«Chapter 2 Leopold Bloom: The Polyphonic Hero Joyce's early obsession with novelistic heroes is indicated by the titles of his books Stephen Herc!, A ...»
Leopold Bloom: The Polyphonic Hero
Joyce's early obsession with novelistic heroes is indicated by the
titles of his books Stephen Herc!, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,
and Ulvsses, all of which seem to experiment on the idea of a novelistic
hero. However, at some point in his literary career, Joyce gets fed up with
the Stephen of his earlier novels and rejects him, for he thinks Stephen "has
a shape that can't be changed" (Budgen 107). When Joyce states that
"Stephen is a self portrait, and therefore one-sided," whereas Bloom "is seen from all angles, as no self-portrait can be seen" (Budgen 60), he is apparently making known the quest that he is embarked on, that is, for "a hero who would be occupied primarily with the task of becoming conscious, the sort of hero whose life would be concentrated on the pul-e (m50). In function of gaining consciousness of himself and the world" Ulvsses, when Stephen himself says, "I'm not a hero, however" (4), one ought to think that Joyce was definitely casting away Stephen whose monologic contours are thoroughly defined in preference for a Bloom whose boundaries are not defined for the reader.
Joyce chooses Bloom as his hero because of his open-ended nature.
In his interview with Frank Budgen, Joyce says:
Bloom is the all round man. Bloom is son, father, husband, lover, friend, worker and citizen. He is at home and in exile.
One morning he leaves his home and after a time he returns.
True, he is absenl. from home only about seventeen hours, but one day or many: it is of no consequence. If a thousand years may be as a day, why not a day as a thousand years? (Budgen 65) Joyce models his hero, Leopold Bloom, on Ulysses and assigns to Bloom various roles similar *:o that of Ulysses. Thus, Bloom becomes a multi-faceted personality like Ulysses who is capable of reacting on all these levels. When we hear that one must "dress the character" (17,41,230) in different places in Ulvsses, we should suppose that the author was perhaps envisioning an ideal of a polyphonic hero whom the author together with the reader has to dress up instead of the reader meeting an already dressed up monologic hero. Ul~ssesthus becomes a novel that typifies the Bakhtinian notion of a polyphonic hero. According to Danicl R.
Schwarz, Ulvsses "is an effort to redefine the concepts of a hero," and Bloom is a hero in whose character "the traditional notions of heroism are obsolete" (1).
This study makes an analysis of Bloom taking into account those aspects of his character where he departs from his counterparts in monologic literature. Since the polyphonic hero is not createdout of "features of the hero himself or of his everyday surroundings-but rather the signzjkance of these features for the hero himselJ; for his self
consciousness under unique situations. One can see this play of consciousness in Bloom right from the beginning of the novel. Even though the hero appears late in the text and takes occasional breaks from the novel, his importance is nonetheless never lessened. However, everything is seen from the level of his consciousness only. In doing this Joyce, like "Dostoevsky carried out, as it were, a small-scale Copernican revolution when he took what had been a firm and finalizing authorial definition and
As is peculiar to the polyphonic style of Joyce, the "hero" of Ulvsses, Leopold Bloom himself reveals to the reader right at the beginning of the novel that the action takes place on Sixteenth June. Bloom is seen reading a letter from his daughter, Milly that he received just now. She is working as an assistant to a photographe1 in Mullingar. She has turned fifteen the
the month too. Her first birthday away from home" (64). Again, one is not left to assume which month this is. Bloom thinks of his wife's fast approaching birthday for which he plans to give her a gift: "Must go back for that lotion. For her birthday perhaps. Junejulyaugseptember eighth.
Nearly three months off' (1 60).
Joyce answers the doubts of the reader about the identity of Bloom in the form of an advertisement that might be put up in case of Bloom were to
be found missing. The advertisement runs roughly like this:
This is the shocking and novel way in which an anti-canonical hero like Bloom is revealed to the reader. Joyce gives some more details about the physical self of Bloom. Bloom's weight was eleven stones and four pounds in avoirdupois measure when weighed on the last feast of Ascension on the twelfth day of May (621). His collar size was 17 and waistcoat 5 buttons. Stephen feels the "sinewless and wobbly" body of Bloom (614). Bloom is a "full figure" in comparison to Stephen who is a "lean figure". Bloom's hands had "the surety of the sense of touch" and his hands were "firm full masculine feminine" and "passive active" (627).
Bloom had abnormally developed abdominal muscles and so was good at movement on the parallel bars. Bloom's physical strength was now failing.
Earlier he used to keep himself fit by practising the exercises described in Eugene Sandow's Phvsical Strength and How to Obtain It. But even now Bloom's movements are very nj.mble. On whether Bloom is handsome or not, Molly gives her reply to the reader. According to her, Bloom is very handsome and resembles Lord Byron. In fact he is too beautiful for men.
He had a splendid set of teeth, which made Molly "hungry to look at them".
Bloom had a fine complexion and he used to show it off wearing a zingari coloured muffler.
Joyce's periphrastic way of indicating his hero's age is another unique feature of his polyphonic writing. Bloom will be 70 in 1936 and he is 16 years senior to Stephen (632). Since the novel takes place on 16th June 1904, one can assume that Bloom is now 38 years old. Bloom himself feels that he is now too old and the possibility of his becoming the father of a boy child is very remote. Molly has only some vague notions about Bloom's age. She knows Bloom is "getting on to forty" (691). But Joyce who does not mention his hero's date of birth cares to give the dates of birth of Molly and Milly.
Joyce's method of registering even the minutest and the most trivial details of his hero is particularly noteworthy. We can see Bloom selecting a black overcoat for that day's filneral in front of the reader. "Be a warm day I fancy. Specially in these black clothes feel it more" (55). He has even missed a back button of his trousers that day. He is wearing a pair of socks darned by Mrs. Fleming. He goes to the lavatory, breaks wind, urinates and defecates in front of the reade:r. One even gets a glimpse of his pale body
and its colour is whitey yellow with slack folds on them. Bloom combs his hair back. The texture of his hair is that of fine straw. His cheeks are soft with downy hair on them. He even masturbates and has sexual gratification with his wife in front of the reader. The reader also sees several hurts on Bloom's body like scrapes by pins, a cicatrice formed by a previous beesting, and pain in the toe. 'The cicatrice was in the left infiacostal region below the diaphragm on HIoom's body. The beesting was inflicted precisely two weeks and three days previously on 23rd May 1904 (663).
The reader gets not only a g;limpse of the hero's external self but also a glimpse of his inner as well as his intimate self when he dresses and undresses in front of the reader and thinks in front of the reader.
The reader comes to know more and more about the hero through the information he gets from his wife and his friends and acquaintances. Joyce also highlights the places like the bedroom, the kitchen and the privy of Bloom's residence. Joyce must have deliberately highlighted the places like the kitchen, the bedroom and the toilet in Bloom's house, for these are the places in a house where most of the activities take place. He also gives the contents of Bloom's drawers, the books in his library, his expenditure for the day as well as the list of visitors to his house and so on.
Perhaps these intimate details can reveal more of a person than can any other bigger or superficial description. In not forgetting to mention even the most casual details of his hero's self, the author gives the reader a more comprehensive picture of the hero than can be given by any description of the monologic sorl. But James H. Maddox, Jr. considers it "a paradox of Ulvsses that although no character has ever been subjected to such intense scrutiny as Mr. Bloom, neither has any character ever so triumphantly escaped final definition" (1 1). This "final definition" is what a polyphonic hero evades. But whether too many details clutter the image of Bloom is a moot question. As Goldberg suggests, we have to doubt that "the mass of information we are given 'about' him may occasionally obscure our understanding of him" (261).
There are certain features like the date of birth, job, ancestry, residence etc. that would have finalized any monologic hero. These are all external features that remain constant for any person. These are factors that can be objectively commented upon. But these aspects are not defined for a polyphonic hero. This is what Bakhtin writes about the relevance of these
features for the polyphonic hero:
What Bakhtin says of the Dostoevskian hero is true of all polyphonic heroes and of Leopold Bloom in particular. A monologic hero always has an aristocratic ancestry to boast of. Here Bloom has only a mixed anceshy.
He is the son of Rudolph Virag and Ellen Higgins. His father later changed his name to Rudolph Bloom by a deed poll. His maternal grand parents had also changed their surnames. His father originally from Austria, had shifted residences to various places artd had finally settled down in Dublin. Even
Bloom's father whom he loved very much committed suicide by consuming monkshod (aconite!. Suicide is considered anathema by the Roman Catholics. It is the "greatest disgrace to have in the family," according to Jack Power (93). Bloom, though now a Catholic, holds a view contrary to this, and even thinks suicide was perhaps the best for his papa.
It is not customary to depict death in polyphonic novels for the polyphonic heroes are all self-conscious heroes and consciousness is life itself.
Therefore to die means to inflict death on the consciousness of the heroes.
Polyphonic heroes are full of consciousness about others also and they interact dialogically with others to form themselves. Thus the existence of the hero lies in his dialogic communication with himself and also with others and everything ceases with his death, i.e., with the death of dialogue.
Further, writers like Dostoevsky are not interested in portraying biographically complete units of human beings experiencing birth, life and death. Instead, their heroes are ever vibrant with self-consciousness. If at all they portray death, they depict only suicide for this intentional death finalizes a man from within. But it is natural for monologic writers like Tolstoy to "kill" their characters. They might even enter the self of a dying person and might describe the events that take place after his death. Bakhtin thinks that to portray such death from the inside of a dead person is "to move from one consciousness 1:o another, as if one were merely going from one room to another," forgetting "the absolute threshold that exists between them" (qtd. Clark and Holquist 247). The polyphonic writer shows a great "interest in suicides as conscious deaths-links in the chain of consciousness in which a man finalizes himself from within" (ibid). This is perhaps the reason for allowing the aged father of a fully self-conscious hero like Bloom to commit suicide instead of letting him have a natural death. Bloom does not give any conclusive answers about this aspect also that might prove contrary to his polyphonic nature. Martin Cunningham makes the correct judgement of rhe situation when he says, "It is not for us to judge" (93). Judgements and finalizing verdicts are far away from the essence of polyphony.
Bloom is perhaps the most "irreligious" hero without any particular religion. Bloom's father was born a Jew but he later got converted to the Irish Protestant stock. Accordingly, Bloom's religion also happened to be this but with an eye on marriage to Molly he embraced the Catholic faith.
He is now only a Protestant in Catholic faith and is more of a Jew at heart.
at one point shouts in doubt "Is he a Jew or a gentile or a holy Roman or a swaddler or what the hell is he?" (323). Bloom is quite aware of the fact that he belongs to a race that is "hated and persecuted" even now (318).
Still he likes to remain in this faith. Bloom does not mind what others think of him or about his position as a Jew in Ireland. He equates himself with Mendelssohn, Karl Marx, Mercadante, Spinoza, and Jesus Christ who were all Jews (327).
Bloom is not a practising Christian. Molly is even afraid that Bloom might tease her if he came to know of her going to church, for Bloom hates the idea of going to church even after becoming a Catholic. Now Bloom is more of a person "in the craft" (freemason) (169). This practice of Bloom is against the beliefs of the Catholic faith that he has embraced. Bloom's faith is as simple as Molly's and his little faith in Christian religion is based on Molly's scanty knowledge about it. Molly has taught him an easy parody of INRI on the cross as "Iron Nails Ran In" and IHS as "I Have Sinned" or "I