Ulysses by James Joyce is written in epic style and thus is not easy to grasp in terms of its scope and meaning. The novel can be read in different contexts; sometimes it appears to be nothing more than a commentary on society and social evils. At others it reads like a commentary of various types of human relationships and yet at other, it seems to be experimenting with different and rather androgynous characterization. But Ulysses in its entirely is all of these things and more.
It is actually a brave and bold attempt to present relationships in unconventional light. We must understand the underneath all its comic sexual innuendoes and sometimes offensive actions, the novel is trying to convey a message which seeks to invent new social definitions of relationships of every kind. The story may at times appear tragic with Bloom aspiring to win her wife back from her endless list of lovers but it is actually embodies more comic elements than tragic ones. This is because the characters, their actions and reactions, their views on life and romance are all slightly weird which add to the hilarity of the story.
Ulysses portrays marital relationship and those involved in these union in a highly unconventional manner, thus giving rise to characters that traditionally don't fit our description of a married man and woman of 1920s. Bloom, the co-protagonist of the novel, is a generous kind soul who arouses more sympathy than her wife or stepson. The reason being that Bloom is a genuine gentleman who simply adores his wife Molly but somehow has failed to generate the same response from her. It is important to focus on the way their relationship has been described because that is how we can extract the comic elements out of the narrative.
For example in the part 'Ithaca', we notice how the narrator highlights Bloom's adoration for his wife, "He kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melonsmelonous osculation."
To certain extent, however this book does indeed dwell on a different kind of comedy. It is important to remember here, that Ulysses is not an ordinary comedy like the one you get from Shakespeare, it puts forth a satirical form of comedy, which highlight the idiosyncrasies of traditional institution of marriage. But instead of criticizing this institution, he chooses to use comic devices to ridicule conventions and traditions.
Robert Brown in his book James Joyce and Sexuality (1985) agrees that criticism of conventional style of marriage was the main purpose of Ulysses, which is represented through the character of Gerty McDowell. He is of the view that Joyce thought that women like Gerty were "misled by vain, romantic longings and forced to sell themselves to the highest matrimonial bidder...victims of the social expectations demanded of them because of their sex" (Brown, 1985, p. 94).
To make characters like Gerty see the truth of their situation, Joyce introduces us to the unusual character of Molly who is Bloom's wife. But she is nothing like Gerty of Ulysses of Polly of the Dubliners story The Boarding House who is unaware of true rights. Molly instead is a new kind of woman who is proud of her extra marital affairs, as she doesn't get the sexual pleasure she wants from her husband. Molly is the comic distortion of the image of a traditional wife.
Whether Joyce was trying to ridicule the piety of all married women who appear to be faithful on the surface or he was genuinely advocating sexual freedom for woman is unclear. But it is true that with Molly we see a person who "represent a new kind of fictional woman: massive, potent and self possessed. Though few modern feminists have wished to avail themselves of that image of femininity, it was evidently one which Joyce constructed out of his own version of feminist literary tradition [,] and its obtrusive sexual dimorphism is conceived as a vindication of, rather than an attack on, femininity" (Brown, 1985, p. 101).
It is through the speech and actions of the characters that we come across Joyce's kind of comedy. For example at one occasion in the novel, readers spontaneously feel like laughing when they see the end result of the "Throwaway" incident. It is here that we see Bloom at his gullible best, when without realizing the consequences of his actions; he gives Bantam Lyons a tip on the Gold Cup race only to find himself an object of everyone's resentment at the Barney Kiernan's pub later. In retrospection, Bloom admits that comic fate of human beings is "more than inevitable, irreparable."
Joyce's comedy is though satirical in nature is still hilarious at times. Unlike Jonathan Swift's satires, which usually offend and disgust the readers, Joyce's satire is constructive in nature and doesn't exactly leave a bad taste in the mouth. Critics admit that this sort of complex comedy has a different purpose to serve than the genuine comedies of other writers. It seeks to highlight the funny side of human failures and frailties.
The inability of human beings to understand certain situations and decipher certain coded messages can often lead to a comic fate. It is in this whole process that we notice Joyce hinting at absurdity of conventions and human condition in general. His comedy indeed contains solid substance and thus is often very thought provoking. It is the seriousness with which comic instances come across that makes certain situations genuinely funny.
The matter of fact tone of Molly in her soliloquy in the last chapter does indeed make readers sympathize with this otherwise unfaithful character. The light-heartedness of her comments on her own past and present condition brings forth a genuinely unusual type of comedy.
Bloom's relationship with his wife is one of the main highlights of the novel. We must understand that no matter how much we read about the relationship between Bloom and his stepson Stephen, it is not this association, which is as important as the one between Bloom and Molly. Bloom is the central figure whose obsession with her wife occupies the most prominent position in the story.
The protagonist is a comically contrast of Odysseus' hawkish attitude and a reluctance to bring a change in his destiny and in his relationship with his wife. This comic figure at once possesses the simplicity of Shakespearean fools and the common sense of Greek heroes. Though he is excessively in love with his sexually active rather unfaithful wife, he doesn't possess the right amount of courage to win her back. He dreams about her and often reminisces about their passionate past but lacks the will power to change the course of his destiny. But it is through his anti-hero attitude that he finally manages to restore this important personal relationship.
Though James Joyce hasn't given the relationship a crystal clear ending still it is through the soliloquy in Penelope that we get a hint that Molly had finally decided to come back t her husband. The way she remembers her past with her husband is both comic and sentimental. Her words in the end move the readers and make them see the depth of her emotions for Bloom. Despite the unpleasantness of their current situation, Molly seems to cherish her past beautiful moments with her husband. Regardless of how thinks had turned out, she knew that truth about Bloom and did recognize his good qualities.
16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a woman's body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes..."
It is in this chapter that we realize that Bloom's common sense and his compassionate understanding of his wife's needs had indeed paid off. Unlike Odysseus who believed in keeping every man away from his wife, Bloom somehow manages to compromise with the reality. He feels that he probably is unable to satisfy his wife in the same way other men did and thus quietly and timidly accepted the situation. But what he fails to realize is the fact that his wife still loves him deeply and wants to be loved back in the same way that Boylan does.
Here it is important to bear in mind that critics have interpreted Molly's soliloquy in different ways. Some are of the view that she was disgusted with her husband while others feel she longed for the old passion in her marital relationship. To me it appears that despite her love for luxury…