Yes and No in the Circe Episode
Having completed Circe, my thinking about yes and no is definitely starting to take some direction.
For starters, I think the conversation surrounding yes and no is intricately linked with gender. I’m somewhat resistant to critical articles I’ve read that have suggested the notion of Ulysses demonstrating “feminized yes”; while I agree that female characters are emphatically repeating ‘yes’ in several cases (most notably Molly in the Penelope episode, of course) and perhaps even utilizing the word differently, I need more convincing to believe that every time yes is uttered in the novel it is feminized. I’m more inclined to think that throughout the novel, there is ‘yes’ perspective and a ‘no’ perspective that can change depending on the speaker and said speaker’s actions and status. ‘Yes’ may be more feminine than ‘no’, but that’s pretty obvious to most readers of Ulysses, given the overwhelming nature of Molly’s final soliloquy.
I think Circe is almost as important in terms of yes and no as Penelope is. As Suzette A. Hanke puts it, “Joyce was fascinated by the Circean image of a voluptuous enchantress who could nurture or destroy the male enthralled by her charms.” Molly is certainly the character who most epitomizes a “voluptuous enchantress,” but I think the Circe episode has the same effect (the capability to nurture or destroy), whether applied to Bloom, Stephen, or readers themselves. Like his marriage with Molly, Bloom seems completely unprepared and/or unwilling to address the intense hallucinations he endures, and I think this is represented in his answer, “Nes. Yo” (which, I might add, was coincidentally in the title of my October 12th blog post) after being asked by The Fan whether he remembers her (15. 2766). He can’t answer the question because he won’t actually acknowledge to himself the question of memory, also evidenced by his denial of Boylan and Molly throughout the novel. Stephen, on the other hand, is more willing to at least acknowledge the hallucinations, but he also makes the effort to disagree with their assumptions. We get Stephen’s mother praying for him (after he refused to pray for her when she was alive, of course), and Stephen’s response is “No! No! No! Break my spirit, all of you, if you can! I’ll bring you all to heel!” (15.4237-38). He seems to be rejecting not only the message of the ghost but also its mere presence; we could say he is rejecting the logic of the Circe episode.
What I’m now stuck on is what to make of Bloom’s “nes yo” moment, because even though he’s in denial of the question, giving that answer just makes me wonder what it means for Bloom to be in denial, if he can be so close to actually answering the question. Nes, does that make sense?