Ulysses is the Roman form of Odysseus and also a novel by James Joyce. It is sometimes cited as the greatest novel of the 20th century and has been the subject of much scrutiny, criticism, condemnation and confusion. Ulysses was written over an eight-year period from 1914 to 1922 and chronicles the adventures throughout Dublin of Leopold Bloom during an otherwise unremarkable day, June 16, 1904. The title alludes to the hero of Homer's Odyssey, and Joyce has mapped the chapters of his Ulysses onto those of The Odyssey, for example Leopold Bloom as Odysseus, though the correlation is mostly implicit.

June 16 is now celebrated by Joyce's fans worldwide as 'Bloomsday' and is commemorated by activities such as academic symposia, re-enactments and readings from Ulysses, and general merriment.

Ulysses is a massive novel: 267,000 words in total from a vocabulary of 30,000 words, with most editions weighing in at sizes from between 800 to 1,000 pages long comprised of 18 chapters. At first glance the book may appear unstructured, chaotic and confusing. In fact, Ulysses is highly structured; what Joyce does is to make that structure invisible until one searches for it. Some time after publication Joyce released two schemata that make the links to the Odyssey, and much internal structure, explicit. To the confusion of all, these two schemata vary wildly in places.

Table of contents
1 The 18 chapters
2 The two schemata
3 Movie
4 Puzzles
5 External links

The 18 chapters

Most chapters of Ulysses have an assigned organ and technic and, tellingly, correspondences between its characters and those of the Odyssey. Though most publications omit the chapter titles, they are crucial to understanding the novel and following the narrative of the Odyssey.

  1. Telemachus
  2. Nestor
  3. Proteus
  4. Calypso
  5. Lotus-Eaters
  6. Hades
  7. Aeolus
  8. Lestrygonians
  9. Scylla and Charybdis
  10. The Wandering Rocks
  11. Sirens
  12. Cyclops
  13. Nausicaa
  14. Oxen of the Sun
  15. Circe
  16. Eumaeus
  17. Ithaca
  18. Penelope


It is morning. The book opens inside
Martello tower on Dublin Bay at Sandycove, where three young men, Buck Mulligan (a callous and boisterous medical student), Stephen Dedalus (an Aristotlean author) and Haines (a nondescript Englishman from Oxford) are waking and preparing for the day. Stephen, brooding about the recent death of his mother, complains about Haines' hysterical nightmares. Mulligan shaves and prepares breakfast and all three then eat. Haines decides to go to the library and Mulligan suggests swimming beforehand; all three then leave the tower. Walking for a time, Stephen chats with Haines and smokes before leaving, deciding that he cannot return to the tower that evening for Mulligan has usurped his place.


Stephen is at school, attempting to teach bored schoolboys
history and English, though they are unappreciative of his efforts. Stephen attempts to tell a riddle which falls flat before seeing the boys out of the classroom. One stays behind so that Stephen shows how to do a set of arithmetic exercises. Afterwards Stephen visits the school headmaster, Mr. Deasy, from whom he collects his pay and a letter to take to a newspaper office for printing.


Next, Stephen finds his way to the strand and mopes around for some time, doing little more than thinking, reminiscing and walking about on the beach. He lies down among some rocks, watches a couple and a dog, writes some poetry ideas, and picks his nose.


The role of protagonist suddenly shifts to Leopold Bloom, a Jewish advertising canvasser living nearby in Eccles street preparing breakfast at the same time as Mulligan in the tower. He walks to a butcher to purchase a kidney for his breakfast and returns to finish his cooking. He takes his wife (Molly Bloom) her breakfast and letters and reads his own letter from their daughter, Milly. The chapter closes with his plodding to the outhouse to defacate.


Bloom now begins his day proper, furtively making his way to a post office (by an intentionally indirect route), where he receives a love letter from one 'Martha Clifford' adressed to his pseudonym, Henry Flower. He buys a newspaper and meets an acquaintance; while they chat he attempts to ogle a woman wearing stockings, but is distracted by a passing tram. Next, he reads the letter and tears it up in an alley. Bloom makes his exit via a Catholic church service and thinks about what is going on inside it. He goes to a drugstore then meets another acquaintance, Bantam, whom he unintentionally gives a racing tip for the horse Throwaway. Finally, Bloom ponders his naked state in water as he approaches the baths to wash for the rest of the day.

This chapter is the first with obvious motifs, and these are those of botany, religion, drugs, potions, and guilt and murder.


Bloom is entering a funeral carriage with three others and they begin to make their way. The four men pass Stephen and make smalltalk. Bloom scans his newspaper. They talk about various deaths, forms of death and the tramline before arriving and getting out. They enter the chapel into the service and subsequently leave with the coffincart. Bloom sees a mysterious anonymous man wearing a macintosh during the burial and ponders on various subjects some more. Leaving, he points out a dent in a friend's hat.

The main motifs of this chapter are death and decay.

Oxen of the Sun

This chapter is remarkable for Joyce's wordplay, which seems to recapitulate the entire history of human language to describe a scene in an obstetrics hospital, from the Carmen Arvale:

Deshil Holles Eamus. Deshil Holles Eamus. Deshil Holles Eamus.

to Old English:

In ward wary the watcher hearing come that man mildhearted eft rising with swire ywimpled to him her gate wide undid. Lo, levin leaping lightens in eyeblink Ireland's westward welkin. Full she dread that God the Wreaker all mankind would fordo with water for his evil sins. Christ's rood made she on breastbone and him drew that he would rathe infare under her thatch. That man her will wotting worthful went in Horne's house.

and on through skilful parodies of Malory, Bunyan, Gibbon, De Quincey, and Carlyle, among many others.


The final chapter of Ulysses consists of Molly Bloom's Soliloquy: eight enormous sentences (without punctuation) written from the viewpoint of Leopold Bloom's estranged wife, Molly (who represents Penelope). Parts of the final sentence were used by Kate Bush as lyrics to her song The Sensual World.

The two schemata


1967, a movie version of the book was produced.


Joyce wrote of Ulysses:

"I've put so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant..."

As such, there are a good number of puzzles and open problems present in the book which require careful readings to solve.

  • Denis Breen's postcard
    • Why is Denis Breen's postcard libellous?
    • Who sent it?
    • Is its text "U.P.: up" or merely just "U.P."?

  • Why did the Blooms' social life decrease so significantly after 1894?

  • Gerty MacDowell
    • How old is Gerty?
    • Does Bloom acknowledge her age or is he in denial?
    • Is Bloom's encounter with her just a fantasy?

  • What is the seating arrangement in the funeral carriage in Hades?

  • Some of the dates given or implied in Ithaca conflict with those given in Calypso and Penelope. Which are correct in which instances?

External links