Questions, Wednesday Edition
As promised, more on episodes 7 and 8
In a revision of my earlier assessment about Bloom in this chapter, it appears that he uses questions when he’s one-on-one to assert power over others. First with Hynes, who is in Bloom’s debt, then with Nannetti (Bloom is asking for a favor, but he also has to explain through questions what the keys represent, putting him on the higher ground than the foreman), and finally with Lenehan. I would maintain that in groups, however, through the lens of questions we still see Bloom at the edge, marginalized without many of his questions answered. This echoes Hades, where Bloom is the outsider in the group in the carriage, and the overall pattern we’re beginning to see recalls Bloom’s conversation with M’Coy as well in which Bloom had the dominant position. Briefly: in groups Bloom is shut out and his questions go unnoticed or unanswered, and one-on-one Bloom generally asserts his dominance over whoever his speaking to through the use of questions.
Both conversations and thoughts seem to be taken to a further degree when questions don’t get involved. In all the conversations, which as noted in the last post are dominated by questions, nothing much of meaning is exchanged despite the flurry of inquiries. The conversation flits from topic to topic so long as questions are involved – it’s as if the characters are able to avoid saying anything of depth by asking shallow questions. As for inner monologues, one of the points I noticed where one was almost devoid of questions was Bloom’s thoughts about the blind stripling’s senses being sharpened. His thoughts go remarkably deep in this short section, as he doesn’t interrupt himself with a question that might change topics. Right after he finishes train of thought, however, he begins again with the internal questions and continues to only briefly touch on any one topic.
Closing thoughts: rather than facilitate deep thought or sharing of wisdom or information, questions in Ulysses tend to keep conversations and inner monologues at a shallow level (at least for the characters, since as a reader we know there’s hardly a wasted line in Joyce). Again, it’s too early to draw any broad, absolute conclusions like “Joyce clearly views questions as an impediment to deeper exchange and self-discovery,” but it’s something to think about if the trend continues.