Character Analysis Leopold Bloom


The first impression that one has of Leopold Bloom, Joyce's modern equivalent of Ulysses and also Joyce's Wandering Jew, is that Bloom is as much of an outsider in Dublin as his prototypes were in their peregrinations through various foreign countries. Bloom is shut off from his Roman Catholic, often anti-Semitic associates, first of all, because of religious differences. Stephen's discussion with the anti-Semite Deasy in "Nestor" foreshadows the treatment that Bloom is to receive throughout the day. In "Hades," Bloom is patronized by the three other occupants of the carriage that is headed towards Glasnevin Cemetery, and, in that episode, his conciliatory views of suicide stun the conservative Catholic Dubliners. In "Scylla and Charybdis," Mulligan detects hints of (besides repressed homosexuality) the Jew in Bloom's physiognomy, and he warns Stephen away from him. In "The Cyclops," Bloom, before fighting back, is degraded by the rabidly anti-Semitic Citizen.

There are many other indications of Bloom's alienation — from home and from community — in the novel. He is a "keyless" hero (as is Stephen), having left the key to 7 Eccles St. in his other trousers and having been afraid to retrieve it because he might disturb Molly. His name is mutilated into "L. Boom" in the newspaper report of Dignam's funeral. There is no room for him in the Freeman's offices in "Aeolus," and he is struck at one point, although accidentally, by an opening door. Even his "greasy eyes," which Lydia Douce, a barmaid at the Ormond Hotel, notices as Bloom passes by with Sweets of Sin under his arm, are enough to establish him as a figure of ridicule.

Thus there is a good deal of pathos in Bloom's portrayal. Thinking of his own father's suicide while others condemn the act on the way to Glasnevin Cemetery, Bloom states, "They used to drive a stake of wood through his [the suicide's] heart in the grave. As if it wasn't broken already." Again, Bloom thinks constantly during this day, June 16, of Boylan's and Molly's adultery, yet he still manages to get through his wretched day — and to perform several charitable acts: "Today. Today. Not think." One must feel sympathy for Bloom when he sits in the Ormond Hotel, cut off from the convivial group's enjoyment of Ben Dollard's rendition of "The Croppy Boy," whose lyrics

Bloom does bring some of his troubles upon himself, however, and in Ulysses, Joyce clearly does not present a plaster saint as protagonist. Bloom seems unable to speak in plain language, at least around Molly, and she is vexed by his definition of "metempsychosis" as the "transmigration of souls." Again, Bloom has the fatalistic habit of accepting many things that perhaps should not be accepted, of closing his eyes, for example, to the fact of Boylan's letter to Molly, which protrudes from under her pillow, and to his daughter's possible loss of her virginity in the near future. Also, Bloom does not seem to want any result to issue from his correspondence with Martha Clifford; perhaps he would rather stand on a beach and masturbate, as he does in "Nausicaa," an act that does not demand commitment. As noted, Bloom does a number of things to antagonize those around him, who are already only too willing to condemn him: he puts nothing in black and white; he never buys drinks; as "Mister Knowall," he expounds at great length on the reasons that a hanged man undergoes a sexual erection at the time of death, adding to the already tense atmosphere of Barney Kiernan's pub in "The Cyclops," and although he helps Stephen in the later episodes of Ulysses, he is not averse to considering how Stephen can further his plans for a touring musical company.

Despite his faults, however, Bloom does perform such a remarkable number of charitable deeds in the novel that he becomes, in many ways, a modern Christ. He attends Dignam's funeral, for example, despite his knowing that he will not be accepted by the other mourners, and, later, he visits Paddy's widow to help her understand the life insurance policy. (Ironically, he met Cunningham in Kiernan's pub for that purpose and was accused of being a defrauder of widows and children.) Bloom feeds Banbury cakes to hungry sea gulls. He pities the starving Dedalus children. He helps a blind youth cross a street. He goes to Dr. Horne's hospital to look in upon Mina Purefoy, who has lain three days in labor, and he stays after the birth to watch over Stephen, who he thinks is being covertly made drunk by Mulligan. In Nighttown, Bloom cares for Stephen, even though he must run to catch up with him; he saves Stephen's money from the scheming Bella Cohen; he tries to persuade a soldier not to strike the incapable Stephen; and when Stephen is knocked down, Bloom takes him home, first stopping at a cabman's shelter to find some sustenance for him.

But in deciding whether or not Bloom is, finally, a "saint" or "sinner," one must realize that Ulysses is basically a comic novel and that Bloom is a very humorous figure. He thinks nothing of slipping his kidney from Dlugacz's into his pocket. He surreptitiously walks in a circle to pick up his letter from Martha Clifford (and is frustrated when M'Coy's chatter forestalls his reading it). He tries to follow the Woods' maid out of Dlugacz's but cannot do so. In Glasnevin Cemetery, his misreading of the Catholic ritual is as humorous as the discussion of suicide on the way to the cemetery was painful. And despite all of his efforts at concealment, Bloom was detected in the museum staring at the creases between the buttocks of the statues of nude women.

Joyce's portrait of Bloom, then, is one of a thoroughly whole man, one who can enjoy defecating, urinating, eating fried kidneys, and contemplating water; one whose sexual perversities, fully explored in "Circe" and in "Penelope," are balanced against the magnanimities of his personality. Indeed, in Bloom, Joyce has portrayed God's plenty, a sometimes pedestrian man, but a person for whom the physical world does emphatically exist.