Ulysses is a novel by the Irish writer James Joyce. Known as the father of modernism, Joyce produced this notoriously difficult to read story between 1918 and 1920 and published it in 1922, immediately causing controversy and turmoil in the literary world.
Joyce employed the stream-of-consciousness technique, which aims at presenting the natural flow of thoughts in the human mind, including an interior monologue, which may be random, freely associative and marked by syntactic and logical lapses. It was incorporated as a narrative mode by other Modernist writers, such as Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner. They eliminated the omniscient narrator, typical of the works of previous generations of writers and shifted the focus onto creating the impression that the characters are sharing their most intimate thoughts and feelings aloud.
The story follows Leopold Bloom as he goes about an ordinary day - 16 June 1904. It also features his wife, Molly Bloom and a young writer, Stephen Dedalus (based on Joyce himself), among others. The whole action develops in less than 24 hours and is divided in 18 chapters, called episodes. However, the plot is intricate and heavily loaded with allusion and symbolism.
The title of the novel refers to Odysseus (Ulysses in Latin). Joyce greatly admired Homer's work and since the start of his writing career had planned a to create a modern-day equivalent. The actions and characters in Ulysses correspond or link to the development of Odyssey. Leopold Bloom is Odysseus, Molly is his wife, Penelope and Stephen is similar to Telemachus, Odysseus' son. All chapter titles directly relate to the epic, too.
The first three chapters - Telemachus, Nestor and Proteus focus on the son figure - Stephen. His character first appeared in Joyce's early work A Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man. The episodes are told from his point of view and the style and language gradually become more allusive and difficult to follow. In Chapter 4, Calypso, the style is more straight-forward, as the main character Leopold appears on stage. It shows various mundane tasks that occupy Leopold's morning. In Homer's epic Odysseus was Calypso's prisoner and Bloom is likewise Molly's servant. In the next several chapters, Lotus Eaters, Hades, Aeolus and Lestrygonians the reader follows Leopold as he wanders through Dublin, meeting old friends and acquaintances and visiting a funeral.
Chapter 9, Scylla and Charybdis, centers around Stephen again. At the end of this episode Leopold meets him unwittingly. Chapter 10, Wandering Rocks, is told from 19 different points of view, as it describes 19 Dubliners walking after lunch. Episode 11, Sirens, parallels Odysseus' experience with the sirens. In it Leopold is in a bar enjoying the barmaids and listening to music. Meanwhile, his wife is entertaining her lover, Blazes Boylan, at home. In the next chapter, Cyclops, Leopold is attacked by a bad-tempered nationalist, who accused him of cheating in a horse race.
Chapter 13, Nausicaa, has caused the greatest disturbance among censors and even put an end to the novel's serialisation in The Little Review journal. The episode is told from a teenage girl's perspective. Gerty MacDowell flirts with Leopold and the end of the chapter brings an orgasmic climax but also the realization that most of it had only happened in Leopold's fantasy. In Chapter 14, Oxen of the Sun, Leopold and Stephen finally meet. The episode includes remarkable wordplay, starting with the language of Chaucer, moving through Defoe, Dickens and many others before it finishes in slang.
Chapter 15, Circe, is written as a drama script and takes Leopold and Stephen to a brothel. The action is often interrupted by their hallucinations. In the following two episodes, Eumeus and Ithaca, Leopold and Stephen walk to Bloom's place, see traces of Molly's adultery, have a chat and eventually Stephen leaves and Leopold goes to bed. The last chapter, Penelope, is nearly entirely devoid of punctuation and presents Molly's account of the events that day and her recapitulation of her marriage. Joyce himself wrote that he had "put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant." He was convinced that the novel would grant him immortality and proved to be right.