Episode 1 of James Joyce's
'Ulysses' centers around the interactions between Stephen, his housemate Buck
Mulligan, and Bucks guest Haines. The episode highlights the ways that
Buck, who is in many ways Stephens foil and opponent, has encroached upon
Stephen, both physically and mentally, and how he has come to take over Stephens
space in the Martello tower. The episode concludes with Stephen describing Buck
as the usurper, appropriately encapsulating the events that take
place in the episode and Stephens actions to follow.
The episode opens with
Buck mocking the actions of a priest at mass, an affront to the previously devout
Dedalus, and an image that highlights Bucks disrespectful and boisterous
nature. Buck calls Stephen a fearful Jesuit and pokes fun at the
Greek origin of his last name, calling it absurd. Buck nicknames
Stephen Kinch, meaning knife-blade, which opposes Bucks own
stately, plump and ungirdled appearance. Bucks loud
and theatrical gestures as he mimics the priest contrast with Stephens
slow, weary, and quiet ones. Bucks light appearancehe
is wearing a yellow robe, is covered in white shaving cream, has white
teeth glistening here and there with gold points, and has light
untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak underscores Stephens
dark, somber appearance. Buck mocks Stephen for wearing second-hand clothing,
for continuing to wear only black as he mourns his mothers death, and
for his infrequent bathing patterns. The physical contrasts between the two
further highlight the alienation and sobriety that define Stephen.
After Buck concludes his
performance of the mass, Stephen asks how much longer the Englishman Haines
will be staying with them in the tower. The presence of Haines immediately brings
forward the tension between English and Irish identitieswherever Stephen
goes he cannot escape the haunting force of the Englishman. Buck backhandedly
criticizes Stephen by telling him that Haines thinks that he is not a gentleman.
Stephen worries about the violent nature of Haines, who screamed about a black
panther in the middle of the previous night. You saved men from drowning.
Im not a hero, however, if he stays on here I am off, Stephen tells
Buck. Haines poses an even greater threat to Stephen, the artist, than to Buck,
the strong and heroic doctor.
Buck continues to pester
Stephen and asks him for his handkerchief to wipe his blade. Buck mocks Stephens
dirty, snotgreen colored noserag, calling it the new art colour
for our Irish poets. Buck then gears the conversation to the snotgreen
sea, which he deems their great sweet mother. It is at this
point in the episode that the reader learns that Stephens mother has died
and that Stephen refused to kneel down and pray for her in her last moments.
The narrator reveals that [p]ain, that was not yet the pain of love, fretted
his heart,Stephen is haunted by his decision and is visited by his
deceased mother in his dreams. Buck tells Stephen that an acquaintance believes
Stephen to have general paralysis of the insane, further evidence
of the distance between Stephen and others as well as the psychological repercussions
Stephen faces. Buck urges Stephen to look at himself in a cracked mirror that
he has stolen from the female servants room. As Stephen looks at himself
in the mirror, the narrator shifts from third-person to Stephens own voice,
a break from the seemingly traditional narrative style that has guided the episode
thus far. Hair on end. As he and others see me. Who chose this face for
me? This dogsbody to rid of vermin. It asks me too. These words of Stephen
highlight the gloomy and negative vision he and those around him hold of him.
That Stephen calls the cracked servants mirror a symbol of Irish
art underscores his dim view of his country, his own art, and himself.
Stephen then confronts
Buck about something that he said shortly after his mothers death: O,
its only Dedalus whose mother is beastly dead. Buck, though temporarily
flustered, brushes off his snide and cruel remark and proceeds to lecture Stephen
on the triviality of death and the frequency with which he experiences it each
day. Stephen remains offended, shielding the gaping wounds which the words
had left in his heart, and thinks again of images of his mother: Her
secrets: old featherfans, tasseled dancecards, a gaud of amber beads in her
her shapely fingernails reddened by the blood of squashed
lice from the childrens shirts. Stephens exclamation No,
mother! Let me be and let me live, reveals even more strongly than before
his internal torment.
Before Haines comes downstairs,
Buck urges Stephen to ask him for money. Stephen, however, would prefer to use
his own money and tells Buck he will get paid soon. The question of money underscores
Bucks role as usurper as well as Stephens discomfort
with Haineshe would rather use his own money than be paid for
by an Englishman. Buck further encroaches upon Stephen by reciting Fergus
song, the song that Stephen sang alone in his house as his mother was dying.
Haines enters the room
with welcome light and bright air and the three eat breakfast while
discussing the imminent arrival of the milkmaid. Buck hastily recites prayers
as he quickly dishes out the food, further evidence his irreverent, obnoxious,
nature. When the milkmaid arrives, she, in opposition to Haines, darkens the
doorway. The milkmaid is an image of barrenness and death, an embodiment of
all those qualities of Ireland that Stephen despises. The milkmaid pays more
attention to Buck and Haines than to Stephen and does not speak Gaelic, a testament
to her image as the dying Ireland. Stephen is the one who pays her, though he
is two-pence short, a symbol perhaps of the distance he will always feel between
him and his country.
As the three men finish
their breakfast and get ready to leave the tower, Buck urges Stephen to tell
Haines his take on Hamlet after Haines states that he would like to collect
Stephens sayings. Stephen asks if he will get any money in return, whether
from Haines or from the milkmaid. Stephens refusal to share his analysis
of Hamlet with Haines points to his larger unwillingness to share his art with
an Englishman, to give yet another part of himself away to another usurping
force. The question of whether to take money from Haines or from the milkmaid
and Stephens conclusion that he sees little hope in either underscores
Stephens view that neither England nor Ireland can support his livelihood.
The presence of Hamlet in the episode recalls the links to be made between Ulysses
and Hamlet. As Harry Blamires points out (The New Bloomsday Book, A Guide Through
Ulysses, p. 5), Buck in many ways is like Claudius, the evildoing power who
wishes to appropriate power and control, and Stephen is like Hamlet, isolated,
possibly mad, seeking to right the wrongful death of a parent. Stephen, unlike
Hamlet, does not need to avenge the murder of his father, rather his own regretful
actions towards his mothers death.