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!
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.