This chapter, which begins at about 1:00 p.m. and lasts for approximately an hour, traces Bloom's movements through the center of Dublin. It starts when he observes a Christian Brother buying sweets (presumably for some of his students) and ends when Bloom, evading the approaching Boylan, turns into the National Museum to observe the anal details of the statues of Greek goddesses. In the course of his peregrinations, Bloom is handed a throwaway, a handbill (which recalls for us the racehorse Throwaway), by a melancholy-looking YMCA youth; he feels truly sorry for the ragged Dilly Dedalus (Stephen's sister); he feeds some sea gulls broken fragments of Banbury cakes, which he throws down into the Liffey River; he meets an old flame, Mrs. Breen (formerly Josie Powell); he becomes depressed (again) when a cloud crosses the sun (again); he stops into the restaurant of the Burton Hotel to eat, but is sickened by the piggish manners of the patrons and leaves for Davy Byrne's pub, where he has a glass of burgundy and a cheese sandwich; and, finally, he helps a blind youth cross a street.
In Homer's epic, many of Odysseus's men are devoured by the giant, cannibalistic tribe of Lestrygonians, and this particular episode of the novel is filled with many allusions to eating, a good number of them alluding to disgusting eating practices. The bestial actions of the customers in the Burton restaurant, for example, epitomize the analogy with their Greek prototypes.
The opening pages of "The Lestrygonians" record Bloom's sensitivity towards the passing things of life and remind the reader that Joyce's novel is about the humanity that exists behind the common events of daily existence. A handbill handed to a passing advertising canvasser can, in Joyce's great proletariat novel, relate the canvasser to Jesus; similarly, Bloom, when he hears the first few letters of the YMCA youth's "Blood of the Lamb," thinks that the lad is pronouncing Bloom's name, "Bloo . . . Me? No." Also, other details observed by Bloom, though less obviously "symbolic," are not less human: for example, a sign attached to a rowboat advertising trousers; men wearing scarlet letters on tall white hats, walking around Dublin to call attention to Wisdom Hely, the stationer; and a poor hungry child (Dilly) standing outside Dillon's auction rooms while her father is off drinking. The reader is indeed fortunate that Bloom is such a good observer, for, through Bloom's perceptive eyes, the spectators of today can recreate a Dublin that is long past.
Although he is perceiving physical details with a sharp eye, however, Bloom finds that his thoughts in "The Lestrygonians" constantly return to one subject: the upcoming affair between Boylan and Molly. No matter how often Bloom thinks of the happy times that he has shared with Molly, especially those before the death of their son, Rudy, ten years before (the last time the couple had complete sexual intercourse), the specter of Boylan overshadows his present moments. (Rudy Bloom was born on December 29, 1893, and died on January 9, 1894. Since the death of his son, Bloom has practiced interrupted coitus with Molly, spilling his seed on her rump.) At one point, as he thinks of venereal disease, Bloom's thoughts turn to Blazes: "If he . . . O! . . . He wouldn't surely? . . . Think no more about that." Again, in Davy Byrne's pub, a question by Nosey Flynn causes Bloom to look desperately at the pub clock, which reminds him that it is now two o'clock, just two hours away from the lovers' meeting. Even later, when he thinks of buying a silk petticoat for Molly, the image of Boylan supersedes any possible voluptuousness, even in memory: "Today. Today. Not think." Bloom's thoughts of Boylan seem to bring forth his presence, just as they did when Bloom was on his way to Glasnevin Cemetery; seeing the straw hat and tan shoes that always signal Boylan's appearances in Ulysses, Bloom, on the last page of this episode, enters the temporary haven of the museum, clutching his good luck charm, the lemon-scented soap — the moly of Odysseus that kept him safe from the enchantress Circe. It is no wonder then that Bloom is forced to compare his wretched present with his past happiness. As he puts it, "Happier then.'; Or, "I was happer then." Or, with perhaps the greatest pathos of any single expression in the novel: "Me. And me now."
The first "event" in "The Lestrygonians" is Bloom's meeting with Mrs. Breen, and the details of that chat are crucial to Ulysses. Mrs. Breen tells Bloom that her husband, Denis, has gone half mad. His frenzied dream about "the ace of spades walking up the stairs" recalls Haines's nightmare about the black panther, and both images of black prefigure Bloom, who spends the day dressed in mourning clothes. The postcard received by Denis Breen, with the cryptic expression "U.P.: up," has driven him to the offices of Menton the solicitor (returned by now from Dignam's burial in the "Hades" episode) to seek vengeance against the unknown perpetrator; the letters "U.P." probably mean "It's all up with you" or "You're dead," although this interpretation is open to question as Joyce includes still another mystery in this novel. Again, Bloom's concern for Mrs. Mina Purefoy ("pure faith"), who has been in labor for three days, indicates Bloom's charitable nature and relates his thoughts to the theme of creativity and birth; yet Bloom confuses the beleaguered mother's name with that of Philip Beaufoy, author of "Matcham's Masterstroke"; Bloom, one might recall, "tore away half [of this] story" in "Calypso" to wipe himself. Finally, the appearance of Lamppost Farrell, an actual Dublin eccentric who dressed like a madman and superstitiously always walked on the outside of lampposts, is coupled with the incipient madness of Denis Breen to paint a most untowardly (though comic) picture of Dublin society. More important, though, is the dreadful toll that the madness of life has taken upon Mrs. Breen, and Bloom marvels that this ravaged woman is only a year or so older than Molly. Thus Mrs. Breen, as well as Bloom, fits the sad theme of "Me. And me now."
Leaving Mrs. Breen and then passing the offices of the Irish Times, Bloom recalls the ad that led him to Martha Clifford, and the reader is able to fill in important background information. Bloom thinks that there may well be other responses to his advertisement awaiting him at the Irish Times, in addition to the forty-four answers that he has already gone through, but he decides to "leave them there to simmer."
The original ad read, "Wanted smart lady typist to aid gentleman in literary work," and Bloom thinks of one respondent, Lizzie Twigg (an actual poetess), who had been praised by "the eminent poet A. E.," George Russell, the theosophist, as well as poet, who will figure prominently in the next episode. The "conservative" Bloom, however, thought that Ms. Twigg might be too bohemian or arty. A little later in the chapter, Bloom sees Russell bicycling by, accompanied by a young woman who might be Lizzie Twigg: "Coming events [witness the appearances of Boylan] cast their shadows before."
Unable to eat at the Burton Hotel because of the disgusting spectacle of its wolfing, slobbering customers, Bloom enters the pub of Davy Byrne, a "moral pub," and the reader finds out a good deal more about the protagonist's character. Buoyed up temporarily by a glass of burgundy and a cheese sandwich, Bloom thinks of the moment in the spring or summer of 1888 when Molly agreed to marry him, on the hill of Howth, overlooking Dublin Bay. In this deeply romantic reminiscence, parts of which will recur several times in Ulysses, we discover a side of Bloom that has not yet been revealed, one that makes Molly's upcoming sexual union with the insensitive Boylan — which the emotionally exhausted Bloom is unable to prevent — all the more important to our understanding of Bloom. Although the description of Molly's passing the warm and chewed seedcake (of life) from her mouth to Bloom's has often been glibly subjected to Freudian analysis by literary critics, the picture presented of Bloom in this "Garden of Eden" is not primarily that of a son being "fed" by a mother, but of a vital, passionate lover, able to inspire the same emotion in another human being. We must not forget (Bloom certainly does not) that while the sensual Molly had many suitors, Bloom is the man whom she did, in fact, marry. Had he not spent that beautiful moment under the wild ferns on Howth with Molly, Bloom might, at times, border on the farcical. The deep love that Molly held for him, at least 16 years ago (and perhaps now), adds necessary depth to Bloom's portrait.
Still another positive side of Bloom is revealed in the conversation between Nosey Flynn (who appeared first in Joyce's short story "Counterparts" in Dubliners, and who received his nickname from his habit of always "snuffling it up") and Davy Byrne, after Bloom has left for the bathroom. Flynn says that Bloom is a Freemason (and therefore immediately set apart from Dublin Catholics), "in the craft." Yet Bloom is a good man, and the two men praise his temperance ("God Almighty couldn't make him drunk") and his charitable nature ("He has been known to put his hand down too to help a fellow"). The latter praise is especially important, for it foreshadows Bloom's helping the fallen Stephen in "Circe," after the young man has been struck by Private Carr and knocked to the ground. In general, then, Byrne and Flynn think a good deal of Bloom ("Decent quiet man he is"), even though Bloom is reluctant to, as they put it, "put anything in black and white" — that is, make a contract or an agreement. However, even in this temporary place of refuge, Bloom is misunderstood, and after Bloom has left, Bantam Lyons once again spreads the lie that Bloom has given him a tip on the Gold Cup race.