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Light in Ithaca

Monday, November 9, 2009; 05:34 am Leave a comment Go to comments

One significant instance of light is the extended moment in which Bloom must break into his own house (repeating again the theme of keylessness) and then wanders through the darkened rooms and goes about the process of lighting a candle. By their very bulk, the light words are noteworthy, fitting with the extremely meticulous language throughout the episode. Following Bloom’s process, several different lights must be ignited, match to gaslight to candle, before he can retrieve Stephen, who has been waiting outside for “four minutes” (114).  This progression, as usual, lends itself to a variety of meanings, most of which I would argue are religious, relating specifically to the end of Bloom’s wanderings. For one, the successive lights, from Lucifer match, to superfluously bright gaslight, to controlled, useful candle could be interpreted as the development of religious belief, from the very limited, unsustainable light of a match, to the wild brightness of the newly converted, to the steady, practical light of a comfortable believer. However, which this progression can be argued in reference to the lights, it holds little merit in reference to the men concerned, neither of which inhabits really any stage of this timeline. Still, this development can be superimposed over any other, such as Bloom’s excitement over his friendship with Stephen. At first, Bloom doesn’t appear to care much about Stephen, but then his paternal instincts kick into high gear, waning slowly towards the end of the novel into a mutually beneficial relationship that fades as the night passes. 

Another interpretation of this scene deals more specifically with Bloom as father and Stephen as son. In entering a new area, in which Bloom is not exactly sure what he is going to find (will Molly be there, will the evidence of the affair be explicit, etc) the father goes first as a scout, and also a host, not allowing his guest/son to take the side way in. Thus, the light which Stephen observes moving around the Bloom household is the guiding light of fatherhood, a physical manifestation of the care that Bloom has been providing him throughout their night time escapades.

A further development of light which appears in this same episode, and is actually rather beneficial to my argument concerning characters and light, hinge on the question on page 576 of “what special affinities appeared to him to exist between the moon and woman?”. This answer, I would argue largely a product of Bloom based on Stephen’s limited experience with getting to know women, seems to sum up Bloom’s mixed and conflicting feelings about women in general and specifically Molly. He discusses her constancy, but also her quality of “waxing and waning” (1162). She has power ‘to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency” (1164-5). I think we could make short work of finding instances in Ulysses in which Molly has each one of these effects on Bloom. He seems to be talking more about woman than the moon, but with Joyce, the moon could easily be personified to include these various descriptions.

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