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Circean Gifts

Monday, November 2, 2009; 04:14 am Leave a comment Go to comments

Gifts play a large role in “Circe.” For the most part the gifts Bloom has given out throughout the novel to this point are mentioned within Bloom’s hallucinations as indicators of his generous and benevolent nature, particularly to animals, though the mention of his social gifts (to be repaid in some way later) are also brought up, when Bloom recalls Hyne’s debt to him. In his mind, when acting the emperor-saint figure, Bloom is able to decline these social repayments, a mark of his wealth and generosity. Of course, gifts alone never seem enough to off-set the self-loathing/insecurities Bloom hides concerning his personality, and his pathetic attemtps to plead a good character are laughed at when his gift-giving is paired against his philandering or otherness.

Part 2: Startlingly, the second half of Circe seems particularly devoid of gifts, though there is plenty of “giving” going on. Here you have the lessons and abuses “Bello” is giving to Bloom as well as demanding from him (“Ask for that every ten minutes. Beg. Pray for it as you never prayed before”; “What you longed for has come to pass”). This giving seems to drag Bloom down into and through his own infernal purgatory; he surfaces shaken but very much Bloom in the end – indeed the guiding and sheltering force at the end of this nightmare sequence, utilizing every tactic and skill of his to keep Stephen out of trouble and harm (he succeeds, excepting the “coward’s blow”). That these hellish gifts of life’s lessons are really given to Bloom by Bloom (hallucination/reality-skip), the boundary between what can and cannot (does and does not?)constitute a gift comes into question, as do the myriad reasons embraced throughout the book until now (and brought back in full during the first section of Circe). When Bloom helps Stephen out by talking down Bella and paying for the broken lamp, is he giving a gift to Stephen, paying him back, or enacting some other form of exchange? To my mind, perhaps because I want to believe it, but also because of the breaking down of “gifts” in the late half of this episode, this action symbolizes a necessary transaction in the realm of parenthood where “gifts” aren’t even discussed. The defense of the child invokes no social reciprocation, it is something that a parent does expecting no reward. Bloom’s cool assessment of the damages and situation shows Bloom at his analytical and perceptive best but still biased in regards to his child versus the world, seeing only the price gouging exhibited by Bella at Stephen’s expense, with the net effect being the minimizing of danger to Stephen. This also brings to mind Stephen’s mumbled proverb to Bloom “Be just before you are generous,” invoking concerns for fair-dealing and the very thing that Bloom himself is capable of enacting. An elaboration of this quote appears in Spectator (1908): “A likeable man is tempted to be generous before he is just.” Neither Bloom nor Stephen are “likeable” to the denizens of Dublin and both should therefore act with justice before flinging their money/gifts about. Bloom, the more typical outsider, is more aware of this, giving only to those he identifies with, while Stephen has yet to come to this realization, as he spends his money on whores and alcohol for “friends” who reject (Mulligan) and betray (Lynch/Judas) him (Bloom isn’t completely perfect, of course, when it comes to getting things for Molly). Does Bloom pay for the damages with his money or Stephen’s? Regardless, Bloom enacts this self-defense of his child again at the end of the episode, by pushing the blame of the “brawl” entirely on the soldiers. Protecting Stephen has inspired emotions in Bloom that were previously mute, such as anger and courage.

Gift of worship?

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