Discussions of motherhood are less transparent in Chapters 4, 5, 6 than in the first three chapters. Motherhood informs Bloom’s internal musings on death that consume these chapters. Woman, with her fertile womb unsurprisingly comes to signify life. “Yes, yes: a woman too. Life, life,” Bloom muses about Milly. (74) Bloom equates the the fertile female womb to a sea in which one floats easily and never drowns. He foresees ” his pale body reclined in it [a bath] at full, naked, in a womb of warmth, oiled by scented melting soap, softly laved.” (71) Death provides the other body of water in which one cannot drown. An old hag represents this other end of life in Blooms thoughts. Bloom compares her to the Dead Sea — high salt content makes the Dead Sea a highly buoyant body of water. However, the salt content also makes the Dead Sea impossibly septic for aquatic life. “A dead sea in a dead land, grey and old… Dead: an old woman’s: the grey sunken cunt of the world,” concludes Bloom. (50) Bloom’s intermingling of motherhood and water imagery fits with his depiction of life as a stream — flowing between oceans. The idea that Circe provides example of motherhood that the Bloom ascribes to supports this idea. The Odyssey links Circe inextricably to the sea.
Chapter six provides a discussion the legitimacy of motherhood. The illegitimate child means “nothing.” (79) The family of the young mother buries her child as quickly as possible to literally bury the sin of its mother. “A tiny coffin flashed by,” observes leopold Bloom, “In a hurry to bury. A mourning coach. Unmarried.” (79) In the families haste to obscure the object of their shame, they disregard the reality of the child’s short life and death. His existence disappears. “Where is that child’s funeral disappeared to?” wonders Bloom. (83) The illegitimacy of the child carries through to the mother. The young mother retains her role as child, having to look to her own mother for emotional cues. “Mourners came out through the gates: woman and a girl. Leanjawed harpy, hard woman at a bargain, her bonnet awry. Girl’s face stained with dirt and tears, holding the woman’s arm, looking up at her for a sign to cry.” (83) This passage becomes particularly interesting when we compare it to Bloom’s loss of his own legitimate child.
Bloom’s discussion of the burial of this illegitimate child hints at infanticide. Bloom and his colleagues emphasize parallels between the mercilessness of the Catholic response to suicide and infanticide. However they gender suicide as a distinctly masculine action while they characterize infanticide as distinctly female. Male individualism extends to suicide; it is a solo act. However the mother/child bond appears so powerful that in killing a child mothers kill themselves.
The discussion of the dead boy is Bloom’s second mention of illegitimate motherhood. He also worries about his own daughter, Milly’s, integrity after she mentions a young male admirer in a letter in chapter 4. Bloom’s fears about the shame associated with Milly’s potential motherhood links motherhood to her burgeoning sexuality. Bloom supports this connection with his description of Milly’s bond with her mother. The Molly/Milly relationship demonstrates the power of the mother/child bond. They seem to merge with each other. At times Bloom seems unable to tell them apart. “Molly. Milly. Same thing watered down,” thinks Bloom. (74) We see this in Bloom’s obsession with the song about the sea side girls plural. As Milly’s sexuality emerges her lips transform into her mother’s.
“A soft qualm, regret flowed down his backbone, increasing. Will happen, yes. Prevent. Useless: can’t move. Girl’s sweet light lips. Will happen too. He felt the flowing qualm spread over him. Useless to move now. Lips kissed, kissing, kissed. Full gluey woman’s lips.”
Milly also shares Molly’s destiny — female vanity. “Her slim legs running up the staircase. [To where her mother reposes.] Destiny. Ripening now. Vain: very.” (4)
Finally I wondered how you saw the idea of the Mary the Virgin Mother fitting into this picture?
I also wonder how you interpreted Bloom’s unquestioning belief in old wives tales? What does his validation of mother/female dogma achieve?
Through out the text we see Bloom feminized. Bloom acts as a mother both to his wife and to his daughter. We see that his relationship with Milly seems much closer that his wife’s. Molly, in contrast to Bloom, seems very withdrawn from her daughter. Bloom even waters his name down to the feminine “Flower.” I concluded that his deference to old wives tales represents his further feminization.