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An end to gifts.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 04:29 am Leave a comment

And thus we reach the end of Ulysses. In my last post, I discussed the function of gifts as representing the various offerings (lifestyle, future) Boylan and Bloom both exhibit for/give to Molly and what she ultimately decides, represented by her acquiescence to make breakfast for Bloom (a gift in it’s own right, with a cherry on top) and the gradual phasing out of Boylan despite his propensity to give many, many gifts. This structuring of gifts in the last episode brings up a continuous theme of opposition and elaboration used by Joyce throughout Ulysses – namely, a structuring of several extreme (in my case, gifts) at the beginning and end of each chapter that the main character must navigate through. Molly does this in Penelope, when she slowly shifts from Boylan, the material-giver, to Bloom, the family/love-giver (commercial/surface pleasure vs emotional). The other times gifts reprise as a structuring device is in Lestrygonians (the birds and the meal), Cyclops (the not-giving) and Nausicaa (the giving respite), and elements of Episodes 1, 2, and 4 (probably more than that).

The structuring aspects of gifts often relate to their ability to characterize, as with Boylan and Bloom in Penelope. Certain exchanges are surface-gifts and reflect negatively on the giver, while some are heart-felt and reflect positively, and some are social, reflecting neither here nor there, but highlighting important expectations the characters of Ulysses’ Dublin operate with. Bad transactions are commercial, with little thought for coming out ahead or being respected in any manner. Characters that adhere to this lifestyle are Mulligan, Boylan, Simon Dedalus, while others engage in this “giving” simply because they have to. Good giving, without thought for the repercussions on oneself or means, is exhibited by Bloom and Stephen (who are both capable of the other giving, as well), though Stephen’s dispensing of money for his “friends” shows how he is casting pearls before swine. Bloom mainly indulges in giving to animals, though Stephen and Molly both feature in his thoughts. Social giving, where it isn’t quite commercial but there is an expectation that the favor given will be repaid at a later date, is utilized by every character encountered in Dublin, with some being more reliable than others in keeping their word.

Aside from this, there are several anomaly gifts. There are “bad” gifts such as diseases and bribes, that come with pain and/or strings attached. An example of these would be the narrator of “Cyclops” suffering from disease and Boylan buying Molly a basket of potted meats while lying about his intentions. There is one example of a consciously ungiven gift that I can think of (there may be others, wasn’t looking for this, it just leaped out since we talked about it): Molly’s gift coat for Rudy. Undelivered to Rudy (while alive), Molly makes a conscious decision (or thinks about it afterwards) to not give the coat to some other child who might need it, but rather uses it to wrap her son’s body up. This tinges of selfishness at first scant scant glance, yet Molly’s dedication to her son heralds ideas of making gifts to the dead – something Stephen is incapable of doing for his mother. Unpack that!