The Gifts That Keep Giving
In the episodes Calypso, The Lotus Eaters, and Hades, gift-giving has been elevated over how or what it represented in the Telemachiad, which was primarily the debasement of such acts. Gift-giving took two forms in the Telemachiad: monetary transactions or unreciprocated giving. Buck Mulligan exemplified, or was exemplified by, the first, while Stephen’s unwilling surrender of castle, food, and key typified the other form. In episodes 4, 5, and 6, gift-giving, while more infrequent than in the Telemachiad, also demonstrates a closer meaning of the word “gift”, where the gift-giving is unasked for or willing, but done with future services or favors in mind – a way of building a good rapport, so to speak, with individuals. Not surprisingly, Leo Bloom exhibits this kind of giving.
Calypso offers three possible “gift-giving” scenarios in the form of Bloom’s interactions with his cat, Molly, and his daughter Milly. When Leo is first introduced, he is accompanied by his hungry cat. In the first two pages of Calypso, Bloom teases the cat, holding off on feeding her. This passage could say several things on Bloom’s character, especially his detached curiosity from her plaintive “mrkrgnaos”, but Bloom, importantly, does feed the cat eventually. And later, when eating his kidney, Bloom passes his cat the burnt bit. Though it might be a stretch, I would consider such parcels of food gifts, as the cat does not necessarily require the sustenance, from Bloom anyway, as he notes she exists both in his house and altogether as a mouser. He gave her food simply because she appealed to him – the upside of having a cat hunt down mice was not in Bloom’s stream of conscious at the time. Such an interaction demonstrates a good way of gift-giving – a mutual respect or interest in a party simply because they are in/of your household (comparisons to the Odyssey). Molly, on the other hand, is almost the negation of gift-giving, made evident in how her first word “Mn” is interpreted as a sign of not wanting/requiring anything, specifically from Bloom himself. He still brings her breakfast, but from the ritualistic steps he takes of what she does and doesn’t like, the food he gives her seems more a dutiful action than a gift exchange. His silence on Boyle could be interpreted in a myriad of ways, possibly a gift, possibly out of duty, loyalty, or some other reason that might attribute to his lackluster approach to his wife’s shenanigans. In Milly’s card we find that a gift was given, serving to introduce the reader to Bloom’s anxiety over his daughter, as well as highlight the issue of “duty” in gift-giving again. In these cases with his family, Bloom doles out gifts where little seems reciprocated – his wife is detached and his daughter is absent, and too hurried to write a decent letter.
The Lotus Eaters introduces two more interactions where Bloom fulfills a request or offers a gift without promise of exchange. M‘Coy is the first of these. Even after his unwanted “valise tack” Bloom still agrees to help out the morgue worker by putting his name on Dignam’s funeral list. Only later do we see that Bloom understands the “gift” given here: “I saw to that M‘Coy. Thanks, old chap: much obliged. Leave him under an obligation: costs nothing.” (92). The transaction is friendly, social, but the idea of a favor floating around the future is tangible. The other interaction, a much looser one, is found when reading Martha and his letter correspondence as a type of gift-giving. The two, it seems, stimulate some faculty in the other, write more or less as and when they will, thus there is reciprocation, though for Bloom it is much more of a “mental self-indulgence” according to Harry Blamires.
Points of significance: Bloom does all the gift-giving here, unless you want to read his trip to the cemetery as a gift to him, to realize the moments in his life he has yet to live. Bloom’s gift-giving is for duty, social, or identification reasons. Additional thoughts: Bloom is able to change perspective, unlike Stephen at this point – does thsi realte to his different take on gift-giving? Point about Athos and Deasy – the giving of an object (or animal) to have another take care of it; in the case of the dog, who is getting a gift then – Bloom or his dad? Does Stephen’s and Bloom’s dislike of dealing with others inhibit their gift-giving capabilities?