Posts Tagged ‘Gifts’

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!




Monday, November 16, 2009; 04:13 am Leave a comment

Examination of gifts and giving in Ulysses has revealed a regular path: a certain theme gets introduced in one episode to be elaborated upon in subsequent chapters. Evidenced in the first ten chapters is the characterization of gifts and giving, from crass commercial exchange to sympathetic giving. In this phase, gifts fall under the garb of personal to social, usually with an eye toward some kind of return. This range in turn sheds light on (or underscores) the various characters populating the streets of Dublin. In the second phase, chapters eleven through fifteen, extremes of the earlier types of gifts are realized, both in literary form, character, and situation. In the third phase, episodes sixteen through seventeen, the father-son relationship of giving is explored in-depth. Episode Eighteen, Penelope, explores another facet of family exchanges – the husband-wife association, as well as recapping and transforming previous ideals concerning gifts in the prior chapters.

Within Molly Bloom’s rushing interior monologue we find a multitude of gift-forms scrutinized. The episode begins with Molly’s chafing thoughts on Bloom’s request for breakfast in bed. The husband-wife dynamic is highlighted immediately and ranges throughout the episode, and as guilt and social obligation seem to have little to do with whether the requests (from either party) are adhered to, other reasons must be found. There could be a sense of filial duty involved, and this possibility manifests itself, in Molly’s thoughts, in the put-upon woman form to the fleeting wish of a petticoat government, but these irate thoughts of duty are immediately followed by thoughts infused with feeling, or love, which constantly jumbles sense in a non-extreme way. The gift-giving in this dichotomy, then rests in how much the characters love each other, or are aware of their love for each other (mainly speaking about Molly, but some of Bloom’s actions can be traced throughout the day to have similar motivations). Realize that Molly has to work herself into this loving mood for Bloom throughout the chapter, but it ends with her deciding to adhere to his request for breakfast (she’s decided to put a spin on what “breakfast” might entail, which only proves my point).

Of course, wishes for commercial gifts are rife in this chapter, as Molly fantasizes over the myriad items she can dig out of Boylan’s gold-lined pockets. In the rest of the novel, this desire for the material would place a character into the “bad” category, or at the least unsavory. Boylan the Rich and Mulligan are the poster boys for this culture of giving, something for something. Molly’s place beside these two, however, is complicated. She indulges fleeting desires of clothes and jewels and attention, but the underlying problem resides again in her pauper-like relationship with Bloom, where the filial duty is going unfulfilled. This means more than simply adhering to or indulging the wishes of your spouse. As Molly points out, she sees herself as a good catch for Bloom yet notes that he is squandering her and aiding their poverty by being unable to hold a job down and constantly moving from one house to another. Interestingly, as the “sentences” continue, this commercial concern starts falling away to be replaced by the greater concerns of living with her spouse. Indeed, Molly herself sneers at the thought of riches and fame in the later sentences even as she craves them in the earlier ones.

Circean Gifts

Monday, November 2, 2009; 04:14 am Leave a comment

Gifts play a large role in “Circe.” For the most part the gifts Bloom has given out throughout the novel to this point are mentioned within Bloom’s hallucinations as indicators of his generous and benevolent nature, particularly to animals, though the mention of his social gifts (to be repaid in some way later) are also brought up, when Bloom recalls Hyne’s debt to him. In his mind, when acting the emperor-saint figure, Bloom is able to decline these social repayments, a mark of his wealth and generosity. Of course, gifts alone never seem enough to off-set the self-loathing/insecurities Bloom hides concerning his personality, and his pathetic attemtps to plead a good character are laughed at when his gift-giving is paired against his philandering or otherness.

Part 2: Startlingly, the second half of Circe seems particularly devoid of gifts, though there is plenty of “giving” going on. Here you have the lessons and abuses “Bello” is giving to Bloom as well as demanding from him (“Ask for that every ten minutes. Beg. Pray for it as you never prayed before”; “What you longed for has come to pass”). This giving seems to drag Bloom down into and through his own infernal purgatory; he surfaces shaken but very much Bloom in the end – indeed the guiding and sheltering force at the end of this nightmare sequence, utilizing every tactic and skill of his to keep Stephen out of trouble and harm (he succeeds, excepting the “coward’s blow”). That these hellish gifts of life’s lessons are really given to Bloom by Bloom (hallucination/reality-skip), the boundary between what can and cannot (does and does not?)constitute a gift comes into question, as do the myriad reasons embraced throughout the book until now (and brought back in full during the first section of Circe). When Bloom helps Stephen out by talking down Bella and paying for the broken lamp, is he giving a gift to Stephen, paying him back, or enacting some other form of exchange? To my mind, perhaps because I want to believe it, but also because of the breaking down of “gifts” in the late half of this episode, this action symbolizes a necessary transaction in the realm of parenthood where “gifts” aren’t even discussed. The defense of the child invokes no social reciprocation, it is something that a parent does expecting no reward. Bloom’s cool assessment of the damages and situation shows Bloom at his analytical and perceptive best but still biased in regards to his child versus the world, seeing only the price gouging exhibited by Bella at Stephen’s expense, with the net effect being the minimizing of danger to Stephen. This also brings to mind Stephen’s mumbled proverb to Bloom “Be just before you are generous,” invoking concerns for fair-dealing and the very thing that Bloom himself is capable of enacting. An elaboration of this quote appears in Spectator (1908): “A likeable man is tempted to be generous before he is just.” Neither Bloom nor Stephen are “likeable” to the denizens of Dublin and both should therefore act with justice before flinging their money/gifts about. Bloom, the more typical outsider, is more aware of this, giving only to those he identifies with, while Stephen has yet to come to this realization, as he spends his money on whores and alcohol for “friends” who reject (Mulligan) and betray (Lynch/Judas) him (Bloom isn’t completely perfect, of course, when it comes to getting things for Molly). Does Bloom pay for the damages with his money or Stephen’s? Regardless, Bloom enacts this self-defense of his child again at the end of the episode, by pushing the blame of the “brawl” entirely on the soldiers. Protecting Stephen has inspired emotions in Bloom that were previously mute, such as anger and courage.

Gift of worship?

Underlying Gifts

Monday, October 26, 2009; 03:42 am Leave a comment

Gifts and giving form the basis and arching themes of Episode 13, Nausicaa, and Episode 14, Oxen of the Sun, though their effects become increasingly subtle. Relief and respite, protection and guidance to the “stormtossed heart of man,” flow from the Virgin Mary/Nausicaa-figure Gerty MacDowell to Bloom and the reader. This lull, this moment of clarity, comes on the heels of the gift-giving-gone-violent in Episode 12, where suspected wealth turns into expected gifts for the narrator and accompanying drinkers, illustrating the uglier side of social bonds governing wealth, gifts, and when and when not to give. In the case of Bloom’s supposed winnings, the all-male cast of Episode 12, and each of the citizen’s companions, are upset to one degree or another over Bloom not giving out, but they never put these considerations in words to Bloom – displeasure and violence instill both parties at the end. Episode 13 flips this: the female, unlooked for and unasked, not even talked to, reveals herself to Bloom, while hiding the defects, and both come away gracefully released. After this Adoration, this first gift presented directly to him, free of social constraints, Bloom, calmed and at peace, is able to articulate, if briefly, his thoughts on Molly and Boylan. He resolves to not dwell on the past and to move forward: “Returning not the same…the new I want.” Characteristically, he wrestles with the contradiction: “Nothing new under the sun.” Personally, however, the “outside-society” gift has allowed Bloom proactive development. In episode 14, Bloom can, for the first time, put aside concerns for the Boylan-Molly tangle.

Episode 14’s occurrences of gifts and giving are the basis of the episode, the gift of life, its examination, development, and miracle. This gift is inextricably linked, once and for all, with social duty in the opening Latin discourse of the episode, whereby it is described that thinking people must go forth and multiply. Inherent in the gift of life are the many gifts in between death and life, and symbolic of both, manifesting materially in things such as sweaters and drinks. At the same time, there is a theme of hospitality and proper etiquette present in the episode that receives a bear nod from the reveling students when they take in ‘the stranger’ and hush up when confronted by a nurse and stark or noble truths – eventually, however, everything becomes grist for their mockery.

After discussion, everyone was behind this “gift” from Nausicaa as a relief for Bloom, though its effects were more ambiguous than I first imagined, mainly becuase the ending of the episode re-invokes the cuckoldry and “old” scandal Bloom has been dealing with all day. Odd. As well, there is a substantial portion of people who don’t like to view this as a “gift” at all, turning instead on the point of voyuerism present in the episode and the general creepiness of it all. Voyueristic or not, I’d still say that for Bloom the relief is clear.

State of the Gifts, Part I

Monday, October 5, 2009; 07:20 am 1 comment

In this blog, I will summarize and update how Joyce utilizes gifts and gift-giving up until Episode Eleven. In addition, I hope to, at the end, give some thoughts as to what purpose gifts will be put to in future episodes, and what this blog will focus on.

 The Telemachiad – Episodes One, Two, Three

 In these episodes, our perceptions of Stephen, Buck, Haines, and Deasy are aided by how each character views and gives gifts. Most giftly interactions in this part of Ulysses are pale shadows of what we decided was true gift-giving, the acquirement (and giving) of something without compensation. Buck cheapens gifts to monetary and commercial transactions, clearly showing his investment in the material and superficial – Stephen’s antithesis. Stephen, however, does not come across much better: he gives up key and tower, but not willingly, as Buck comes across as jocularly coercive. Deasy imparts the gift of wisdom to Stephen, and then the reader discovers that the “gift” has been given before, and is less a manner of giving as bludgeoning Stephen with racist and sexist dogma. The inherent gift of talent obvious from the start in Stephen is shown to be repressed. Therefore, in the first episodes, literal and figurative gifts are repressed and twisted, fitting Stephen’s atmosphere of dispossession.

 The Odyssey – Episodes Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten

 With the introduction of Bloom there comes a steady progression of “good” gift-giving, illustrating both his character and the world he resides in is somewhat more open to interpretation than that of Stephen’s. Bloom begins by illustrating “gifts” that have an open-ended reciprocity about them. The sense of duty, social and private, constantly drives these early Bloom interactions, as well as those he gives to (the cat, M’Coy, etc.). He is willing to give hand-outs and favors with the expectation, but not the demand, for future favors.

Following this steady unveiling of Bloom’s character, we realize that in the depths of his capacity for multi-perceptions and empathy comes generous sympathy, culminating twice in episode eight. The first example comes with Bloom buying bread and throwing it to the hungry gulls. Here there is no sense of moral obligation or duty, social or private, nothing for Bloom to gain by feeding the birds, besides a slightly emptier wallet. Bloom connects with the birds, unswayed as they are by religion, discerning and surviving, and thus reaches out. This true gift-giving, which has been hidden from the reader and unobserved in every other character, now finds a home in Bloom, the dispossessed wanderer. The second selfless act of giving occurs when Bloom leads the blind stripling across the street. The dispossession, at home, at work, and in Ireland, emphasizes the generosity when one realizes that only people with comforts, riches, wealth, some stability, are able to give “gifts”.

Episode Ten farther stresses these points, the poor dispossession and generosity becoming touchstones for the gift-buying sequences of Boylan and Bloom. Boylan, wealthy, dapper, famous, is able to afford the best of fruits, wines, etc. Not so well off, Bloom wishes to buy his wife another erotic novel, something she’d enjoy, and shops for deals. In effect, the gift costs something for Bloom and nothing for Boylan. In addition, or perhaps compounding this identification, is that Boylan the well-to-do is not engaging in a socially acceptable practice; aware of this, he lies about his intentions, claiming to be giving to an invalid. Despite being the subject of several cruel jokes and pranks, Bloom’s character in episode ten is generally regarded positively by the other characters of Dublin.

Two other characters have “given” as Bloom has given and they both relate to the one-legged sailor. One was an unnamed “stout woman” and the other, never tacitly acknowledged, is Molly Bloom. Whether Molly can be this generous to people closer to her remains to be seen.

Thus far, I’ve observed Joyce’s use of gifts and giving to further delineate character and character development. The effects are subtle when compared to other obsessions, as none of the characters actively address the question of gifts, and thus my examination has been to merely establish perspective. Many of the characters (most of the characters) bear watching on their gift habits – will they develop or no? In what direction will they develop? Now that a pinnacle of true gift-giving has been observed, the progression in respects to Bloom must end and other questions must be asked. Can he apply such generosity to those elements in society not dispossessed or marginalized? What kind of gifts does he cherish most? Which does he (and others) shy away from, or hoard? Episode ten offers the possibility of a “bad” gift (Boylan’s) – does society have fixed notions of what is proper in gift-giving and what isn’t? How does this theme of giving tie into the other major themes of Ulysses – the ideas of parenthood, religion, art and craft, acceptance, home? I will have to begin the categorizing.

The Gifts That Keep Giving

Monday, September 21, 2009; 03:54 am Leave a comment

In the episodes Calypso, The Lotus Eaters, and Hades, gift-giving has been elevated over how or what it represented in the Telemachiad, which was primarily the debasement of such acts. Gift-giving took two forms in the Telemachiad:  monetary transactions or unreciprocated giving. Buck Mulligan exemplified, or was exemplified by, the first, while Stephen’s unwilling surrender of castle, food, and key typified the other form. In episodes 4, 5, and 6, gift-giving, while more infrequent than in the Telemachiad, also demonstrates a closer meaning of the word “gift”, where the gift-giving is unasked for or willing, but done with future services or favors in mind – a way of building a good rapport, so to speak, with individuals. Not surprisingly, Leo Bloom exhibits this kind of giving.

            Calypso offers three possible “gift-giving” scenarios in the form of Bloom’s interactions with his cat, Molly, and his daughter Milly. When Leo is first introduced, he is accompanied by his hungry cat. In the first two pages of Calypso, Bloom teases the cat, holding off on feeding her. This passage could say several things on Bloom’s character, especially his detached curiosity from her plaintive “mrkrgnaos”, but Bloom, importantly, does feed the cat eventually. And later, when eating his kidney, Bloom passes his cat the burnt bit. Though it might be a stretch, I would consider such parcels of food gifts, as the cat does not necessarily require the sustenance, from Bloom anyway, as he notes she exists both in his house and altogether as a mouser. He gave her food simply because she appealed to him – the upside of having a cat hunt down mice was not in Bloom’s stream of conscious at the time. Such an interaction demonstrates a good way of gift-giving – a mutual respect or interest in a party simply because they are in/of your household (comparisons to the Odyssey). Molly, on the other hand, is almost the negation of gift-giving, made evident in how her first word “Mn” is interpreted as a sign of not wanting/requiring anything, specifically from Bloom himself. He still brings her breakfast, but from the ritualistic steps he takes of what she does and doesn’t like, the food he gives her seems more a dutiful action than a gift exchange. His silence on Boyle could be interpreted in a myriad of ways, possibly a gift, possibly out of duty, loyalty, or some other reason that might attribute to his lackluster approach to his wife’s shenanigans. In Milly’s card we find that a gift was given, serving to introduce the reader to Bloom’s anxiety over his daughter, as well as highlight the issue of “duty” in gift-giving again. In these cases with his family, Bloom doles out gifts where little seems reciprocated – his wife is detached and his daughter is absent, and too hurried to write a decent letter.

            The Lotus Eaters introduces two more interactions where Bloom fulfills a request or offers a gift without promise of exchange. M‘Coy is the first of these. Even after his unwanted “valise tack” Bloom still agrees to help out the morgue worker by putting his name on Dignam’s funeral list. Only later do we see that Bloom understands the “gift” given here: “I saw to that M‘Coy. Thanks, old chap: much obliged. Leave him under an obligation: costs nothing.” (92). The transaction is friendly, social, but the idea of a favor floating around the future is tangible. The other interaction, a much looser one, is found when reading Martha and his letter correspondence as a type of gift-giving. The two, it seems, stimulate some faculty in the other, write more or less as and when they will, thus there is reciprocation, though for Bloom it is much more of a “mental self-indulgence” according to Harry Blamires.

            Points of significance: Bloom does all the gift-giving here, unless you want to read his trip to the cemetery as a gift to him, to realize the moments in his life he has yet to live. Bloom’s gift-giving is for duty, social, or identification reasons. Additional thoughts: Bloom is able to change perspective, unlike Stephen at this point – does thsi realte to his different take on gift-giving? Point about Athos and Deasy – the giving of an object (or animal) to have another take care of it; in the case of the dog, who is getting a gift then – Bloom or his dad? Does Stephen’s and Bloom’s dislike of dealing with others inhibit their gift-giving capabilities?