In all the essays and dissertations I have read about James Joyce’s “Ulysses” the scholars argue over the reason Leopold Bloom demands his wife Molly bring him his breakfast the following morning, at the very end of the novel, but none seem to stop to wonder whether he actually did demand the breakfast in question at all.
Despite what we have learned about the notions of post-modern literature since “Ulysses” was written over seventy years ago many people seem to cling to the concept of ‘objective truth’, and expect an omniscient narrator to tell them what ‘really’ happened. “Ulysses” is not that kind of novel. Joyce won’t allow us to be so lazy in our reading. Each chapter has its own voice, or viewpoint, and often the different viewpoints contradict each other giving us not a picture of what happened, but of the what may have happened. Each viewpoint only sees occurrences from its own perspective, and none knows what the other viewpoints are fully, as it is for each of us in life. With this in mind, it is rather foolish to take anything stated in only one chapter at face value. Until fairly recently it was widely believed by Joyce scholars that Molly’s rampant promiscuity was a fact, as was Bloom’s jewish ancestry; but now many people believe that Molly may have only had one partner other than Bloom after marriage, and Bloom’s ethnicity is even more suspect. It doesn’t pay to believe what you read completely.
In “Ulysses” Stephen Dedalus argues that is our duty to treat literature as detective work, and that only by paying extremely close attention to the tiny details will the intended story begin to reveal itself, yet many scholars seem to ignore this and treat the surface layer as the story itself.
Are we really to believe that the scientific interviewing narrator of the ‘Ithaca’ chapter somehow forgot to mention this request for breakfast, despite the maniacally close attention to detail it pays to every other mundane occurrence of the day? Highly unlikely.