Summary and Analysis
This episode takes place at around 8:00 p.m. on Sandymount Strand, the same shore where Stephen had earlier that morning contemplated the meaning of life's changes in "Proteus." Bloom has just come from visiting the Dignam family (in Sandymount), and "Nausicaa" provides him with a "relief" from the unpleasantness of Barney Kiernan's pub in "The Cyclops," and it also furnishes him respite from the somber atmosphere of the bereaved Dignam household. Joyce gains continuity with the previous episode, "The Cyclops," despite the time differential by continuing several motifs from that chapter, the most prominent of which is the arc. The rising and falling of the biscuit tin that was flung by the Citizen is reflected in the various ascents and declines in "Nausicaa!': for example, Gerty MacDowell's tempting leg, the Roman candle's rise and climactic explosion from the Mirus Bazaar, and the swinging censer of the church benediction — all of these risings and fallings lead up to and down from the simultaneous orgasms of Gerty and Bloom. Also, the form of the episode is as simple as its style (Joyce called it — perhaps knowingly — a "marmalady" style, a sticky style). The first part of the episode deals with Gerty; the second, with Bloom and his ruminations.
Parallels with Homer are not difficult to recognize. Odysseus, washed ashore on the land of the Phaeacians, was awakened from sleep when he was struck by a ball misthrown by Princess Nausicaa and her friends; the resourceful and beautiful young girl had come to the shore to play and wash some clothing. Not nonplussed by the appearance of a naked stranger, Nausicaa told the hapless, storm-tossed wanderer to go to her father's palace to receive succor. Gerty (Joyce's Nausicaa) aids Ulysses-Bloom by enticing him into the sexual respite provided by auto-eroticism, an act which he has been postponing until now. She also parallels the unmarried Nausicaa of Homer because marriage is much on Gerty's mind, especially after her breakup with her steady boyfriend, Reggie Wylie (a parallel here with Bloom's "loss" of Molly). In addition, Nausicaa in Homer's epic performed the menial task of washing her family's linens; Joyce's heroine, however, causes Bloom to (ironically) "dirty" his clothes by masturbating. Gerty is also compared to the Blessed Mother, and Mary's colors, especially blue, appear throughout the episode. Mary, of course, is the Catholics' Refuge of Sinners and, to them, a last resort for bewildered and perplexed mankind — in this instance, Bloom.
Joyce, in "Nausicaa," however, is doing much more than satirizing cheap, sentimental romance fiction: In this episode, he reveals the hidden side of Irish womanhood, as he will also later do in "Penelope," in Molly's soliloquy. In fact, in two significant ways, Gerty foreshadows Molly: Gerty, as does Molly, pleads for more understanding from men, especially priests, who hear women's intimate confessions; and Gerty and Molly are compared many times by Joyce to the Blessed Virgin.
Gerty knows exactly what she is doing in "seducing" Bloom — the dark and mournful foreign stranger — as she leads him to a moment of communication, albeit an ultimately unproductive one. She is aware of the allure of her transparent stockings: "Her woman's instinct told her that she had raised the devil in him. . . ." She finds a coconspirator in her friend Cissy Caffrey, who goes to ask her "uncle Peter" what time it is. Gerty has been told in the past about men's passions by Bertha Supple; thus, Gerty is very much aware of why Bloom keeps his hands in his pockets as he watches her display her underclothing. In short, she is scarcely the "fair unsullied soul" that Stephen saw calling to him at a climactic moment towards the end of Book Four of A Portrait. Stephen interpreted his "Pagan Mary" as beckoning him to the freedom of Europe; but in Ulysses, Joyce effectively portrays here the limitations of human nature, as well as its exalted moments. It was, in fact, Joyce's revelation of the darker passions of repressed womanhood, as well as its "blasphemous" commingling of sex and religion, that led to the suppression of Ulysses (in its serial format) by the New York Society for the Prevention of Vice in 1921.
The second part of "Nausicaa," as noted, concerns Bloom's thoughts — lethargic ones, for the most part, after his sexual emission; therefore, it is of little wonder that his ruminations deal with physiological matters. He recalls his almost approaching Mrs. Clinch, whom he mistakenly took to be a prostitute, and then he recalls the occasion when he paid a girl in Meath Street to say dirty words aloud. He also recalls the romance between Molly and Mulvey, and he thinks again about the time when he made love to Molly on Howth Hill. He wonders if Boylan pays Molly for sex, and, in true businesslike fashion, he estimates how much Molly is worth. He recalls the song of Boylan's about "seaside girls," the girls having become Gerty and her two friends. As usual, though, Bloom is an old "stick in the mud," and his phallic "stick" being limp, he tosses his writing implement into the sand, where it sticks, literally. As the cuckoo bird at the end of "Nausicaa" indicates, Bloom, despite all his thoughts about sex, is the cuckolded one.
In addition, "Nausicaa" is cleverly related to other chapters in Ulysses in various other ways. For instance, Bloom notes that his watch has stopped at 4:30 p.m., the probable time of Molly's intercourse with Boylan. He pulls the sticky, semen-soiled material away from his foreskin, and his exclamation of "Ow!" reminds us of the unnamed narrator's painful, syphilitic urination in "The Cyclops." (This matter of Bloom having a foreskin has been the subject of recent scholarship; the Virag genealogy has been traced and, technically, Bloom is not a Jew. Thus, Bloom becomes, metaphorically, "neither fish nor fowl," paralleling his alienated social status in Dublin.) In this chapter, too, Bloom reveals that he was indeed aware of the newsboys' mimicry of his gait in "Aeolus," although once again he is able to escape into the world of imagination; here, he contemplates publishing a story in Titbits ("The Mystery Man on the Beach"), based on his own beach experience. He takes pride in his challenge to the Citizen in "The Cyclops": "Got my own back there." And his estimate of his sexual prowess is a somber one, which reminds the reader of Stephen's Parable of the Plums at the end of "Aeolus": "He [Boylan] gets the plums and I the plumstones."
Towards the close of "Nausicaa," Bloom draws the letters "I. . . . AM. A" on the sand, and the meaning is ambiguous. Several critics have advanced various possibilities as to Joyce's intent. Bloom could be the Christ who wrote an unknown message in the road to save the "woman taken in adultery." Or Bloom might be a kind of parallel to the Old Testament God: "I Am Who Am." He might also be indicating that he is not quite a full man at this point: "I am a man." Or as the Joyce scholar Fritz Senn has pointed out, Bloom's last thoughts might be of love, since ama is the Latin word for love. Certainly, Bloom's thoughts in the episode have been about Mrs. Purefoy, who has spent three days in labor, and whom he will visit in the next episode. At the end of the chapter, nonetheless, Bloom remains the charitable hero despite his pointless spilling of the seed that would continue his name and thus fulfill his duty as a Jew.