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Underlying Gifts

Monday, October 26, 2009; 03:42 am Leave a comment Go to comments

Gifts and giving form the basis and arching themes of Episode 13, Nausicaa, and Episode 14, Oxen of the Sun, though their effects become increasingly subtle. Relief and respite, protection and guidance to the “stormtossed heart of man,” flow from the Virgin Mary/Nausicaa-figure Gerty MacDowell to Bloom and the reader. This lull, this moment of clarity, comes on the heels of the gift-giving-gone-violent in Episode 12, where suspected wealth turns into expected gifts for the narrator and accompanying drinkers, illustrating the uglier side of social bonds governing wealth, gifts, and when and when not to give. In the case of Bloom’s supposed winnings, the all-male cast of Episode 12, and each of the citizen’s companions, are upset to one degree or another over Bloom not giving out, but they never put these considerations in words to Bloom – displeasure and violence instill both parties at the end. Episode 13 flips this: the female, unlooked for and unasked, not even talked to, reveals herself to Bloom, while hiding the defects, and both come away gracefully released. After this Adoration, this first gift presented directly to him, free of social constraints, Bloom, calmed and at peace, is able to articulate, if briefly, his thoughts on Molly and Boylan. He resolves to not dwell on the past and to move forward: “Returning not the same…the new I want.” Characteristically, he wrestles with the contradiction: “Nothing new under the sun.” Personally, however, the “outside-society” gift has allowed Bloom proactive development. In episode 14, Bloom can, for the first time, put aside concerns for the Boylan-Molly tangle.

Episode 14’s occurrences of gifts and giving are the basis of the episode, the gift of life, its examination, development, and miracle. This gift is inextricably linked, once and for all, with social duty in the opening Latin discourse of the episode, whereby it is described that thinking people must go forth and multiply. Inherent in the gift of life are the many gifts in between death and life, and symbolic of both, manifesting materially in things such as sweaters and drinks. At the same time, there is a theme of hospitality and proper etiquette present in the episode that receives a bear nod from the reveling students when they take in ‘the stranger’ and hush up when confronted by a nurse and stark or noble truths – eventually, however, everything becomes grist for their mockery.

After discussion, everyone was behind this “gift” from Nausicaa as a relief for Bloom, though its effects were more ambiguous than I first imagined, mainly becuase the ending of the episode re-invokes the cuckoldry and “old” scandal Bloom has been dealing with all day. Odd. As well, there is a substantial portion of people who don’t like to view this as a “gift” at all, turning instead on the point of voyuerism present in the episode and the general creepiness of it all. Voyueristic or not, I’d still say that for Bloom the relief is clear.

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