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Motherhood in Circe

Wednesday, November 4, 2009; 09:54 am Leave a comment Go to comments

On Monday we discussed Cissy Caffrey’s role in this nightmare episode. In Nausicaa she provides the realistic mother figure and in this chapter she transforms into “only a shilling whore” (479.)  Her young charges run rampant in the night world of Dublin while she sings dirty songs about duck legs and cajoles with soldiers. Her female maternal capacity makes her part of the link between the nebulous world of non-existence (the space before birth and after death) and existence. We see this in the previous chapter, “The aged sisters draw us into life: we wail, batten, sport, clip, clasp, sunder, dwindle, dies: over us dead they bend” (322.) We also see this in the repeating dual images of the young fertile womb and the old “dead sea” womb of death. By disavowing her mother role Cissy breaks the bridge she, as woman, provides into existence. When she instigates a fight between Stephan and the Soldiers, Bloom implores her “Speak, you! Are you struck dumb? You are the link between nations and generations. Speak, woman, sacred lifegiver” (488.) Given the inability of men to connect life and death, the possibility of women rejecting motherhood would seem nightmarish especially in this deeply misogynist chapter. This could possibly play into the first wave (ish) feminism that was historically occurring in Ireland at the time of Ulysses publication (especially given that prostitution serves as an extreme form of female entrepreneurship – selling their own bodies.)

Interestingly the idea of “lesbic” shows up in this chapter. Lesbianism represents the ultimate female rejection of the heteronormative procreator/maternal role. Stephan says, “Caoutchouc statue woman reversible or lifesize tompeeptom of virgins nudities very lesbic the kiss five ten times (465.) Zoe also “seizes” Florry to waltz with her (472.) Later they are identified as a couple, “All wheel whirl waltz twirl Bloombella Kittylynch Florryzoe jujuby women” (472.) I’m not really sure how to unpack this idea further.

Stephan’s mother also shows up again in this chapter. I must confess I do not completely understand her presence. She seems to show up as a reminder of the inevitability of death. Stephan imagines his father breaking in to dancing revelry by saying “Think of your mother’s people” and Stephan responds “Dance of Death” (472.) Annotated Ulysses identifies this as referring to the “literary or visual presentation of the power of death over the lives of all men” (516.) Later the mother reminds Stephan “All must go though it, Stephan. More women than men in the world. You too. Time will come “473.) This passage also seems to draw a connection between birth and death in her specific reference to women and her lack of specificity in the word “all.” This makes sense with her connection to the watery womb ocean from which we have all come and will all return to. “Our great sweet mother! Epi oinopa ponton,” exclaims Buck Mulligan (472.) She appears as an ultimate mother, praying for her sons soul when he neglects to pray for hers (except that she is decomposing.) She almost represents the underworld version of the virgin Mary or somehow the fall of the virgin. The mother says “(with the subtle smile of death’s madness) I was once the beautiful May Goulding. I am dead” (473.) Also she appears wearing a wreath of faded orange blossoms and a torn bridal veil” (473.) The orange blossoms symbolize  of the virginal bride on her wedding day but the tear in her veil implies violation.

I will add more to this post.

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