75 pages 2 hours read

James Joyce


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1922

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Summary and Study Guide


Ulysses is a 1922 novel by Irish author James Joyce. The story is a loose adaptation of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, portraying a day in the lives of several characters who live in Dublin, Ireland, in June 1904. Ulysses proved controversial on release due to accusations of obscenity but is now celebrated as one of the most important and influential works in the English language.

This guide is written using the 1998 Oxford World Classics edition of the 1922 text.

Content Warning: This guide and source material contain references to miscarriage, child death, suicide, blackface, and antisemitism.

Plot Summary

At eight o’clock on June 16, 1904, Stephen Dedalus talks to his housemates, Buck Mulligan and Haines. After overhearing Mulligan’s coarse remark regarding his dead mother, Dedalus is angry with Mulligan. He also resents that Mulligan has invited Haines to stay with them. They agree to meet at a pub later in the day, but Dedalus quietly decides that he will not return. Dedalus is a history teacher. After a class on Pyrrhus of Epirus, he sits down for a private algebra lesson with a student named Cyril Sergeant. After, he collects his wages from the headmaster Garrett Deasy. They talk about Irish history and the role of Jewish people in the Irish economy; Deasy’s views are narrow-minded and often intolerant. Leaving Deasy’s office, Dedalus wanders through Dublin. He thinks about his family and the time he spent in Paris as a student. His rambling thoughts are confused and scattered as he conjures lines for poems and picks his nose.

At eight o’clock on the same day, Leopold Bloom visits a butcher to buy his breakfast. After cooking the meat, he brings the food to his wife Molly, who is lying in bed. She reads a letter from Blazes Boylan, with whom she is secretly having an affair. In a letter, the couple’s daughter Milly writes about her photography. While using the toilet, Bloom reads a story in a magazine. After, he prepares to attend a funeral but cannot stop thinking about his wife’s possible affair. During his day, he reads love letters that he writes to anonymous women using pseudonyms. He attempts to stare at women, but his efforts are interrupted. Bloom visits a church and then a chemist. After a conversation with a friend, he visits a bath house.

Bloom rides in a carriage to a funeral for Paddy Dignam. Also in the carriage is Dedalus’s father, Simon. As the men talk about death, Bloom thinks about his dead son and his dead father. Rudy, his son, died while only an infant, and his father died by suicide. After the funeral, Bloom resolves to chase away his morbid thoughts. Bloom tries to place an ad in the Freeman’s Journal. In the office, he passes Stephen, but the men do not talk. Stephen invites the journal editor and other men to a nearby pub. Feeling hungry, Bloom visits a restaurant. The sight of the animalistic patrons disgusts him. Instead, he goes to a pub and thinks about Molly. Their marriage is not what it once was. Deciding to visit a museum, he is spooked by the sight of his wife’s lover, Boylan, and rushes into a gallery instead. Meanwhile, Stephen speaks about one of his favorite subjects: William Shakespeare. His lecture about Hamlet is interrupted by the arrival of Buck Mulligan. As Stephen and Mulligan bicker, Bloom passes by unnoticed. The narrative then explores the lives of several characters as they pass through the Dublin streets.

Bloom eats dinner. Meanwhile, Molly meets with Boylan. Bloom listens to Stephen’s father sing, and he fantasizes about the female bar staff, thinking about how he might reply to the pseudonymous love letter he read earlier in the day. In a pub, Bloom is berated by an antisemitic nationalist known only as the “citizen.” After, he watches three women on the shore and masturbates while fireworks explode at a nearby market. Bloom then visits a maternity hospital where Mina Purefoy is giving birth to a son. Also present at the hospital is Stephen, who meets Bloom properly for the first time while waiting for Mulligan to arrive. When Mina successfully gives birth, Bloom, Stephen, and Mulligan go to a pub. After the pub, Bloom follows Stephen to a brothel. Bloom becomes lost in his sexual fantasies and—in the form of a play—interrogates his own guilt. Stephen smashes a chandelier and runs from the brothel. Bloom pays for the damage and chases after him. Stephen is punched by a British soldier who claims that he insulted the King. Bloom tends to Stephen’s wounds and has a vision of Rudy.

In a blur of confusion, Bloom takes Stephen somewhere to recover and then invites Stephen back to his home. They drink cocoa and talk about language, writing, and Stephen’s need to stay somewhere for the night. Stephen declines the offer of a bed and, after urinating in Bloom’s yard, vanishes into the night. Bloom goes to bed and talks to Molly about his day. The narrative then switches to Molly. In a stream-of-consciousness style, she thinks about her lovers and her childhood. She thinks about her dreams of being a singer and her menstrual cycle, as well as her affairs. She remembers the time when Bloom proposed to her and remembers saying yes. The novel finishes with Molly’s memory of accepting Bloom’s proposal.