Vegetarianism and Animal Rights
Although my topic for this cultural note is vegetarianism, I will also discuss animal rights. As often is the case, vegetarianism and animal rights go hand in hand during chapter eight of Ulysses as Bloom’s decision not to eat meat stems from his thoughts regarding the treatment of the animals in the food market (721-729). For this post I drew mainly from two sources: Linda Merricks’ article in British Cultural Studies, and Animal Revolution by Richard Ryder.
According to Ryder, the forty years leading up to 1914 were the most vigorous in the animal welfarists’ movement (125). Interestingly, 1914 also was the year when Joyce began writing Ulysses. Consequently, it is not all that surprising that Joyce would include comments on animal welfare in his novel. One of the driving forces in the UK for the animal rights’ movement during this time was the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). The RSPCA was founded in 1824 and worked to educate the public on animal rights, enact animal rights’ bills, and persecute people for acts of animal cruelty. Much of their work centered on limiting the cruelty in slaughterhouses and markets (which Bloom thinks about in the previously mentioned lines), and also limiting the cruelty of animal experimentation (one of the major issues the RSPCA repeatedly fought against was vivisection…the detailed descriptions of vivisection in Animal Revolution are undoubtedly going to give me nightmares tonight). Note: the second oldest animal welfare organization is the USPCA which is based in Northern Ireland. The USPCA was founded in 1836 and was inspired by the RSPCA.
As for vegetarianism, although cases of vegetarianism date back to at least the 17th century, it wasn’t until the 18th century that moral issues regarding using animals as food were raised. In 1847 the Vegetarian Society was founded in Britain, and by the 1880s and 1890s vegetarianism was starting to become somewhat of a “popular movement” (Merricks 432). Merricks points out that around this time in Britain, vegetarian books appeared, vegetarian lectures were given, and a significant amount of vegetarian restaurants were created.
Merricks also mentions in her article that vegetarianism was taken up predominantly by women (432). I found this point particularly interesting given how Bloom is often thought of as a feminine character; maybe Joyce’s decision to make Bloom eat a vegetarian meal was partially in order to further this characterization of Bloom. Also, in relation to Ulysses, I was interested by the fact that animal rights and vegetarian movements for the most part originated in England before spreading into Ireland. Consequently, vegetarianism and concern for animal rights might have been somewhat taboo in the early 20th century in Ireland, as they may have been regarded as English ideas (I didn’t actually find anything in my research to support this, I just think it’s a possibility). If this were to be the case, Bloom’s inconsistent thoughts regarding the consumption of meat may tie into Bloom’s struggle with his own identity.