The opening chapters of novels are always crucial components, not usually because they deal with major events, but because they introduce the elements that the remainder of the novel will build on. James Joyce's Ulysses is no exception to this. The first chapter introduces the major elements that the rest of the novel will build on by presenting material that raises questions. These questions then become the driving force for the remainder of the novel, where the reader seeks answers to them. The major elements introduced in the first chapter are the characters of Buck Mulligan and Stephen Dedalus, the major problem of Stephen Dedalus, and the setting. As well as this, the first chapter establishes the style of the novel, which is important because it sets the tone for the remainder of the novel and also contributes to establishing the themes of the novel. The most important style elements in the first chapter are language, imagery, and mood.
While no major events take place in the opening chapters, it remains an important one because it introduces the elements that will play out as the novel continues. In relation to the rest of the novel, the opening chapter raises a series of questions that the reader expects the remainder of the novel to build on. The full significance of many of these events are not apparent in the opening chapter, but they reveal their importance as the novel progresses. These elements introduced include the characters of Buck Mulligan and Stephen Dedalus, the major problem of Stephen Dedalus, and the setting. Each of these will now be considered in turn, both describing how they are presented in the opening chapter, and how this links to the remainder of the novel.
One of the characters introduced in the first chapter is Buck Mulligan. He is the flatmate of Stephen and in many ways, represents an opposite to Stephen. He is extroverted, has little self-awareness or conscious, and appears to be much better off with this character than Stephen is with his own. He describes himself in the opening chapter where he refers to his name saying, "My name is absurd too: Malachi Mulligan, two dactyls. But it has a Hellenic ring, hasn't it? Tripping and sunny like the buck himself." This statement is a significant representation of his character for two reasons. Firstly, a name can be considered as representing a person's own identity. Mulligan referring to himself as "tripping and sunny" shows his carefree attitude, while also showing that he has an outward focus. These are both characteristics that represent how he appears to others, and do not represent his inner character. This suggests that Mulligan has an approach where he considers appearances to matter most, while not having much self-awareness. Secondly, Mulligan describes himself this way after describing a fault of his. He refers to his name as "absurd" but then goes on to suggest that it also has positives. This represents his ability not to dwell on negatives, but to move on to positives. This can be considered as resulting from his lack of self-awareness. While Mulligan seems to view his character as positive, the reader has a different view. Just after he describes himself this way, he offers a description of the ocean saying, "Isn't the sea what Algy calls it: a grey sweet mother? The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea." These are crude images and suggest that Mulligan has a crude view of the world. This is especially relevant with Stephen's view contrasted with it. Stephen appears to recognize the beauty in these sights and has an appreciation of them. This reinforces that Mulligan is not a person with real depth or insight and suggests that he has little appreciation. This is expanded to suggest that he has little appreciation for other people when he speaks to Stephen. Speaking to Stephen, Mulligan says "The Aunt thinks you killed your mother" and then goes on to say, "But to think of your mother begging you with her last breath to kneel down and pray for her. And you refused. There is something sinister in you." With Stephen's character so far presented as introspective, the reader has a sense that Stephen is not sinister, but had a reason for his actions. Therefore, this view presented by Mulligan does not become what the reader accepts. Instead, this view emphasizes that Mulligan does not have any empathy or care for others. This is seen again when Mulligan refers to Stephen saying, "Etiquette is etiquette. He kills his mother but he can't wear grey trousers." The reader can imagine that Stephen is suffering from some form of guilt. Yet Mulligan appears to have no awareness of this and makes these direct and cruel statements. This creates a negative view of Mulligan, while reinforcing that he has little self-awareness, with this extending to an awareness of how his actions impact on others. It is also relevant that during this entire conversation Mulligan is staring into a mirror shaving. Firstly, he is focusing on his appearance, which reinforces that his views do not extend past considering appearances. Secondly, he is looking at himself but cannot see himself clearly. This reinforces that he has little self-awareness.
The character of Stephen is presented in contrast to that of Mulligan. He is presented as introspective, with high self-awareness, and also appears unhappier than Mulligan. The contrast of their introspective and extroverted characters are presented by the way they are described. When Mulligan speaks he is described as having a "gay voice," and he is also described "laughing with delight." When Stephen speaks, he speaks "quietly," "gloomily," and "with bitterness." It is clear that there is an outward energy and vitality in Mulligan's character, while there is a solemness in Stephen's. At one point, Mulligan refers to Stephen's appearance describing him saying, "The plump shadowed face and sullen oval jowl recalled a prelate, patron of arts in the middle ages." This is significant for several reasons. Firstly, it suggests his unhappiness. Secondly, it presents Stephen as an artist. The artist is a classic character in many works of literature and suggests various character traits. Most importantly, it suggests an emotional and introspective approach to life. The artist is not just a character who paints pictures. Instead, the artist is a person who really observes, examines, and tries to understand life. This includes that the artist is more self-aware and more emotional than most. At the same time, there is often an angst associated with the artist. This is the classic character of artist as tortured soul, which is exactly what Stephen is presented as. The emotional side of Stephen is captured in his being an artist and is then emphasized by the way he is described. One good example is in the line "Pain, that was not yet the pain of love, fretted his heart." This line is written so poetically that it contrasts clearly with the speech of Mulligan. This presents Stephen as a character with a lot more depth. It also captures the image of Stephen as a tortured soul.
Overall, the chapter could be considered as belonging to Mulligan. Mulligan's character is clearer than Stephen's and Mulligan does remain the center of attention, with Stephen seeming secondary to him. However, even with these factors, it is Stephen who emerges as the central character for the reader. This is partly because Mulligan's character is so clear that there is no mystery associated with him. In contrast, Stephen has depth and clearly has issues. Novels are generally about characters facing problems and their attempts to overcome them. Stephen's problems are presented in this opening chapter, setting him up as the character that will work through the problems in the remainder of the novel.
The other important point regarding the two characters is what they represent. It has been noted that Mulligan appears happier then Stephen. This represents that Mulligan's character is what works in modern society. He is extroverted, selfish, and lacks self-awareness. And yet, he appears to be succeeding in society. He is happy, he is training to be a doctor, and he has money. In contrast, Stephen is presented as being quite unsuccessful. He is unhappy, he has personal issues to deal with, he has no money, and he is not treated with any respect. Yet, for the reader, he appears to have a better character than Mulligan. This suggests that Joyce is raising questions about what is valued in the Irish society. The question that is raised is who will succeed in the end, with this answer saying a lot about the nature of society.
This chapter is also important because it presents the major problem for Stephen, which is his lack of a family. This is presented via the information about his mother. While it is not made clear why Stephen would not pray at the request of his dying mother, it is clear that he continues to…