James Joyce's "Ulysses" and Bloom's Utopian Vision of Ireland

By Kelley S. Kent
2013, Vol. 5 No. 10 | pg. 3/3 |

Simon Dedalus' singing of "The Croppy Boy" in the Ormond Hotel bar acts as a siren song for Bloom. "The Croppy Boy" commemorates the 1798 rebellion in the death of a young man, betrayed by an English captain posing as a Catholic priest. In The Odyssey, the Sirens' song was an attempt to bewitch Odysseus and his men with promises of pleasure, as they crashed on the rocky shores (Gifford 290). Why, however, is this nationalist ditty a "siren song"? It is Dedalus' and the other Dubliners' unconscious attempt to persuade Bloom to view violence as one reliable means of combating English oppression. Bloom, however, is a pacifist, a man who does not condone or participate in violence. He is ultimately not convinced.

There are other reasons for considering "The Croppy Boy" a siren song. Bloom's forging of alliances with some of the political leaders of Dublin does not help his asexual relationship with his wife Molly, herself basically apolitical. Bloom's decision to listen to Dedalus' rendition--"But wait"--is also an attempt to block from his mind the forthcoming adultery (U 11.1005). After Dedalus has finished singing, Bloom finally decides to leave, but he does not go home. His final word on the bloody history of Ireland, or at least Robert Emmet's version of it, is a release of gas.

Like a good pacifist, Bloom has never served in the military, but his latent desires for military recognition surface in "Circe," although temporarily on the wrong side. Responding to an anonymous voice that supports England, Bloom says he is "as staunch a Britisher as you are, sir. I fought with the colors for king and country . . . and was disabled at Spion Kop and Bloemfontein" (U 15.794-96). He proudly mentions his father-in-law "Majorgeneral Brian Tweedy, one of Britain's fighting men who helped to win our battles" (15.779-80). In the mock trial, Bloom is referred to as "an acclimatised Britisher" (15.909). What is happening here? In the recesses of his mind, Bloom does not really know who he is.

Bloom's other identities soon surface. J. J. O'Molloy, Bloom's mock attorney, says his "native place [is] the land of the Pharaoh" (U 15.946-47): Bloom is thinking of his Jewish heritage. His desire for recognition as an Irishman flowers in the mock "Lord Mayor of Dublin" ceremony; he imagines John Howard Parnell crying, "Illustrious Bloom! Successor to my famous brother!" (15.1513-14). As Lord Mayor of Dublin, Bloom is "a credit to [his] country" (15.1538) and "a man like Ireland wants" (15.1540). Unlike Charles Stewart Parnell, he proudly shows his green socks, symbol of Ireland. Elsewhere, Bloom is described as "Leopold Bloom of no fixed abode" (15.1158).

The real Bloom, or at least the accepted one, reappears after he leaves the brothel. Defending Stephen against Privates Carr and Compton, Bloom retorts, "We fought for you in South Africa, Irish missile troops. Isn't that history? Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Honoured by our monarch" (U 15.4607-08). Bloom later tells Stephen, "I resent violence and intolerance in any shape or form. It never reaches anything or stops anything. A revolution must come on the due instalments plan" (16.1099-1101). Bloom's rejection of the Fenian movement is one explanation for the editor's rejection of him in "Aeolus." Many of the Irish nationalists in this episode supported the Invincibles in the Phoenix Park murders, or at least thought their getaway brilliant. Bloom does not support violence in any form, not even for Irish independence.

Of the many options available for an Irish nationalist in 1904, Bloom has rejected both the Irish cultural revival, ostensibly political, and the violent Fenian movement. What is left is the parliamentary, constitutional route, as practiced by Parnell, a non-cultural nationalism that did not hinge on violence. Joyce himself supported Parnell, comparing the Irish people's betrayal of him with Judas Iscariot's betrayal of Christ ("Home Rule" 144). Joyce went further in his denunciation of the Irish nationalist cause: Parnell "implored his fellow-countrymen not to throw him to the English wolves howling around him. . . .They did not throw him to the English wolves: they tore him apart themselves" ("Shade" 196).

Charles Ford describes Bloom as a "Parnellite liberal," as opposed to the Citizen's revolutionary stance (755). According to Ford, "Joyce's belief that Ireland has betrayed . . . Parnell reflects a belief that liberal nationalism represented the ideal solution" for Ireland (756). However, the comparison between Bloom and Parnell is not wholly satisfying. He knows the myths of Parnell's possible fake death and escape to the Continent. However, Bloom believes Parnell, and his traditional politics, are dead: "highly unlikely of course there was even a shadow of truth in the stones and, even supposing, he thought a return highly inadvisible. . . .Coming back was the worst thing you ever did because . . . things always moved with the times" (U16.1310-12, 1402-3). Even Ford admits that Joyce's political ideas are not wholly compatible with Bloom's (753).

Evidence of Bloom's nationalist tendencies, however, is abundant in Ulysses. Bloom, the advertising representative, is eager to show to the Freeman editor his idea for Keyes' ad, with the "house of keys" as an "innuendo of home rule" (U 7.149-50). In response to a political speech about Ireland's national beauty, Bloom asks, "Whose land?" (7.272). He is right to ask who Ireland belongs to, the Celts or all Irish-born citizens. Throughout the day, Bloom is also reminded of the potato in his pocket. To the prostitute Zoe, he calls it "a talisman. Heirloom" (15.1313), and "a relic of poor mamma" (15.3513). For Bloom, "there is a memory attached to it" (15.3520), namely, the Potato Famine of the late 1840s, the only tangible symbol of his Irish heritage.

Bloom, however, is also realistic about the Irish nationalist agenda. The older Bloom is no longer guilty of ideas he used to believe when he was younger. At one time, he was more radical than Michael Davitt on the Irish land question (U 16.1585-94). Bloom admits to Stephen that in high school, he had espoused "colonial (e.g. Canadian) expansion and the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin" (17.1643-44). In his youth, Michael Davitt, Charles Parnell, Prime Minister Gladstone, and Marquess Ripon were his heroes (17.1649-51, 1656). The young Bloom thought Gladstone's first Home Rule Bill (1886) would be passed into law (17.1788-90). Molly was once amused by Bloom's intention "to stand for a member of Parliament" (18.1186-87), but she calls herself "the born fool to believe all his blather about home rule and the land league" (18.1188-89).

Molly Bloom is not very fond of politics. Her understanding of Bloom's involvement with the nationalists, however, is enlightening: "he was going about with some of them Sinner Fein lately or whatever they call themselves talking his usual trash and nonsense he says that little man he showed me without the neck is very intelligent the coming man Griffiths [sic] is he well he doesnt look it thats all I can say" (U 18.383-86). Molly is afraid Bloom might lose his advertising job, "on account of those Sinner Fein or the freemasons then well see if the little man he showed me dribbling along in the wet . . . will give him much consolation that he says is so capable and so sincerely Irish" (18.1227-1230). What is Bloom's opinion? He thinks "Griffith is a squareheaded fellow but he has no go in him for the mob. Or gas about our lovely land" (18.8.462-64). According to Bloom, Griffith's rhetoric about the natural beauty of Ireland is just that: rhetoric.

If Bloom is not a Parnellite liberal, a Fenian, or an advocate of the Irish cultural revival, is he even an Irish nationalist? Essentially, Bloom is an internationalist, who still desires to see a free Ireland. The Citizen himself recognizes that Bloom is "a new apostle to the gentiles" proclaiming "universal love" (U 12.1489). Bloom's vision for Ireland in "Circe" encompasses all religions, and therefore, no religion. As Lord Mayor of Dublin, Bloom invites delegates of nearly every Christian denomination (Roman Catholic, Anglican, Jewish, Presbyterian, Baptist, Anabaptist, Methodist, Moravian, and Quaker) to his coronation ceremony. Responding to Keyes' desire for "our own house of keys" (15.1683), Bloom says a "union of all, jew, moslem, and gentile" will represent the new Ireland (15.1686). Father Farley describes Bloom as "an episcopalian, an agnostic, an anythingarian seeking to overthrow our holy faith" (15.1712-13). This is Bloom's goal.

Bloom's international vision uses "esperanto [as] the universal language with universal brotherhood" (U 15.1691-92). There is no separate Irish, English, or Hebrew language, just one universal tongue for one nation, "the new Bloomusalem" (15.1544). "Bloomusalem" does not correspond to the idealogies of Bloom's Irish nationalist compatriots; it is an international vision. The fact that Bloom's vision appears in "Circe" is ironic, however. In Bloom's Circean nightmare, for this is what it is, there is no Ireland to be splintered by the Fenians or the Parnellites. Bloom cannot handle the racial and religious hatred of the Irish nationalists, so he creates a world made up of one nation that, in the real world, cannot exist.

In the real world, Bloom can only hope for a semi-socialist Ireland. As he tells Stephen in "Eumaeus," "I want to see everyone . . . having a comfortable tidysized income . . . of £300 per annum. That's the vital issue at stake . . . and would be provocative of friendlier intercourse between man and man. . . .I call that patriotism" (16.1133-40). This is Bloom's truly humanitarian, but impossible solution to the economic issue in Ireland, which he thinks should take precedence over the "language question" (8.466). Helene Cixous states that "Bloom's version of patriotism is a democratic Utopianism," an ideal that will never come to pass (263). Bloom's solution to the violent history of Fenian nationalism is that "a revolution must come on the due instalments plan" (U 16.1101). This nice thought will never happen; the history of Ireland, after 1904, proves Bloom to be an idealistic dreamer.

In the end, Bloom's political role in the novel is ambiguous. Helene Cixous gives an apt portrait of Bloom: "In his dreams and imagination, Bloom is an idealist; in real life, he is a realist . . . he loves Ireland without being a fanatic" (234). This is what separates him from the rest of Dublin society. Bloom's many, sometimes contradictory, political allegiances only serve to reinforce his alienation from the Dubliners. He consciously separates himself from the Irish cultural revivalists (Stephen's friends), the Fenians (the Citizen), and the liberal Parliamentarians (Parnell). However, this Irish, Hungarian Jew still insists on showing his desire for Irish independence, in the form of home rule. No one, therefore, takes him seriously. As Andras Ungar explains, "in terms of the tradition he inherited, Bloom, like Ireland, has . . . come to a dead end" ("Among Hapsburgs" 491).

The importance of Bloom's political allegiances is revealed in the "Eumaeus" and "Ithaca" episodes. For him to be a realistic, "spiritual" father to the spiritually and politically homeless Stephen, Bloom must have no political ties. Since this is impossible, the meeting of Bloom and Stephen ultimately fails; their only connection is as Irishmen born in Ireland. Stephen, however, who puts forth much more effort than his Irish nationalist compatriots, is still willing to see the Jewish Bloom on equal terms. This says much for the young people of Ireland, who will eventually rule a united Irelandhopefully independent of racial, religious, or political separatism.


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Castle, Gregory. "Ousted Possibilities: Critical Histories in James Joyce's Ulysses." Twentieth Century Literature 39 (3): 306-28.

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---. "Home Rule Comes of Age." 1907. Trans. Conor Deane. Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing. Ed.Kevin Barry. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2000. 142-44.

---. "Ireland: Island of Saints and Sages." 1907. Trans. Conor Deane. Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing. Ed.Kevin Barry. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2000. 108-26.

---. "The Shade of Parnell." 1912. Trans. Conor Deane. Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing. Ed. Kevin Barry. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2000. 191-96.

‑‑‑. "To Carlo Linati." 21 Sept. 1920. Selected Letters. Ed. Richard Ellmann. New York: Viking, 1975. 270-71.

‑‑‑. "To Stanislaus Joyce." 6 Nov. 1906. Selected Letters. Ed.Richard Ellmann. New York: Viking, 1975. 123-27.

---. Ulysses. 1922. Ed. Hans Walter Gabler. New York: Random House, 1986.

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---. Joyce's Ulysses as National Epic: Epic Mimesis and the Political History of the Nation State. The Florida James Joyce Series. Ed. Zack Bowen. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2002.

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