This episode begins at about 11:00 a.m. outside the house of the deceased Paddy Dignam in Sandymount. Bloom is entering the carriage, which will follow behind Dignam's hearse, together with Martin Cunningham, Mr. Power, and Simon Dedalus (who appears here in person for the first time in the novel). The carriage, which is littered inside with the crumbs of a picnic and, in addition, has mildewed leather, passes an old woman who is peeking at the funeral procession through a window in her house. Bloom spies young Stephen Dedalus, and the other men look at him, Bloom noticing his mourning hat; Simon Dedalus speaks up and curses Buck Mulligan, who he thinks is ruining his son. The carriage also passes Blazes Boylan Oust as Bloom is thinking of him), and it also passes a small coffin holding the corpse of a child. The ceremony at the graveside records Bloom's thoughts about death — the contemplations of one who is outside of Catholicism. The chapter ends (still in Glasnevin Cemetery) with Bloom's telling the solicitor, John Henry Menton, of a dent in his (Menton's) hat and being rebuffed for his remark. Menton was defeated by Bloom (by luck) at a game of bowls 17 years previous (with the young, unmarried Molly looking on), and Menton still holds a grudge.
The conversation of the four men in the funeral carriage relates to several motifs in Ulysses. For example, Bloom's memories of his father's suicide, thoughts brought on by Mr. Power's rambling comments, reinforce the father-son theme; and old Rudolph Bloom's dying request that Leopold take care of his dog, Athos (a parallel to Odysseus's faithful old dog Argos), suggests the novel's god-dog concept; the word Athos, in fact, contains a hint of the word theos — that is, God. Also, the men discuss the son of Reuben J. Dodd, who tried to drown himself because his father insisted that the son end an unsuitable love affair. A boatman saved young Dodd, and his parsimonious father gave him only a florin tip for his troubles; Simon Dedalus's comment, "One and eightpence too much," typifies the personality of this stiff, but often humorous, Micawber-like father. At the graveside, the men see a mysterious 13th mourner, a man wearing a Macintosh coat; this is a visitant whose identity will never be disclosed in Ulysses, although he will appear in the newspaper report as being one of those at the burial.
Other parallels with the Odyssey are very explicit in this episode. Odysseus's anxiety-ridden visit to the Underworld of Greek mythology corresponds to Bloom's trip to Glasnevin Cemetery to bury Dignam, who in turn corresponds to Elpenor, the intemperate follower of Odysseus, who broke his neck in a fall from the roof of Circe's palace. The four rivers of the Greek Hades are paralleled by the four rivers that the men cross on the way to the cemetery: the Dodder, the Liffey, the Grand Canal, and the Royal Canal. As the mourners pass the tenements, they see stripped-up sections of a street, suggesting a means of access to Hades. Among the characters in this section, the kindly Martin Cunningham is a sort of Sisyphus, a Greek symbol of futility: Cunningham spends his life trying to keep out of debts incurred by his drunken wife, who continually pawns the family furniture every Saturday. And Father Coffey, who conducts the funeral service and who is humorously described as a dog, is a sort of Cerberus-figure, who guards the entrance to Hell, or Hades, but who can be compromised by dog biscuits.
In "Hades," Bloom is portrayed as the total outsider, and Bloom's fate, his isolation, is made all the more terrible because, as Joyce goes to great trouble to show, his acquaintances do not intentionally cut him off. He is simply not part of the group. The opening section brilliantly reveals Bloom's separateness: there is no need for the question, "Are we all here now?" since Bloom (who is called by his surname while Mr. Dedalus is called Simon) is the only one left, and needless to say, Bloom enters the carriage last.
Also, it is Bloom that Mr. Dedalus corrects when Bloom tries to look through the paper to find the Dan Dawson speech, which has just been mentioned in the carriage (and which will later be quoted and commented upon in "Aeolus"). Dedalus's stilted rebuke reveals a stuffy side of Stephen's father, and it also characterizes Bloom as a blundering anti-hero who can seldom do anything right; but, basically, Dedalus's comment is one that would be made to a social inferior. Again, Bloom suffers when the other three men acknowledge and greet Boylan, the "worst man in Dublin"; Bloom simply cannot understand how three men whom he respects can be attracted to Boylan, and his perplexity leads to even more disquieted isolation.
In addition, Hynes asks Bloom after the burial what his "Christian" name is. Hynes (another decent Dubliner) pays so little attention to Bloom's answer that he garbles his name in a newspaper story, leaving out the "l" from "Bloom," and fails to include "Bloom's" first name at all. Also, the mistake over the name "M'Intosh" comes about because Hynes is only half-listening to Bloom (this incident, interestingly, resembles the mistake over Throwaway in the preceding episode); the mourner is a man in a Macintosh coat, not a man called M'Intosh, but Hynes ignores Bloom's "No," his answer to the question, "Is that his name?"
Even when Bloom's friends try to be pleasant, their attempts fail. Mr. Power's questions about Molly's upcoming concert tour suggest Boylan to Bloom, and these questions serve to remind Bloom of the reason why he cannot accompany Molly: He must be in Ennis to commemorate the anniversary of his father's death (June 27, 1886). In addition, Jack Power's inept query about "Madame" doesn't help matters any, but it does evoke the picture for us of Molly as a sort of symbolic whore. Finally, it is sad to see Bloom trying to ingratiate himself with these men who, despite their open and basically good natures, simply do not consider Bloom an intimate.
Nowhere is the gap between Bloom and his three acquaintances greater than in matters of religion. This disparity is perhaps seen best when the men discuss the manner of Dignam's demise. Power thinks that Dignam's sudden death makes him a "poor fellow." Bloom feels, though, that this type of death, like dying in one's sleep, is the best kind. The three men stare at him in wide-eyed silence. To the Roman Catholic, of course, unexpected death is the absolute worst kind of death because the victim has had no time to prepare for it — that is, he has had no time to have confession heard — if he is, by chance, in Mortal Sin. In theory, a drunken, syphilitic Dubliner, dying while asleep, would presumably be dispatched immediately to Hell. But Bloom, possibly influenced by his own father's worn-out end, which culminated in suicide, has no intimation of his conversational faux pas.
In addition, Power's discussion of suicide reveals yet another side of his religious alienation from Bloom: the humaneness of the unbeliever Leopold Bloom as opposed to the cold orthodoxy of Power's brand of Catholicism. Power thinks that suicide is the worst imaginable crime and the greatest disgrace which a family can suffer. For his part, Dedalus believes the act to be cowardly. But the sympathetic Cunningham attempts to soften these strident viewpoints and argues with compassion: even if the suicide did not suffer from temporary insanity, which rules out Mortal Sin (which needs full consent of the will), he says that it is not for us — the living — to judge. Through all of this debate, Bloom, locked in his own world, considers one of the most moving ideas in Ulysses: "They used to drive a stake of wood through his [the suicide's] heart in the grave. As if it wasn't broken already."
At times, however, Bloom's divergence from accepted religion, his prosaic, "humanist" contemplation of life and death, leads to a good deal of humor and helps to balance the macabre thoughts of death that Joyce indulges in throughout this episode. To Bloom, the heart is merely a pump, and his matter-of-fact opinion anticipates contemporary medicine. Bloom also cannot accept the Resurrection of the Body, one of the chief tenets of Christianity: "every fellow mousing around for his liver and his lights and the rest of his traps." And Bloom's comment that when the dead Lazarus was ordered by Christ to come forth from the tomb at Bethany, he "came fifth and lost the job," is famous among 20th-century puns.
In order to contrast the bland but usually good-natured Bloom with the often aloof Stephen, Joyce includes several parallels between "Hades" and "Proteus." Both chapters deal with the beginnings of life and with its end: The old lady on the first page of "Hades" who stares at the carriage, happy that it has passed her by, that it isn't her turn to die yet, reminds one of Florence MacCabe and her friend, mentioned on the first page of "Proteus." At the graveside, the coiled coffinband is referred to as a "navelcord," and one thinks of Stephen's wish to make a telephone call back to Eden, using a telephone wire as a metaphor for all the umbilical cords since the pre-lapsarian Garden. Also, the father-son theme is seen again in Simon's misunderstanding of Stephen: Mr. Dedalus assumes that his son has been at the Gouldings, whereas the reader knows, from "Proteus," that Stephen has decided not to visit these in-law "outlaws"; Richie Goulding, whom Mr. Dedalus despises, is the chief of these, and in "Hades" we are told that his back pains are caused by alcohol. Finally, Bloom's judgment that Molly has retained her original, sensual "shape," even though she has put on weight, reminds us of Stephen's musings about appearance, reality, and the shape of objects in the opening paragraphs of "Proteus."
One image pattern more than any other in "Hades" epitomizes Bloom's sad state: the motif of the nails. At the start of the episode, Bloom muses that the nails of corpses are clipped and kept in an envelope (another "dead" letter, like Martha's?). Then later, when the three other men are praising Boylan, Bloom can do nothing but look at his nails. Also, Bloom wonders if Dignam's body would bleed if it were to fall out of the casket and be cut by a nail. Thus the nails have definite Christocentric significance. Bloom is clearly crucified in "Hades," and his death is no more palatable because it comes through the agency of well-meaning friends. He is cut off from the present by the ravine that separates him from the others. His future is most unattractive: Bloomsday, his day, marks the beginning of Molly's affair, and his thoughts return constantly to the past, to the death of his father, Rudolph, and to the death of his son, Rudy.