State of the Gifts, Part I
In this blog, I will summarize and update how Joyce utilizes gifts and gift-giving up until Episode Eleven. In addition, I hope to, at the end, give some thoughts as to what purpose gifts will be put to in future episodes, and what this blog will focus on.
The Telemachiad – Episodes One, Two, Three
In these episodes, our perceptions of Stephen, Buck, Haines, and Deasy are aided by how each character views and gives gifts. Most giftly interactions in this part of Ulysses are pale shadows of what we decided was true gift-giving, the acquirement (and giving) of something without compensation. Buck cheapens gifts to monetary and commercial transactions, clearly showing his investment in the material and superficial – Stephen’s antithesis. Stephen, however, does not come across much better: he gives up key and tower, but not willingly, as Buck comes across as jocularly coercive. Deasy imparts the gift of wisdom to Stephen, and then the reader discovers that the “gift” has been given before, and is less a manner of giving as bludgeoning Stephen with racist and sexist dogma. The inherent gift of talent obvious from the start in Stephen is shown to be repressed. Therefore, in the first episodes, literal and figurative gifts are repressed and twisted, fitting Stephen’s atmosphere of dispossession.
The Odyssey – Episodes Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten
With the introduction of Bloom there comes a steady progression of “good” gift-giving, illustrating both his character and the world he resides in is somewhat more open to interpretation than that of Stephen’s. Bloom begins by illustrating “gifts” that have an open-ended reciprocity about them. The sense of duty, social and private, constantly drives these early Bloom interactions, as well as those he gives to (the cat, M’Coy, etc.). He is willing to give hand-outs and favors with the expectation, but not the demand, for future favors.
Following this steady unveiling of Bloom’s character, we realize that in the depths of his capacity for multi-perceptions and empathy comes generous sympathy, culminating twice in episode eight. The first example comes with Bloom buying bread and throwing it to the hungry gulls. Here there is no sense of moral obligation or duty, social or private, nothing for Bloom to gain by feeding the birds, besides a slightly emptier wallet. Bloom connects with the birds, unswayed as they are by religion, discerning and surviving, and thus reaches out. This true gift-giving, which has been hidden from the reader and unobserved in every other character, now finds a home in Bloom, the dispossessed wanderer. The second selfless act of giving occurs when Bloom leads the blind stripling across the street. The dispossession, at home, at work, and in Ireland, emphasizes the generosity when one realizes that only people with comforts, riches, wealth, some stability, are able to give “gifts”.
Episode Ten farther stresses these points, the poor dispossession and generosity becoming touchstones for the gift-buying sequences of Boylan and Bloom. Boylan, wealthy, dapper, famous, is able to afford the best of fruits, wines, etc. Not so well off, Bloom wishes to buy his wife another erotic novel, something she’d enjoy, and shops for deals. In effect, the gift costs something for Bloom and nothing for Boylan. In addition, or perhaps compounding this identification, is that Boylan the well-to-do is not engaging in a socially acceptable practice; aware of this, he lies about his intentions, claiming to be giving to an invalid. Despite being the subject of several cruel jokes and pranks, Bloom’s character in episode ten is generally regarded positively by the other characters of Dublin.
Two other characters have “given” as Bloom has given and they both relate to the one-legged sailor. One was an unnamed “stout woman” and the other, never tacitly acknowledged, is Molly Bloom. Whether Molly can be this generous to people closer to her remains to be seen.
Thus far, I’ve observed Joyce’s use of gifts and giving to further delineate character and character development. The effects are subtle when compared to other obsessions, as none of the characters actively address the question of gifts, and thus my examination has been to merely establish perspective. Many of the characters (most of the characters) bear watching on their gift habits – will they develop or no? In what direction will they develop? Now that a pinnacle of true gift-giving has been observed, the progression in respects to Bloom must end and other questions must be asked. Can he apply such generosity to those elements in society not dispossessed or marginalized? What kind of gifts does he cherish most? Which does he (and others) shy away from, or hoard? Episode ten offers the possibility of a “bad” gift (Boylan’s) – does society have fixed notions of what is proper in gift-giving and what isn’t? How does this theme of giving tie into the other major themes of Ulysses – the ideas of parenthood, religion, art and craft, acceptance, home? I will have to begin the categorizing.