Summary and Analysis
Chapter 4 - Calypso
The fourth chapter of Ulysses begins at 8:00 a.m. with Leopold Bloom making breakfast in the kitchen of the Blooms' home at 7 Eccles Street. Bloom feeds the cat some milk, walks to Dlugacz's butcher shop to buy a kidney for his breakfast, and feels depressed as a cloud covers the sun. He returns home, where he brings in the morning mail (containing a letter from Boylan) to Molly, who is still in bed; he eats his breakfast, then brings Molly's breakfast to her (she is still in bed); Bloom hears church bells and thinks of the funeral for Paddy Dignam, which he must attend. The motif of food in the episode suggests a strong parallel between Bloom of "Calypso" and Stephen of "Telemachus," the two episodes taking place at the same time.
This chapter also parallels the Odyssey in that just as Odysseus (Ulysses) was held as a love captive for seven years by the beautiful nymph Calypso, so also is Bloom, in a sense, a prisoner of his wife, Molly. Bloom, however, seems to be a more willing captive than his Greek prototype, and even in his first appearance in the novel, Bloom's bondage is tinged with hints of masochism.
Other evocations of Homer in this chapter include the picture the Bath of the Nymph, which Molly has said would look nice hanging over the bed, and Molly's answer to Bloom's definition of metempsychosis as being "the transmigration of souls": "O rocks!" Her retort suggests a mermaid whose shoals mariners (both Greek and Irish) might do well to avoid. In addition, it was believed by some Irish Renaissance popularizers, such as George Sigerson, that Calypso's island, Ogygia, was really Ireland. Although Joyce did not accept this view, he was aware that Gibraltar, Molly's birthplace, was one of the locations that Homer probably used to form his composite of Ogygia.
Bloom is one of the most completely developed characters in literature, and in "Calypso," Joyce begins his characterization of his protagonist by sketching many parallels between Stephen (whom we have just met) and Bloom, beginning with the fact that both men leave on their individual odysseys at 8:45 a.m.
Some of the similarities between Bloom and Stephen are not easily detectable at first, but we need to look for them in order to fully understand both men. For example, the first paragraph of this chapter carries through the urinary motif established at the end of "Proteus"; we learn that Bloom's favorite kidneys, mutton ones, contain a "fine tang of faintly scented urine"; Stephen urinated in "long lassoes from the Cock . . . flow[ing] full . . . rising, flowing' in "Proteus." Bloom's cat, with whom he gets along well, reminds one that Stephen has just had a fearful encounter with a dog, and Bloom's cat has a "lithe black form," suggesting the panther that caused Haines's nightmare. In addition, Bloom's visions of the East (containing cattle) resemble Stephen's romantic dreams of the Orient mentioned in "Proteus" and recall Stephen's complicity with Deasy's letter about foot and mouth disease; significantly, Stephen feels that because of his complicity with Deasy, Mulligan will reward him with the title "bullockbefriending bard."
Thus Joyce ties "Calypso" with "Telemachus." Bloom wonders if his cat thinks he is as tall as a tower, and one recalls that Stephen lives in the Martello Tower. Bloom pours the cat some milk that has just been delivered by the milkman, and one recalls the old milkwoman in the opening chapter of the novel. Milly's letter to her father mentions Alec Bannon, and one is reminded of the allusion to Bannon in "Telemachus": "he found a sweet young thing down there. Photo girl he calls her." In an important parallel between Joyce's characterizations of Stephen and Bloom, the cloud which crosses over the sun to depress Bloom momentarily is the same one that affected Stephen's emotions in "Telemachus," and here it is described in almost identical language. In "Telemachus," the cloud triggered Stephen's doleful memory of his mother's death, while in "Calypso," it leads Bloom to think of death: the death of his Jewish heritage, his own aging process, and his desolation of spirit, which makes him cherish the warm flesh of his wife. Bloom's famous depiction of death as the "gray sunken cunt of the world" suggests, with horror, the death of Stephen's mother, Mary Dedalus.
Many of these parallels between Stephen and Bloom that are established in "Calypso" continue throughout Ulysses. Both Bloom and Stephen (as was mentioned before) are keyless heroes, both symbolically dispossessed. Bloom realizes that his latchkey is not in his hip pocket, but he does not want to disturb Molly by returning to fetch it from his other pair of trousers. Because Molly has been stirring in her sleep, Bloom simply slips out, leaving the door "to" — that is, closing the hall door just enough to dissuade any possible intruder. Bloom's capitulation to Molly's wishes reminds us of Stephen's deference to Mulligan. In addition, both men wear black and both men do so because of a death: Mrs. Dedalus's and Paddy Dignam's. As the two men walk through Dublin, at first separately and finally together, they resemble odd Catholic priests: one a Jew and the other an apostate (someone who has forsaken his faith).
In addition, both men are united in their desires to be creative and, for both, writing is associated with bodily functions. Dedalus urinates in "Proteus" after using part of Deasy's letter for beginning a literary endeavor, and Bloom sits in his outhouse reading Titbits, and, to wipe himself, he tears off part of the prizewinning story, "Matcham's Masterstroke" by Philip Beaufoy. Beaufoy, in fact, was a real person who did contribute to the magazine, which did, in fact, publish a "prize titbit" in each issue; and Bloom's concern for the money he could make by having a story accepted by Titbits ("payment at the rate of one guinea a column") reminds one that Stephen would permit Haines to market his sayings only if he were to be paid for their publication. Bloom, the more practical of the two protagonists, seems to be more serious than Stephen in his insistence on commercial considerations. Stephen, in contrast, is being only lightly cynical. Returning to the bodily functions for a parallel, both Stephen and Bloom would agree with Joyce that "dirty [a noun] cleans [a verb]"; here, Joyce's emphasis is on the paradox of the "reconciliation of opposites." In "Proteus," Stephen places a piece of dry mucus on a rock after beginning to write, and here, Bloom contemplates ways of improving his garden through the use of manure mulches.
Besides these similarities in the two men, major differences between Bloom and Stephen also emerge in "Calypso," and they foreshadow the ultimate inability of the two men to be reconciled with one another. Stephen has no home, much less a place to write, but Bloom has, at least, a writing table, albeit it is one that his cat stalks over. Other differences, more profound, concern the inability of the man of science, Bloom, to truly communicate with the philosopher-artist, Stephen. Bloom wonders, prosaically, if the cat's tongue is rough so that she can eat more easily; but Stephen wonders if Tatters (in "Proteus") is actually digging up his own grandmother, and he questions whether any so-called reality can be said to truly exist.
Bloom, then, is — in contrast to Stephen, a man of the mind — a man for whom the physical world does emphatically exist, and in "Calypso," Joyce stresses Bloom's acute awareness of the sensations of taste and touch. To say that Bloom eats with relish is no exaggeration, even though the food may be prohibited by Jewish dietary laws. Again, Bloom's solution for a dry mouth is simple: a cup of tea; and while the water for the tea is rising to a boil, there is time to stop by Dlugacz's for a pork kidney.
The shop of Dlugacz, the pork butcher (a Hungarian Jew, like Bloom, and therefore forbidden to eat the food he sells), is a garden of meaty delight for the "peckish" — that is, the hungry, protagonist. Having been partially calmed by the aroma of pig's blood, Bloom suddenly becomes apprehensive: the serving girl of the Blooms' next-door neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Woods, might decide to purchase the last kidney. Bloom finally escapes with his prize, however, and eats it as he reads Milly's letter. He enjoys the repast, and Joyce twice describes him as sopping his bread through the kidney gravy, an ironic contrast to Bloom's behavior in "Lestrygonians" just after 1:00 p.m., when he is forced to leave the Burton restaurant because he cannot stand the spectacle of food being swilled.
Touch is an equally important sense for this sensual man, and Joyce in the chapter frequently depicts Bloom's response to and need for warm objects and people. Bloom quickly notices the bright, pleasant sun, reasoning that it will be a warm day and that he will be uncomfortable in the black suit that he must wear for the funeral. When distressed, he yearns for the warm flesh of Molly, and he imputes the same desire to the cat when, instead of going out of the door as Bloom had thought she might, the animal chooses to go "in soft bounds" up to sleep on Molly's bed, to "curl up in a ball," fetally — perhaps as Bloom might wish to do himself.
Bloom's encounter, from a distance as usual, with the Woods' serving girl in Dlugacz's shop describes a warmth of a different kind: Bloom's sexual awareness, though now lodged in his imagination and physically dormant, will be aroused through Gerty MacDowell in "Nausicaa." In Dlugacz's shop, "blood" becomes the metaphor for sexual life as Bloom's thoughts range from the pig's blood to the tired blood of the Woods couple to the new, vital blood of the maid (and, by extension, to the menstrual blood of Milly and Molly, an important motif in Ulysses). Bloom enjoys his slightly voyeuristic memory of the Woods' serving girl whacking a carpet on the clothesline. He apparently likes hefty women, such as his own wife and (possibly) his daughter, and he hopes (but fails) to follow the thick-wristed maid out of Dlugacz's, to walk behind her "moving hams" (another pun on food in this chapter).
In addition, Bloom's trip to the outhouse epitomizes his delight in the physical as he (and Joyce) raise defecation to an art. Although the outhouse episode is probably one of the sections of Ulysses that Virginia Woolf found vulgar and disgusting, one must realize that in describing Bloom's modulating his stool, Joyce is offering in reality a bit of praise to humanity and is saying, at the same time, that salvation comes about only through an acceptance of the total self. Much of Joyce's work is balanced between scatology (the study of excrement) and eschatology (the study of mankind striving upward towards salvation).
Bloom, then, is portrayed in "Calypso" as accepting and accommodating, the nurturer of life who coordinates the meals and provides sustenance while Molly sleeps. However, this picture of the thirty-eight-year-old Bloom of 1904 is not the only one presented in the novel, and a careful reading of Ulysses reveals the tremendous changes that have overtaken the protagonist in recent years. At one time, Bloom was very outspoken — a socialist, a Parnellite, and an ultimate Irish nationalist; he was so outspoken, in fact, that his politics and his personality cost him his employment. And there is a suggestion at the end of Ulysses that "Poldy" will regain some of his "spunk"; in fact, Joyce implies in the last chapter, in "Penelope," that Molly will go along with Bloom's demand that she bring him breakfast in bed.
But in "Calypso," it is the uxorious, or submissive, side of Bloom that emerges. Bloom, for instance, takes pains to prepare Molly's breakfast exactly as she likes it: she insists on four pieces of toast, which must be thin, and the plate must not be full. He acquiesces to her order that he must hurry with the tea. He crawls around, picking up her dirty underwear, to find the risqu book, Ruby: the Pride of the Ring, which he finally locates against the orange chamber pot (another instance of creativity being associated with defecation). And he promises to get her another book by Paul de Kock; eventually, he rents Sweets of Sin, but neither this book nor Ruby is by de Kock: "Nice name he has."
Bloom's streak of fatalism, we realize, may cause a problem for his daughter; he sees in the fifteen-year-old girl the same budding sexuality that Molly possessed at the same age. She fell in love, for the first time, with Lieutenant Harry Mulvey in Gibraltar. Bloom thinks that Milly may lose her virginity to Bannon (she does not); nor did Molly to Mulvey, but he says simply: "Prevent. Useless." On the other hand, Bloom's accommodating, kindly, and permissive nature is revealed in his thoughts of poor Paddy Dignam that end the chapter.
Behind the seemingly clear battle lines of "Calypso," behind the clearly differentiated portraits of Molly and Poldy, a great deal is happening, and Joyce, by cleverly using selective details, suggests the complexities that underlie the surface status quo. This chapter contains many "hidden" activities. For example, Bloom's card bearing the pseudonymous name of Henry Flower is hidden under the hatband of the hat that he bought from John Plasto, the hatter; he will use the card in the next episode to pick up the letter from his pen pal lover, Martha Clifford (undoubtedly a pseudonym, also). In addition, neither Bloom nor Molly wants to acknowledge the letter that she has received from Blazes Boylan; she tries to hide it under the pillow, but its visible torn edge deeply troubles Bloom. On a more humorous level, Bloom slips the kidney from Dlugacz's into a sidepocket, thus hiding it.
Much of the hidden meaning in "Calypso" stems from the upcoming affair between Boylan and Molly. The jingling brass quoits of the bedstead recur throughout Ulysses, and they shall be even more ruthlessly tried later in the afternoon. The two lovers will sing "Love's Old Sweet Song" during the upcoming concert tour, but they will practice it at 7 Eccles Street beforehand. It is ironic that Bloom has sent Milly to Mullingar to study photography primarily to get her away from home during his wife's incipient affair with Boylan, since Milly alludes to Blazes in her letter: "Tell him silly Milly sends my best respects."
The implications about the unusual relationship between Molly and Bloom are objectified by Joyce through sexual imagery. Ruby, the book that Molly has been reading while sitting on the chamber pot, is about a naked woman who is abused by a sadistic male, suggesting masochistic tendencies in Molly that critics frequently ignore. And one must not forget that Molly likes the Bath of the Nymph picture over the bed; the bath, one might note, is taken by naked girls. Bloom, for his part, seems to be defining an aspect of his own nature when he wonders why mice do not squeal when eaten by cats; perhaps, he muses, they like it. Many of these ideas will be further developed in Bella Cohen's brothel scene in "Circe."