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God as Character in Joyce’s "Ulysses", by Bruce Parks

God as Character in Joyce’s Ulysses, by Bruce Parks*

Interaction between stream of life and stream of consciousness is indigenous to Joyce’s method. For example, early in the Lestrygonians episode the memory of the Glencree dinner is stimulated in Bloom’s mind when he passes on the street a line of men carrying sandwich board advertisements. The signs each have one of the letters H-E-L-Y-’-S on them. This naturally reminds Bloom of Mr. Hely, who he once worked for, and whom he now recalls died the same year as the Glencree dinner. Old Goodwin, as Bloom remembers him from the Glencree dinner, had a tall hat with “sticky stuff” like fly paper on it. Also there were lots of flies at the dinner. Later in the Lestrygonians episode, when Bloom sees two flies stuck in the window at Davy Byrne’s, his thoughts return to the Glencree dinner, ten years ago. He recalls it as a time when he was happy, and that it was the night that he and Molly conceived little Rudy.

The existence of these kind of serendipitous events in the novel have led some to identity, an authorial force beyond the narrator, called the God-Artist or Arranger (Ulysses: The Mechanics of Meaning, David Hayman, 1970). The Arranger is a behind the scenes, ubermanipulator of the novel. Whereas the narrator(s) takes care of the ‘he-saids’ and ‘she-saids’, the Arranger affects the novel in how things happen (the stream of life) and in how they are represented.

At first this Arranger does little, just here and there adding to or overriding the narrator’s writings, as for example, in the “Calypso” episode, where the spelling out of the cat’s meow is rendered “Mkgnao!” The Arranger stays behind the scenes, content in controlling the stream of life and arranging things as to fit the world Joyce has created. Who bumps into whom on the street, what ships are in the bay or what clouds are passing overhead at a particular moment, are the stream of life the Arranger controls.

But the Arranger seems to take on more and more control as the novel progresses, making more pronounced stylistic insertions and manipulations. The headlines in “Aeolus”, the formatting of “Circe,” the arrangement of “Ithaca,” all are attributed to the Arranger.

In the “Wandering Rocks” episode, the entr’acte can be taken as a rewrite of the entire novel, a one-up over the Narrator. Instead of one Dublin day, the Arranger uses one Dublin hour (from 3 to 4 pm) to capture all of the action and characters of the entire novel. All of the novel’s episodes are represented, though the individual sections of the chapter correspond to the episodes by the barest of threads.

In the “Sirens” episode, the Arranger significantly organizes the narration in the form of a Fuga per canonem, a major stylistic manipulation. Furthermore, the Arranger choses and orders the songs sung in the Ormond Bar. After accidently meeting Richie Goulding and accepting his offer to dine together, an aria from Martha is sung just as Bloom sitting with Richie, pens a letter to his secret friend, Martha. Then Richie Goulding whistles “All Is Lost Now,” coincidently, sardonically and tactlessly at the very moments of Boylan’s and Molly’s tryst. There are the juxtapositions, like Mina Kennedy saying “It’s men who have all the fun” right before we see Bloom, a man, not having any fun. These coincidences are the touches of the Arranger. There is even a back and forth banter between the Narrator and the Arranger, as if one were trying to wrest control of the narration from the other, in the emphatic “yes” in line 231: “Yes, Mr. Bloom crossed the street”, and in the counterpoint in lines 291-294:


Upholding the lid he (who?) gazed in the coffin (coffin?) at the oblique triple (piano!) wires. He pressed (the same who pressed indulgently her hand), soft pedalling, a triple of keys to see the thicknesses of felt advancing, to hear the muffled hammerfall in action.


Also in this category is the “As said before” in line 519, “As said before, Bloom ate with relish…”.

In “Cyclops,” we have a second narrator, the gigantically over stator, mocking everything. This is again the work of the Arranger, in this case making politics, as something human beings do, absurd.

Wherever Joyce’s private beliefs were exactly relative to a supreme deity, if indeed Joyce was a believer as Frank Budgen says in The Making of Ulysses, it is probable that he felt it was necessary for God, or some sort of god force, to be in his novel, if his novel were to be the fully self-contained world of its own. Rather than create a character called God, as Milton did in Paradise Lost, Joyce installs a ‘force of God’ in his novel: an invisible, inscrutable force, a Supreme Being, pulling the strings of fate. In other words, not an Arranger making arbitrary changes and overrides, but a force like God, with a particular point of view, whether we understand it or not. And like Shakespeare playing the ghost in Hamlet, Joyce would stand in for God in this role.

In the “Scylla & Charybdis” episode, where the dialect on Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Shakespeare’s life may be taken as a “play within the play” the following correspondences are evident:



To which the following additional correspondences, if one for the moment forgets sexual distinctions, may be considered:





That Stephen’s mother is the ghost of Hamlet is established in “Telemachus:”


In a dream, silently, she had come to him, her wasted body within its loose graveclothes giving off an odour of wax and rosewood, her breath, bent over him with mute secret words, a faint.

Her glazing eyes, staring out of death, to shake and bend my soul. On me alone. The ghostcandle to light her agony. Ghostly light on the tortured face. Her hoarse loud breath rattling in horror, while all prayed on their knees. Her eyes on me to strike me down. Liliata rutilantium te confessorum turma circumdet: iubilantium te virginum chorus excipiat.

Ghoul! Chewer of corpses!

No, mother. Let me be and let me live. odour of wetted ashes.


But who’s to blame? Buck Mulligan’s aunt has her opinion.


–The aunt thinks you killed your mother, he said. That's why she won't let me have anything to do with you.

— Someone killed her, Stephen said gloomily.


If the ghost of Stephen’s mother corresponds to the ghost in Hamlet, and Stephen’s estranged father to Hamlet’s estranged mother, then the usurper, the murderer of the King is the murderer of Stephen’s mother, which, as she died from cancer, is God.

In “Oxen of the Sun”, this is made clear:


Mr S. Dedalus' (Div. Scep.) remark (or should it be called an interruption?) that an omnivorous being which can masticate, deglute, digest and apparently pass through the ordinary channel with pluterperfect imperturbability such multifarious aliments as cancrenous females emaciated by parturition, corpulent professional gentlemen, not to speak of jaundiced politicians and chlorotic nuns, might possibly find gastric relief in an innocent collation of staggering bob …


The “cancrenous females emaciated by parturition” is the reference to Stephen’s mother.

In “Circe,” when the ghost of Stephen’s mother appears, Stephen shouts:


Ah non, par exemple! The intellectual imagination! With me all or not at all. Non Serviam!


“Non Serviam.” Stephen is Lucifer, opposing God. He says: “Someone killed her,” and he is accusing God. God is the cruel force, one he will not serve.

Zoe explodes in laughter: Great, Unjust God! (pg 505)

The great, unjust God, the cruel life force, is represented in the novel by the ubercharacter, the God-Arranger, operating from the Empyrean.

Having created this shadow character, this being that cannot be seen directly but only observed by what it affects, is very similar to quantum mechanics. It is an ingenious addition to the novel, but like everything else, Joyce parodies it, making this character God seem sometimes arbitrary, sometimes childish, and always full of schadenfreude.

That is perhaps why the novel is full of micturition, defecation, masturbation, fornication, mastication, and so forth: all to show the great joke the supreme deity has played on his creation Man.

In “Lotus Eaters” we witness Man’s attempt to numb himself and to close his eyes to it.

But in the “Oxen of the Sun” episode, we see a God character that no longer mocks but is now deadly serious. The God-Arranger organizes the chapter “Oxen of the Sun” into a pageant of parodies of English literature, each representing one of the stages of embryonic development. Child birth is equivalent and holds the same risks and rewards as artistic creation, which is coition, procreation. That artistic creation is an act of fertilization and as sacred as human procreation is Aristotelian, and was a concept introduced in “Proteus”, where Stephen ruminates on the principles of poetry and artistic creation.

Bloom, the spermatozoon, enters the hospital, the womb, where with the aid of the nurses, the ovum, he encounters Stephen, the embryo. The young assembly of doctors, like Odysseus’ men, are engaged in slaughtering the Sungod’s oxen, mocking the life force. This portends the same risks (still birth, infant mortality) as bad or fake literature. Each style parodied in the episode (excepting the one interlude of “Eumaeus” like style) is a foundational and pivotal step in the development of English literature, starting with pre-English Latin (the chaos preceding creation), impregnated by Anglo-Saxon (fertilization by Bloom). The God character is working in his most earnest and complicated way to show the limitations of Man, by working through the works of Man. Though each style is chosen to match the narrative at any particular point, no one style can quite capture and represent what is taking place. Each style was once the height of artistic expression, considered magnificently successful, until as Time passed, the style began to appear limited, dated, sterile. Hence the ongoing need for further development. Each new style then runs through its phases: the sporadic pioneering, the progressive mastering, and the final obsolescence. Artistic creation always eventually fails, as Man does. Man can never equal the Creator. The marble surfaces of Michelangelo’s great statues impress, but can never rival the beauty and shape of the human body.

Then finally in the “Ithaca” chapter we finally are able to observe the God character head-on. The point of view is raised to the heights of the Empyrean, and it is God himself (or herself) who is asking the questions of the catechism, and the Narrator is the one doing the answering.

God’s particular point of view, its uncanniness and peculiarities beyond human comprehension, are epitomized in the excessively precise syntax, in the abundance of specialized and unfamiliar terminology, and in an attention to details that most readers would find trivial. There is the blatantly out of place incident of the anti-Semitic song Stephen sings, as he sits taking cocoa in Bloom’s kitchen, of a Christian boy being butchered by a Jew in the Jew’s home. The song, based upon “The Prioress’ Tale” in The Canterbury Tales, is arranged in a two-page score in “Ithaca,” presumably for later rendition by the reader. The God character thereupon examines, in a series of questions, the song. Bloom is referred to as the “host,” the “victim predestined,” and as a “secret infidel.” It would appear that the God character, as Joyce understood him, doesn’t care much for the Jews, his own chosen people, and would seem to be at odds with the narrator, Joyce, who made Bloom, a Jew, the hero of the novel. Perhaps this is intended to bring us to the point where like Stephen and perhaps Joyce, we have had enough of the great, unjust God, as represented by Judeo-Christian theology. So what then, if not through God, is the meaning of life and the purpose of Man?

In the other episode written in the catechistic style is “Nestor”, Stephen observes Sargent, one of his students.


Ugly and futile: lean neck and tangled hair and a stain of ink, a snail's bed. Yet someone had loved him, borne him in her arms and in her heart. But for her the race of the world would have trampled him underfoot, a squashed boneless snail.


Stephen sees himself in Sargent, and thinks of his mother.


She had saved him from being trampled underfoot and had gone, scarcely having been.


Stephen sees that if God is responsible for death, if life is a poor joke played on Man, then there is little more that can be done than to protect the vulnerable. Man must protect Man, must perform good deeds, and heal the world (“Tikkun olam” in Judaism). The nourishing parent that Stephen seeks, the healing balm for his hurt soul, is Bloom, the Jew. Both as spiritual father and spiritual mother, Bloom is Mankind caring for Mankind. That is why Bloom is identified with Christ: not as a watered-down image of the Christian Savior, but as the manifestation of the true deity in Mankind.


— Are you talking about the new Jerusalem? says the citizen.

— I'm talking about injustice, says Bloom.

— Right, says John Wyse. Stand up to it then with force like men. …

— But it's no use, says he. Force, hatred, history, all that. That's not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it's the very opposite of that that is really life.

— What? says Alf.

— Love, says Bloom. I mean the opposite of hatred.


Some have rejected this concept of an Arranger, as first proposed by Hayman, perhaps in the same vein that Einstein rejected quantum mechanics, as a God that throws dice, uncertain and arbitrary. However, the identification of the Arranger with God or a God force, creates a further dimension on the novel, and completes Joyce’s vision as that other World, a creation of an entire alternative world within itself.



* Bruce Parks received a BA in English from the City College of the City University of New York, and was the recipient of the Riggs Medal (1972) and the Goodman Short Story Award (1973). During this time, Bruce had the unique experience of studying creative writing, Shakespeare and James Joyce under Anthony Burgess, the distinguished author. Bruce has published in the International Anthony Burgess Newsletter, and in the Avalon Literary Review. His play Titus and Berenice was staged in 2016. He has taught courses on Shakespeare and James Joyce at BOLLI, the Brandeis Osher Life Long Learning Institute. Bruce and his wife live in Newburyport Massachusetts.

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