Ulysses – Episode Eight: “Lestrygonians”

Summary
Bloom walks past a candy store. A man hands Bloom a throw-away flyer,
advertising a visiting American evangelist. Bloom at first thinks
his own name is on the flyer but then realizes it reads, “Blood of
the Lamb.”
Bloom passes Dilly Dedalus. Bloom pities the now motherless Dedaluses.
Dilly looks thin, and Bloom thinks about the inhumanity of the Catholic
Church, which forces parents to have more children than they can
feed. Bloom walks over O’Connell bridge and tosses the throw-away
over the side. He buys two Banbury cakes to feed the seagulls. He
notices an advertisement on a rowboat in the harbor. He thinks about
other effective places for ads, like placing a doctor’s flyer about
sexully transmitted diseases in a bathroom. Bloom suddenly wonders
if Boylan has an STD.
Bloom thinks of an astronomy concept that he never fully
understood—“parallax.” Bloom remembers this morning’s “metempsychosis”
conversation. A line of men wearing advertising sandwich boards
for Wisdom Hely’s walk by. When Bloom worked at Hely’s, his employers
rejected his advertising idea of having women inside a transparent
cart writing on Hely’s stationary. Bloom tries to remember where
he and Molly were living at that time.
Bloom runs into Josie Breen, whom he once courted. She
is now married to Denis Breen, who is mentally off-balance. Mr.
Breen received an anonymous postcard this morning, which cryptically read,
“u.p.: up.” Today, he is trying to take legal action against the joke.
Bloom inquires after a mutual friend, Mina Purefoy, who has been
in labor at the maternity hospital for three days. As Bloom and Mrs.
Breen talk, another Dublin crazy man sashays by—Cashel Boyle O’Connor
Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell.
Bloom continues on, past the Irish Times office—he
remembers the newspaper ad he ran for a lady typist that attracted
Martha. He had another application—Lizzie Twigg—but she offered
A.E. as a reference and thus seemed too literary, possibly ugly.
His thoughts switch to Mina Purefoy and her perpetual pregnancies.
Passing a group of policemen, Bloom remembers watching
a mounted policemen chase down a group of medical students who were
shouting anti-British sentiments. Bloom guesses those medical students
are probably now part of the institutions they were criticizing.
He thinks about other turncoats—Carey of the Invincibles and house
servants who inform on their employers.
A cloud blocks the sun, and Bloom thinks gloomily that
the cycles of life—Dignam’s death, Mrs. Purefoy’s birthing—are meaningless.
A.E. and a young, sloppily dressed woman, possibly Lizzie Twigg
herself, pass Bloom.
Passing an optician’s shop, Bloom thinks again about
parallax and eclipses. He experimentally holds up his little finger
to blot out the sun. He remembers the night that he and Molly walked
with Boylan under the moon—he wonders if Molly and Boylan were touching.
Bloom passes Bob Doran, clearly on his annual drinking bender. Bloom
thinks about how men rely on alcohol for social interaction.
Overwhelmed by hunger, Bloom enters the Burton restaurant. Bloom
is immediately disgusted by the spectacle of many ill-mannered men
eating. He leaves and heads toward Davy Byrne’s for a light snack
instead.
Bloom enters Davy Byrne’s, and Nosey Flynn greets him
from the corner. Flynn asks about Molly and her upcoming singing
tour. Flynn mentions Boylan, and Bloom is unpleasantly reminded
of Boylan’s impending visit to Molly. Flynn discusses the Gold Cup horserace.
Bloom eats and is silently critical of Flynn.
Bloom looks above the bar at the tins of food. He ruminates about
food: odd types, poisonous berries, aphrodisiacs, quirky personal
favorites. Bloom notices two flies stuck on the window pane. He
warmly remembers an intimate moment with Molly on the hill on Howth:
as Bloom lay on top of her, Molly fed him seedcake out of her mouth,
and they made love. Looking back at the flies, Bloom thinks sadly
of the disparity between himself then and now.
Staring at the pleasing wood bar, Bloom contemplates
beauty. He equates beauty with untouchable goddesses, such as the
statues in the National Museum. He wonders if there’s anything under
the statues’ robes and vows to sneak a look later today. Bloom finishes his
wine and heads to the outhouse.
Davy Byrne is curious about Bloom. Flynn begins gossiping:
he reports on Bloom’s career, his participation in the Freemasons,
how rarely he is drunk, and his refusal to sign his name to any
contracts. Paddy Leonard, Bantam Lyons, and Tom Rochford enter and
order drinks. They discuss Lyons’s Gold Cup race bet. Bloom walks
back through the bar and out. Lyons whispers that Bloom gave him
the tip.
Out on the street, Bloom remembers to head toward the National
Library to look up the Keyes ad. Bloom escorts a blind man across
an intersection. Bloom thinks of how the other senses of blind people
are heightened, like touch. He wonders what it would be like to
be blind.
Bloom suddenly spots Boylan across the street. Panicked,
he ducks into the gates of the National Museum.
Analysis
Bloom is primarily alone in Episode Eight, “Lestrygonians.”
He does not have any errands to run yet; he is merely strolling
the city street and looking for lunch. In Episode Four, we were
first introduced to Bloom as a preparer and eater of food, and,
most notably in the opening lines, a meat lover. Yet, now, outside
his own home, the prospect of getting and eating food is more overwhelming
and problematic. Episode Eight corresponds to Odysseus’s visit to
the island of cannibals in the Odyssey. Under this
thematic menace, the meat-loving Bloom opts not to eat at the Burton,
where men shove meat into their mouths, and heads instead to Davy
Byrne’s for a vegetarian lunch.
The episode opens outside a candy shop, and food pervades Bloom’s
thoughts and serves as a tie-in with many other disparate topics.
Thoughts of food connect with thoughts of pregnant women, from Molly’s
hunger for certain foods while pregnant to Mina Purefoy, currently
in labor with many other mouths to feed at home. Food connects with
sex, in Bloom’s memory of making love with Molly years ago on a
hill as she fed him a seedcake out of her mouth, and in his thoughts
of aphrodisiacal food. Food connects with politics as Bloom thinks
of the lavish dinners used to make political converts and of the
horror of eating in a communal society. Food connects with creativity
as Bloom wonders if what A.E. and other poets eat effects their
poetry. Finally, food ties into Bloom’s conception of types of “home.”
Bloom repeats to himself the Plumtree’s ad he saw this morning in
Episode Six (“What is a home without Plumtree’s potted meat?
Incomplete. With it an abode of bliss.”), thus connecting
this sinister-sounding meat product with marital bliss.
Finally, food connects with religious sacrifice. Religious
sacrifice is connected to Bloom being cast as a Christ figure in
the first lines of the episode, in which Bloom mistakenly reads
his own name in the words blood of the lamb on
an evangelist throwaway. Through a chain of further associations,
Bloom is presented as a Christ-like martyr. His humanitarian acts
that frame Episode Eight reinforce this alignment—Bloom produces
Banbury cakes to feed thankless seagulls, and he helps a blind man
across an intersection. If Bloom is set up as the sacrifice in this
cannibalistic chapter, we might say that he is sacrificed to other
Dublin men. Beyond the menacing eaters of the Burton, the men at
Davy Byrne’s—first Nosey Flynn, then Bantam Lyons and company—exercise
power over Bloom. Their gossipy dialogue eats up the narrative of
Bloom’s inner consciousness as he goes to the outhouse. Instead
of following Bloom’s thoughts, we are suddenly presented with others’
thoughts about Bloom, many of which are fallacious.
Episode Eight contains Bloom’s thoughts of the word parallax. Bloom
has problems understanding this word, as Molly had problems with metempsychosis this
morning. Parallax is an astronomical term that roughly refers to
the way in which an object seems to be positioned differently when
viewed from a different vantage point. Though Bloom does not quite
understand this concept, it will continue to appear, and it offers
a key to one of the ways in which Ulysses works.
As the novel continues, our thoughts and opinions about events and
people will become continually revised as we hear about the same
events and people from a different character—thus Ulysses features
three main characters instead of only one.