Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bill on Hades

Breughel's Aeneas and the Sybil in Hades

In Hades, Bloom descends into Hell like his heroic counterparts—Aeneas, Odysseus, Christ. Here in the city of the Dead—Glasnevin Cemetery for the Catholics of Dublin—Bloom and others visit their nationalistic heroes such as Charles Stuart Parnell, the uncrowned king of Ireland to whom as a boy JJ wrote an elegiac poem. The net of patriotism is something the older JJ evades and satirizes and something Bloom, by virtue of his marginality in Ireland or his intelligence or both,  is not interested in. Bloom carries the comedy of this chapter as his efficiency-expert self speculates on the possibility of burying people feet down to economize on space; and Bloom carries the seriousness of the chapter in his thoughts about his son and his father and other ghosts like those Hamlet must confront to become the heroic self he seems destined to be. Macintosh is perhaps a metonym for these ghosts as he stands watching the goings on of these particular mourners.  Bloom's ghosts are personal—Rudy, his dead son and Bloom' father, who committed suicide. Bloom's father's letter to his son Bloom echoes  the letters from Martha and to Molly from Boylan and to Bloom from Milly. The letters range from dead letters (how many times is dead referred to in this chapter—dead letter office, dead right, etc.—in both Bloom's musings and the narrator's language—Karen Lawrence's book—Ulysses, an Odyssey of Style—notes that the language of each narrator is reflected in the content of the chapter—and death palls the language of this chapter certainly—

The triumph of the chapter comes when Bloom chooses life over death. Later we'll see that this triumph is not without its lapses, but the sweep of the chapter allows us to observe Bloom, an outsider whose Jewishness in a callously anti-Semitic culture is one of the reason for his feelings of impotence. Even the kind hearted Martin Cunningham, a parallel to Shakespeare in LB's mind,  is ignorantly anti-Semitic. Stephen's father blames Gogarty from Stephen's demise—how far from the truth can that analysis be. Powers, another like Cunningham who appears in "Grace" is like the others in the carriage and Menton afterwards dismissive of Bloom as not of their ilk. They lack the negative capability of a Bloom whose empathy for all is constantly in evidence. For example, he remembers Mrs. Sinico, the ignored romantic from "A Painful Case" and all the other dead. This trait threatens to pull him into a morbidity like that of Stephen, who, we are reminded, is wearing mourning colors for his mother, but Bloom is not Stephen in so many ways. As he emerges from the underworld he notes, he prefers this world—"Plenty to see and hear and feel yet. Feel live warm being near you. They are not going to get me this innings. Warm beds; warm fullbodied life.

—Bill G.

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