thing. In academia, there are various levels of education and experience. To me, the ones Joyce chose to write about are equivalent to “lecturers” not full-time tenured faculty. In my mind, the common man. Interesting.

      1. I think I finally moved past the stupid part in the newspaper office. That entire scene seemed to be a whole lot of nothing.

        I guess I view anyone in academia as the opposite of the common man. The common man, to me, is a blue-collar worker, someone with minimal education and absolutely no post-high school education. Academia to me is any student, lecturer, or tenured professor. So, I definitely do not think Joyce was targeting the dockworkers with this thing. He was going after the students and those above them. Given the tone of the novel, I can see how he views anyone outside of academia as beneath his consideration, so in Joyce’s eye, the student is the common man.

  3. I really don’t recall at what spot I abandoned this but definitely in the first 1/3 somewhere. Seemed a lot of walking around and obsessing and I felt it required too much keen attention than I was willing to give it. (This was a few years ago when Jill and I attempted a readalong. I think she finished it, maybe.) KEEP GOING! Loving your thoughts and comments here. Which is most of the fun of Ulysses, I think? I have always wondered if I should attempt the audiobook. It’s how I got through Moby Dick – which had the rambling boring and also extremely lively parts. 🙂

    1. Oh, I intend to finish it this time. The first time I attempted it I didn’t try too hard. I think I read just a few pages and got sidetracked. I am not close to 200 pages in so I will complete it regardless. I actually enjoy reading it. I enjoy the random bits and the sentence structure but put together it seems like a lot of nonsense. If I try too hard to find meaning in every little thing then I make no progress so I am just reading it and letting it hit me as it wants to.

  4. I read an interesting interview with Joyce once in which he said that he given Irish education at the time he wrote this, he didn’t think they would find all the allusions (such as to classics & Latin) abstruse at all. Of course, the level of American education is way different, unfortunately (in my mind) so we find it much harder than they would have. But I also think you can read it on two levels, and if you read it “superficially” without having to know all the references & allusions, it’s not bad at all.

    1. I agree. I was trying to pick it apart in part one but with part two I am just reading it without the analysis and it seems to be going smoother. I’m still getting little nuances of things here and there but not enough to make me stop and start again.

  5. “Classics” have never been my thing; I am intimidated by them! And James Joyce… let’s just say we had a bad encounter when I was in high school. That said, I am impressed that you’re reading this and hope it ends up with you enjoying it!

  6. You are brave! I have begun this, and I am not afraid of wordy or lengthy books (Anna Karenina being one of my most beloved) but this one? I doubt it’s for me. Admire your tenacity, though.

    And, I received The Husband’s Wife, too, which I’m looking forward to reading after I finish Clare MacKintosh’s I See You (which is a great thriller so far).

    1. So you started Ulysses? It’s a real challenge but I am fascinated with each sentence which is what keeps me reading. I just wish the sentences, put together, meant something. I find myself trying to decipher things but I am of the belief that there is nothing to decipher.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s