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Ulysses - Success, Happiness and EthicsUlysses - Success, Happiness and Ethics


Ulysses (1922)


Written by the Irishman, James Joyce (1882-1941), pictured right.


Set in...

Dublin during a single day, 16 June 1904, when:

  • Ireland was under British rule.
  • Irish republicans were fighting against it.

 Ulysses - Success, Happiness and Ethics

Fun facts

Based upon The Odyssey (by the ancient Greek writer, Homer, pictured right), whose hero was Ulysses.

First published in Paris but initially banned in America and Britain for being pornographic.

Joyce based the character of Stephen Dedalus on himself.

Made into two films in 1967 and 2003 (which was called Bloom).

Read by the American film star, Marilyn Monroe (pictured right below reading the book).

 Ulysses - Success, Happiness and Ethics

Key characters

Leopold Bloom, 38-year-old Jewish advertising salesman.

Molly Bloom, his wife.

Stephen Dedalus, 22-year-old Irish teacher.


The story

Stephen Dedalus, a young teacher in Dublin, is unhappy because of his:

  • unrealized artistic talent.
  • mother’s death almost a year ago. Ulysses - Success, Happiness and Ethics

He is guilty because he refused her pleading to pray at her deathbed.

Around 10 am (on 16 June 1904) he teaches a history lesson at his school. He then:

  • meets its prejudiced headteacher (Mr Deasy).
  • walks along Sandymount Strand beach, reflecting critically on his past.

At 8 am the same day Leopold Bloom, a half-Jewish advertising salesman, takes breakfast to his wife, Molly, who receives a letter from her lover (another singer, Blazes Boylan).

Bloom, aware of her affair, is tormented by the thought that Boylan will sleep with her later that afternoon.

Bloom is still faithful to her despite his

  • voyeurism.
  • love of pornography.
  • amorous correspondence (with another woman using the name of Henry Flower).

Around 11 am Bloom goes to the funeral of his friend, Paddy Dignam, with (amongst others) Stephen’s unpleasant father, Simon. This reminds Bloom of the deaths of his:

  • father (by suicide). Ulysses - Success, Happiness and Ethics
  • eleven-day-old son, Rudy.

As a Jew, Bloom is treated with cold hostility at a noon appointment with a newspaper to negotiate an advertisement.

During the afternoon Bloom bumps into his old girlfriend, Josie Breen.

Bloom has dinner with Stephen's uncle, whilst his wife and lover meet at his home. Then at a pub an anti-Semitic Irish republican verbally attacks Bloom, who reminds him that Jesus was a Jew.

After seeing Paddy Dignam’s widow and relaxing on Sandymount Strand around sunset, Bloom visits Mina Purefoy in the maternity hospital at 10 pm, because she’s having a difficult birth.

There he bumps into Stephen who persuades a friend to go with him to a brothel. Bloom follows him and a drunk Stephen is knocked out by a British soldier in an argument.

Well after midnight, Bloom invites him back to his house, where they chat about love and music.

Stephen refuses an offer of a bed and, after he leaves, Bloom:Ulysses - Success, Happiness and Ethics

  • talks about his day in bed with Molly.
  • astonishes her by requesting breakfast in bed.

Molly stays awake, thinking about her childhood, her lover, her singing career, Stephen, and Bloom.

She remembers a romantic afternoon with Bloom on Ben Howth and his marriage proposal.

She finally concludes that she still loves her husband, despite his faults.


Lessons for success, happiness and ethics


1. Compassion is cool

Bloom is the book’s hero, because of his kindness and concern for animals and other people like:

  • Stephen. 
  • the pregnant Mina Purefoy, Ulysses - Success, Happiness and Ethics
  • Mrs. Dignam.
  • Molly, his wife (despite her affair).

Bloom’s empathy (seeing other people’s point of view) is enormous. This contrasts with:

  • the anti-Semitism he has to endure,
  • Stephen’s over-critical and insensitive father (leading Stephen to search for a surrogate loving father like Bloom).

Bloom (Milo O'Shea) is pictured right above in the 1967 film.


2. Control your own destiny

Stephen wants to break free from the tyranny of:

  • British rule (Ireland was then part of Britain).  Ulysses - Success, Happiness and Ethics
  • the Roman Catholic Church (then dominant in Ireland).
  • boring employment (doing a few “odd jobs”).

This is why Joyce gives him the surname, Dedalus, who in Greek mythology helped his son, Icarus, to make wings to escape from a prison tower.

Bloom is also trying to assert himself and finally asks Molly to give him breakfast in bed, a sign that his servility in their marriage is now over.

 Stephen (Hugh O'Conor) is pictured right above with Molly (Angeline Ball) in the 2003 film. 

Ulysses - Success, Happiness and Ethics


3. Be true to yourself

Stephen is a modern version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, whose famous question (to be or not to be) is constantly relevant to Stephen's struggle to become:

  • a poet.
  • the person he wants to be.

Ulysses - Success, Happiness and Ethics 

4. Cheerfulness through crisis

Unlike Stephen, Bloom has the ability to cheer himself up and not wallow in problems like:

  • his father and son’s deaths.
  • Molly’s affair.

 Ulysses - Success, Happiness and Ethics

5. Culture for creativity

Bloom loves the arts but applies them to solve practical problems.

For example, he:

  • reads Shakespeare, pictured right   (for its moral lessons).
  • uses his artistic talent to make better advertisements.


6. Patriotism can be pernicious

Anti-Semitic attacks on Bloom show that narrow-minded nationalism can lead to prejudice and hatred.

Instead Bloom suggests that a country should be tolerant and compassionate irrespective of race, religion or citizenship.

“A nation is the same people living in the same place”, he says.

 Ulysses - Success, Happiness and Ethics

7. Learn from history

Stephen hopes that:

  • his (and Ireland’s) past mistakes are never repeated
  • he can rise above his burdensome circumstances (like his upbringing and mother’s death).

“History... is a nightmare from which I am trying to escape”, he says.

He uses alcohol as an escape until Bloom’s compassion saves him.Ulysses - Success, Happiness and Ethics


8. Conscience can be a killer

Stephen continually uses the religious term “agenbite of inwit” (meaning “remorse of conscience”) to describe his guilt over his:

  • mother’s death.
  • refusal to pray at her deathbed.


 Ulysses - Success, Happiness and Ethics

9. “Love’s bitter mystery”

Used throughout the book, this phrase describes how love is a mixture of bliss and bitterness with, spouse, family, friends, God and country.

For example, Molly’s (pictured right in the 2003 film) affair precedes her final affirmation of love for Bloom.


10. Superman will save you

Stephen supports the idea of a superman from the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, pictured right below - a strong and powerful person that can solve the world’s problems.

 Ulysses - Success, Happiness and Ethics

Key quotes on love

Love’s bitter mystery.

Love ... the opposite of hatred, Leopold Bloom


Key quote on history

History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.


Key quote on success

A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery, Stephen Dedalus


Key quote on learning

To learn one must be humble. But life is the great teacher, Mr Deasy


Key quote on God

A shout in the street, Stephen's description of God.


Two literature websites to recommend 

1. sparknotes.com

2. litcharts.com

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