Apathy in Ithaca

Apathy in Ithaca

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Apathy in Ithaca

   In Ithaca, the depth of Joyce's irony is displayed.  The denouement of this odyssey is perfect for this story, while at the same time leaving us with the exact opposite of the resolution in the tale the book proclaims to emulate.  Odysseus' public apotheosis parallels Bloom's private shame.  The concise question and answer format which Ithaca adopts, found no where else in the book, is refereed to by many critics as reminiscent of a catechism.  The description is well deserved given the overt religious themes in Ulysses.  The almost mathematical precision of the text in juxtaposed with gut wrenching emotion surrounding infidelity.  The parallels that one can draw between the characters of Ulysses and the Odyssey are perhaps the deepest in Ithaca while the themes and undertones of the work drift further apart. 


      The attempt at a father-son relationship between Bloom and Dedalus is never more apparent as they converse, and fail to converse.  Bloom plays the role of a cuckold almost too well, objectifying in Stephen that which he himself lacks.  Of Dedalus, Bloom notes "Confidence in himself, an equal and opposite power of abandonment and recuperation." (Joyce, Ulysses 550)  This is a far cry from the Dedalus depicted anywhere in the novel.  Bloom is looking to Dedalus as a father who dreams his son will accomplish more than he ever could, and in as much he is disillusioned.  The depiction of the scene in Ithaca is one of mathematical precision, and it should strike as odd the amount of opinion and emotion underlying many of Bloom's assumptions.  He assumes Dedalus' refusal to wash is the "incompatibility of aquacity with the erratic originality of genius, (550) and that his silence implies that me must be composing poetry to himself. 


      These two men typify the thematic essence of father and son, and in doing so, they destroy the preconceived notions left in the wake of Telemachus and Odysseus.  No longer is the bond of father and son to be understood as a bloodthirsty quest for familial vengeance.  No, it is replaced with a pair so opposite that they have nothing to discuss but the weather.  Not even the violation of Bloom's marriage bed could bring these two to arms.

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  They are the epitome of opposites, so long as they believe themselves to be.  "The scientific.  The artistic." (558)  But, neither is a better term for one than the other.  At bottom, they are both underachieving, apathetic toadies.  They are walked upon, and they refuse to admit that they care or hurt, because caring would only lead to more hurt.


      These two men, more similar than any we have seen, yet more distant that can be imagined.  They share deep emotions, but the prime characteristic of those feelings is the refusal to accept them or share them with others.  They were baptized by the same man, in the same church, they both speak a language dear to them but shunned by others.  Yet, part of what makes them so similar drives a wedge between them.  They share a common fear of sharing their fear.  But still, they keep up the appearance of men.  They have their conversation on intellectual pursuits and then together expose their primordial roots by urinating together in the garden.  Even Bloom's invitation to Stephen to stay the night is little more than courtesy, and is in no way intended to imply an emotional connection.


      I find the reference to Mrs. Emily Sinico of A Painful Case (Joyce, Dubliners) to be perfect Joycian allusion.  The entirety of that story is a defamation of the practice of apathy, and the inhuman nature of those who practice it.  There is nothing to be gained by removing feeling from the human equation.  Bloom is left to feel "the cold of interstellar space, thousands of degrees below freezing point or the absolute zero." (578)  It appears his apathy has garnered him nothing.  Bloom escapes to a fantasy land, but only for a short while before he is forced to face the evidence of his psychological castration.  He finds his bed recently inhabited by another man, his wife asleep.  He accepts the suitors whom Odysseus slaughtered.  He accepts them because it would take too much feeling to care, much more than it takes to pretend not to care.  But in reality, the price is much higher.  Apathy only saves face, and it only accomplishes that goal so long as it is upheld.

Work Cited:

Joyce, James Dubliners,  New York:Penguin, 1993

--- Ulysses. New York: Random House, 1961.





Karl Davis        05/29/2001 

Joyce's Ulysses         Professor Meredith

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