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“language and Value, Freedom and the Family in “Ulysses”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 05:09 am Leave a comment Go to comments

This article, written by Terrence Doody and Wesley Morris examines Joyce’s experiment with language, and how it relates to the social world, specifically the family.  Since language is composed of signs and these signs are conventional, “language reveals the conventionality of all social relationships” (224).  Because the family is the basic social unit, this is the primary focus of the authors.  As a social unit the family contains aspects of power,  hierarchies, and conventions, all of which impinge upon personal freedom.  These authors look at the freedoms of Bloom and Molly, which upset the family order, and how they maintain the relationship these characters have.  Molly has her own freedoms in her sexual liaisons, and Bloom has his masturbatory (adulterous) experience with Gerty on the beach (which Molly is at some level aware of).  However the family dynamic is maintained as these authors argue through the powerful taboo of incest.  In our class discussion of  Ithaca, some people expressed concern over the incestuous relationship of Bloom to Milly, at least at the level of imagination.  This article also brings about the idea of the possible relationship between Stephen and Molly as being incestuous.   This makes sense given that Stephen is the Telemachus to Bloom and Molly’s Odysseus and Penelope.  In Ithaca, Stephen accepts this relationship in his refusal of a relationship with Molly, thus accepting his father’s (Bloom’s) authority.  According to the authors, Bloom’s proposal of this relationship is a mitigation of the threat that Milly poses (227).  As Molly ages, Milly is coming into her womanhood, therefore potentially displacing her.  Molly is very concerned with Milly’s budding sexuality in “Penelope”, and therefore throughout the whole novel. Bloom’s offer of Stephen, therefore, is an “equal exchange” which “affirms her freedom and still presents her with the son he has always wanted for himself” (227).  I found this discussion of incest quite interesting and suggest it to anyone who was concerned about Bloom’s feelings for Milly.

This article also makes the argument that the lines in Sirens “Will? You? I. Want. You. To. ” (1096) are Bloom’s and not what Bloom imagines as Boylan’s, as Blamires suggests.  Therefor Molly’s final lines of the novel are an answer to this question from Bloom (225).  However, this does not mean that normal husband wife relations will resume completely between Bloom and Molly, because she has not completely rejected Boylan.  This, I think, is the authors’ conception of freedom in this article, Bloom is free to wander the entire city of Dublin, observe it weigh its pros and cons, and then return to Molly, while she is free to have her affairs and still remain Bloom’s wife.  Adultery in this novel is not ultimately incredibly threatening to a marriage, nor are the varied sexual desires explored by Bloom in his wanderings.  In this marriage the partners are free to examine a huge variety of desires and sexual experiences without these being subversive to the familial order.  Incest is really the threat, and that is avoided

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