In this fascinating journey called Ulysses, we’ve witnessed James Joyce experiment with all sorts of writings styles, and this chapter was certainly no different.
Catechism, in this occasion, was the style used in Ithaca.
In imitation of this formal question-and-answer style of Christian teaching, Joyce wrote his chapter in a third person narration of a set of 309 questions, each with detailed answers below.
Chapter Seventeen: Ithaca
Chapter seventeen takes places at 7 Eccles Street at about 2:00 a.m, just after Bloom and Stephen leave the cabman's shelter in the last chapter.
Both men are walking towards Bloom’s house, and we receive a new revelation that it has been eleven years since Leopold Bloom walked or talked with someone at night.
We suddenly realize just how much Bloom was affected by the death of his son Rudy eleven years ago, and how many aspects of his life have changed as a consequence.
The emergence of Stephen Dedalus into Bloom's life seems to have a great soothing effects on his wounds.
This is the last chapter that takes place in Bloom and Stephen’s world, so is a conclusion of sorts. However, when some members were unhappy that they felt like nothing really happened to the characters in this book, @neilstrauss pointed out: Just like in The Odyssey, the characters fight monsters and powerful beings, so too do Dedalus and Bloom in Ulysses.
Except instead of being physical antagonists, they are psychological antagonists. The monsters to be fought are within. And in this day in Dublin, both triumph in their long-standing internal battles.
Long Way Home
Once the two men arrive at Bloom’s house, Bloom gets a little frustrated as he realizes he does not have his key with him. (Just as Stephen doesn’t have his key, just as Ireland doesn’t have the key to its own house.)
Bloom stops for a second to ponder about his options and debates whether he should wake his wife from her sleep. Or whether he should take a chance and jump over the fence.
Book Club member @shawnlauzon noticed the possible parallels between that dilemma and Hamlet's famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy.
Bloom finally decides to jump over the wall, and everything about that action is described in great detail, from the size of the wall, the weight of Bloom (eleven stones), how many inches separate Bloom from the ground, etc.
All the numbers for some reason seem to be related to the number eleven, probably the most symbolic number in this book.
Bloom falls down and he’s luckily unscathed. His fall is compared to the fall of Lucifer “the light-bringer” as Bloom disappears into the shadows and comes back with a candle.
Bloom invites Stephen inside his home, he takes him to the kitchen and starts boiling some water.
Just like the detailed description of Bloom jumping the fence, the narrator skips no detail observing the water's reaction to heat. He then moves on to list countless interesting facts about water in general.
He even goes further and starts recounting all the reasons why Bloom loves water.
“Its democratic equality and constancy to its nature in seeking its own level."
It almost seems as if the narrator has a propensity towards demonstrating factual accuracy in every part of this chapter.
After Bloom puts the kettle on the fire, he reaches in his pocket and grabs the bar of lemon soap we saw in The Lotus Eaters
Bloom offers Stephen to wash his hands, but Stephen declines and claims that he’s a hydrophobe.
As Bloom is boiling water to make some cocoa in the kitchen, he notices a couple of tickets lying around on top of an apron.
It’s the two tickets that Boylan (the suitor) has brought to Bloom’s wife which is proof that he had been in his house.
Surprisingly, Molly didn’t even bother to hide them. Even more surprising is that Bloom doesn’t seem to be phased about that fact at all.
Here’s the narrator’s description of Bloom’s mood:
“He had not risked, he did not expect, he had not been disappointed, he was satisfied.”
In Homer’s Odyssey, after Odysseus returns to Ithaca he and his son Telemachus began to slaughter all Penelope’s suitors.
The contrast between the wrath of Odysseus and Bloom’s nonchalant reaction to his wife’s infidelity could not be any greater.
Modern Day Odysseus.
Bloom and Stephen have a lengthy conversation about a wide array of interesting subjects, where both men agree on some issue but completely disagree with others.
Bloom is fascinated with Stephen’s mind and starts to think about all the ways he and Stephen could continue seeing each other and keep having those types of conversations.
Bloom offers invites to spend the night in his place, but Stephen politely declines.
Bloom then lets Stephen out, and goes back to his bed where his wife is already asleep.
We discover a new revelation that Bloom and his wife have slept head to toe for eleven years. It is such a strange, and distant, sleeping position.
The indent of his rival, Boylan, can be seen in the bed still. Bloom starts thinking about this previous occupant: the very thing he was trying to avoid all day, during his entire journey in this book.
Finally Bloom has the courage to face the very things he was afraid to face, his inner demons and…the truth.
James Joyce once said that Shakespeare is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance. For some of us, Ulysses has been a real hunting ground.
As we reach the ultimate destination and final chapter, we suddenly realize that the real journey for us, as with Joyce’s protagonists, has always been the one in the inside.
Maybe we all are modern-day Odysseusses. And every day we take our own heroic journey, fraught with internal battles, some of them taking 10 or 11 years to heal.
Stay tuned for the final post, on the famous final “Penelope” chapter.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. Meanwhile, here’s the recording of the entire session 18 of the Steemit
The chapter then ends with Bloom shaving, exactly like the very beginning of this book in Martello Tower with Stephen and Buck.
What a journey it has been!
In just a week, we will begin our second Steemit Book Club reading — Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Stay tuned for details - as well as the thrilling concluding chapter of Ulysses!