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Obsession: Music and song

Wednesday, September 9, 2009; 02:36 am Leave a comment Go to comments

As with some of the other posts, I had some trouble defining and setting parameters for my assigned obsession, “Music and song.”  So for starters I tried to include the more important occurrences, although some may be missing as it was difficult to know what to include quotations from poems or plays.

At 1.21, as if he were jokingly asking for dramatic effect, Buck Mulligan asks for: “Slow music, please.” As noted in the Blamires, this aspect ties in to the larger parody of the Mass as presented in the opening scene.

1.167 An allusion to the song “Break the News to Mother,” which deals with soldiers who have died on the battlefield, is an in-text reference to Clive Kempthorpe and his friends.  The reference to the group as “Palefaces” implies that Kempthorpe is an outsider and his money is perhaps the result of a colonial transgression, which makes sense seeing as the song is American.

1.239-241 After Stephen’s argument with Buck Mulligan about Mulligan’s “beastly dead” comment, Mulligan sings “Who Goes Fergus” by Yeats, which was originally meant to comfort a countess who sold her soul to acquire food (Gifford 18).  The sentiment of the song runs parallel to Stephen’s refusal to pray at his mother’s deathbed, which is mentioned at 1.252-3.   This song also comes up at the end of the third episode, 3.445, as Stephen is sitting by the shore and gazing at his boots, which reminds him again of Buck.

1.257-262 Stephen recalls that as a child his mother heard an actor (Royce) sing a song from the pantomime, Turko the Terrible (Gifford 18).

1.300-305 After Stephen reminds Mulligan that it is payday; Mulligan sings about the time that they’ll have drinking later that day.  This marks the first time in the book that song or lyrics are used to punctuate a happy although uneconomical event, seeing as Stephen already has outstanding debts.

1.584-7, 1.589-92, 1.596-99 Mulligan recites “The Ballad of Joking Jesus,” apparently a satirical poem about Catholicism which was popular in Dublin at the time (Gifford 24).

2.257-258 Stephen recounts his debts while meeting with Mr. Deasy, and remembers that he owes “Bob Reynolds, half guinea.”  Although not a direct reference to music or song, Reynolds was the music critic of the Belfast Telegraph (Gifford 35).

2.284-285, 2.288 Deasy references the lyrics to “The Rocky Road to Dublin,” a ballad which deals with a poor Catholic boy (perhaps Deasy means Stephen) on the way to Liverpool, who has to prove himself by violent means, as a shillelagh is a type of club (Gifford 37).

3.99-101 Stephen’s drunken uncle whistles a tune from Verdi’s opera, and Stephen is reminded of the odd family he has, the failed father-son relationship between he and his father (Gifford 49, Blamires 14).

3.201-204 After Stephen remembers that his aunt (Mulligan’s mother) blames him for the death of his own mother, Stephen recalls the lyrics to “Matthew Hanigan’s Aunt,” a song by Percy French (Gifford 54).  Perhaps this is meant to mock his aunt, as he clearly did not kill his mother, even if he disrespected her greatly.

3.259-60 “The Wearing of the Green,” a song about the loss of Irish independence by Dion Boucicault, the composers life represents a desire to form a favorable bond with the French in hopes of attaining independence for Ireland (Gifford 57).

Although this ended up reading more like a list of occurrences, it’s worth noting that, with a few exceptions, songs are not referenced in a serious or non-joking manner until the third episode.  Prior to that there’s only one mention of death or nationalism; in the third episode (for which I did not compile a complete list), all of the occurrences deal with either Irish independence or the breakdown of the family unit.

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