In Homer's epic, Odysseus meets with the faithful and hospitable swineherd Eumaeus after Odysseus has returned to Ithaca; shortly thereafter, Odysseus joins with Telemachus and slaughters Penelope's suitors. In Joyce's novel, a coffeehouse which is said to be run by Skin-the-Goat (James) Fitzharris provides a symbolic place for Bloom and Stephen to chat before the two men return to Bloom's house in the next chapter. (Fitzharris, one should recall, drove the decoy car after the Phoenix Park Murders, discussed prominently in "Aeolus.") The Homeric parallel also reinforces two other themes in the episode: first, the motif of disguises and the imagery of the wanderer's return; no one knows whether the returned sailor "W. B. Murphy" really bears that name, or whether, like Bloom and Odysseus, he actually is going to return to a wife whom he has not seen for several years. And who knows whether Parnell, like Bloom, will ever "return" — that is, were there really only stones buried in Parnell's casket? And, more important to this narrative, will Bloom be able to return in any meaningful way to Molly?
After the excesses of Nighttown, Bloom and Stephen, at about
1:00 a.m., walk to Fitzharris's cabman's shelter to imbibe a nonalcoholic beverage. On the way, Stephen meets the dissipated Corley (a sponger from "Two Gallants!' in Dubliners); he lends the fellow some money and tells him that there will be a job available at Deasy's school (this is Stephen's own position; he will be leaving the school).
Once inside the shelter, Bloom and Stephen discuss many subjects: Murphy's wanderings, the sensuality of Gibraltar women, nationalism, and religion, to name a few. Bloom also reads a copy of the Telegraph; it contains the mistakes caused, in part, by the misunderstandings in "Hades." After considering and weighing the consequences of bringing Stephen home, and with misgivings (Bloom is afraid that Molly will complain), Bloom does decide finally to bring Stephen home with him ("It's not far. Lean on me."). Thus, the two start out towards 7 Eccles Street.
Bloom's motives for helping Stephen are mostly altruistic. In "Hades," when Bloom saw Stephen, Stephen was alone — that is, he was without his "fidus Achates" — the "cad," Mulligan. In "Eumaeus," the recurrence of this same phrase indicates that Bloom is indeed filling an immediate need of Stephen's. Joyce makes it clear that Bloom is helping Stephen by warning him to avoid the robust but superficial Buck Mulligan. Mulligan "contributes the humorous element," it is true, but Bloom feels that Mulligan cannot be trusted. Bloom observed more than Stephen could when the medical students were drinking in "The Oxen of the Sun" chapter. Bloom believes that Mulligan may have put something into Stephen's drink. Clearly, Bloom feels compassion for Stephen; he thinks that Stephen is a bright young man, recently returned from Paris — a young man who may not "have it all together yet." In Stephen's eyes, Bloom sees the eyes of Stephen's sisters and father. He thinks that it is a pity that "a young fellow blessed with an allowance of brains . . . should waste his valuable time with profligate women. . . ." And, after all, Bloom brought home a dog with a lame paw (there is a parallel here with Stephen's injured hand); thus, why not do it again — even though Molly might become irate?
Bloom acts basically because of his innate charity (making him once again a 20th-century Christ figure), but his motives are mixed. A careful reading of "Eumaeus" dispels the trite notion that Bloom is either a simple plaster saint or a merely farcical protagonist. His assessment of Stephen's personality, for example, as well as his assessment of Stephen's talents, is shrewd, and often in "Eumaeus," Bloom imagines how Stephen can be used to his (Bloom's) advantage. As a writer, Stephen could help Bloom advertise the new opera company which he is conceiving in his imagination by "providing puffs in the local papers," since Stephen is undoubtedly a "fellow with a bit of bounce. . . ." In onesense, we should realize that Bloom is willing to take Stephen home, to spend a few pennies on him because of possible benefits that may come from Bloom's cultivating "the acquaintance of someone of no uncommon calibre who could provide food for reflection . . . ." In other words, the mercantilistic, advertising sideof Bloom will sacrifice some "food and lodging" to acquire from Stephen some "food for thought." Then, too, Bloom might find in the meeting with Stephen enough material to publish in Titbits, in the manner of the vaunted Philip Beaufoy: "My Experiences, let us say, in a Cabman's Shelter." Or perhaps since Stephen has his father's voice, Bloom might profit from Stephen's fine tenor renditions. Finally, Bloom offers one of the best summaries of Stephen's character ever penned: "His initial impression was that he was a bit standoffish or not over effusive but it grew on him someway." This "impression" of Stephen is exactly what many readers of Ulysses have throughout the novel.
Sadly, though, there are too many differences between Stephen and Bloom in order for them to be truly compatible and complementary, and "Eumaeus" contains the seeds of the dissolution of their temporary friendship, which will end after June 17. The gap between these two men is ultimately too great, and at the end of the novel, we are left with only Molly's thoughts as Stephen (now usurping the role of the Chaplinesque "little tramp") wanders off to an unknown destiny. Even as Bloom and Stephen enter the shelter, Joyce makes it clear that misunderstanding is the key to this episode. Bloom praises the Italian spoken by a group of people standing around an ice cream cart, and Stephen deflates his adorational "a beautiful language" by explaining: "They were haggling over money." Bloom again points out the dangers of prostitution (the spread of venereal disease), and Stephen asserts that the Irish people have sold much more than their bodies — he means, of course, their souls. Also, Bloom's point that Shakespeare's plays may have been written by Bacon is pathetic, following, as it does, Stephen's highly abstruse discussion of Shakespeare in "Scylla and Charybdis." Again, Bloom's insistence that in his new, proposed socialistic state everyone must work falls wide of the mark, and he hurriedly explains that Stephen would be acceptable too, since writing poetry could be defined as "labor," of a sort. Bloom's assurance that both the "brain and the brawn" belong to Ireland elicits merely Stephen's enigmatic retort: "Ireland must be important because it belongs to me."
It is in matters of religion, though, that Bloom and Stephen are furthest apart, philosophically and spiritually. Ironically, Bloom thinks that Stephen is a "good catholic"; he states and restates this judgment, summing it up finally in the statement: "orthodox as you are." However, it is the word "simple" that Stephen uses in discussing the human soul that clearly delineates the contrast between the two men. Bloom responds: "Simple? I shouldn't think that is the proper word." What Stephen has in mind is the scholastic definition of "simple" — that is, having no parts. God is simple; so is the soul. But Bloom just does not have the intellectual capacity to appreciate such complexities; he is too mired in the real world of money and politics — as he always will be.
Joyce's theme of wandering, of people destined never to join significantly but, instead, to move through webs of artifice, is epitomized in the character of W. B. Murphy — if, indeed, that is his true name. The red-bearded Murphy, who, with his typically Irish blather and blarney, resembles the clever narrator of "The Cyclops," is a drunken, belligerent misfit weaving his life around a tissue of lies. In many ways, Murphy typifies the worst traits of the archetypal Irishman, but, with his colorful personality, he has an abundance of compensating, attractive qualities. Here, Murphy has come from the three-master ship Rosevean, the ship that Stephen saw in "Proteus," and one wonders if the bricks which the vessel carries will lead to any future foundation (one is reminded of the stones, again, that are supposed to be in Parnell's coffin — instead of his body — and one is also reminded of the fact that Joyce modeled the amorphous hero of Finnegans Wake upon a drunken hod carrier). Murphy, another mock-heroic avatar of the returned Odysseus, is about to reintroduce himself to the wife that he has not seen in seven years. Bloom thinks of various returned heroes from fiction, and he cannot help projecting his own doubts onto his vision of the upcoming reunion: what if they don't want the returnee any more, and what is really Murphy's name, anyway? Is it possibly "Senor A. Boudin," as the postcard seems to imply?
Even more effectively than Murphy's own personal myths, however, Parnell's story better depicts Bloom's lonely desperation and his status as a wanderer with only a tenuous Ithaca to return to. Parnell, according to the pundits, was destroyed by a woman, Kitty O'Shea, his mistress. Like Molly, Kitty (the wife of Captain O'Shea) was a "fine lump of a woman . . ." and during the O'Shea divorce trial, Parnell became a laughing stock when it was revealed that he was seen scrambling down a ladder from Kitty's room in his nightclothes; in the next episode, the keyless Bloom will similarly have to scramble to get into his own home. What bothers Bloom about the retelling of the Parnell story in "Eumaeus" is "the blatant jokes of the cabmen . . . who passed it all off as a jest . . . ." To Bloom, who lives only in an imaginary sexual world (either with Martha Clifford or masturbating on the beach in "Nausicaa"), Parnell is a truly sexual, athletic hero, one who literally died for love. Bloom, quite naturally, probably envisions himself as the impotent Captain O'Shea, who, historically, agreed to ignore his wife's infidelity with Parnell (as Bloom is doing with Boylan) until O'Shea was convinced by a number of politicians that Parnell had to be disgraced and therefore lose office. And, after all, Parnell did thank Bloom once for picking up his hat, a marked contrast to Menton's treatment of Bloom in "Hades," when Bloom graciously pointed out a dint in the hat.
Throughout this episode, Joyce infuses a sense of exhaustion, emptiness, and futile wandering. The syntax contributes immensely to this effect, as Joyce fills the chapter with lengthy, unfinished sentences, creating an atmosphere of vast attenuation, artifice, and especially a feeling of tiredness. And in the midst of all this, the dissipated Corley presents a warning of what Stephen might become: "His friends had all deserted him." The Simon Dedalus that Murphy describes is almost certainly not Stephen's father, but rather a sharpshooter who traveled with Hengler's Magic Circus. The fact that knives were used in the Phoenix Park Murders points, according to the logic of the small-minded cabmen, to the fact that foreigners must have been hired to do the killing: a knife, by custom, is not an Irish weapon. The tattoo that adorns Murphy itself is chimerical: if one pulls the skin, the young man's face changes. Significantly, the tattoo includes the number of this episode — 16; and, to some critics, this number signifies homosexuality, though this surmise, of course, is only that, a surmise; yet it is interesting that the number "16" is associated in Europe with homosexuality, just as "69" is associated in the United States with homosexuality.
Returning to the idea of dissipation and tiredness, the patrons of Fitzharris's establishment are willing to argue so long as no blows are exchanged, a trite and tired (and Irish) standard. They resemble the peasants in Synge's Playboy of the Western World; these people admire Christy Mahon's blather about killing his father until the father reappears in person; then Christy, apparently, truly must kill the man. Again, the facts about Skin-the-Goat are wrong; he did not drive the car used by the murderers; he drove only the decoy car. And the newspaper report of Dignam's funeral is thoroughly phony in both its praise of the deceased and also in its factual information.
Finally, in "Eumaeus," poor Bloom reveals only too clearly his desperate need to be accepted — as well as to accept — that is, he needs to be comforted, as well as to comfort. The usually equanimous Bloom is still brooding over the insult by the Citizen in "The Cyclops" and, to make his point, pitiably he denies his Jewishness on a technicality: "though in reality I'm not." Later, he again (sycophantically) turns the conversation around to Molly, showing an outdated photo to an indifferent Stephen. And his plans for "shanghai-ing" Stephen into a singing career are countered by the three turds dropped by a horse at the close of the episode.
The Dublin that Joyce presents in "Eumaeus" is a particularly distressing one, resembling Conrad's description of London in The Secret Agent: an aquarium after the water has been drained.