Leopold Bloom And The Concept Of Masculinity In Ulysses
James Joyce’s complex and riveting novel Ulysses features many parallaxes and deep complexities within it. Themes of paternity and maternity issues, self-identity, and heroism are some composites that makeup Ulysses. In the first set of chapters, we meet multiple men of Dublin. The male characters of Ulysses are relatively the same with their forms of masculinity. However, the character Leopold Bloom is unlike any of the other male characters within his form of masculinity and femininity. Focused in this analysis, will be the character of Leopold Bloom in comparison to the other male characters of Ulysses and also explore what the concept of masculinity would be in the setting of Ulysses.
Through the character Leopold Bloom, Joyce gives readers a different perspective of what masculinity is/would be in the early twentieth century in Ireland. When discussing the extremely complex concept of masculinity and feminity, oftentimes gender and sexual preference are also brought into the conversation. However, for this analysis, I will primarily be focusing on how the male characters do or do not fit in regards to the socially constructed gender roles of masculinity and femininity. To speak of masculinity during James Joyce’s time, would be to use words such as courageousness, leadership, reliance, decisiveness, aggressiveness, sexual prowess and conquest, and competitiveness.
However, with Joyce’s character Leopold Bloom, he is written to have much more feminine behaviours and elements than the rest of the male characters. Because of his strong feminine presence, Leopold Bloom is also suggested by scholars to possibly be a homosexual that is repressed and frustrated. Leopold Bloom’s actions in the “Nausicaa” episode, beg to differ. In this episode, Bloom expresses his lustful yearnings of the young and pretty girl Gerty teasing him on the beach. This almost makes it clear what Leopold Bloom’s sexual preference is. However, in later episodes like “Scylla and Charybdis”, Bloom’s “manliness” is questioned even by the other male characters in Ulysses. In this episode, the character Buck Mulligan remarks Bloom’s unusual behaviour and how he is being perceived by the rest of the community. Buck Mulligan speaks of men who have a “different” attitude towards other men. Towards the end of the episode, Buck Mulligan and Stephen Daedalus are leaving the National Library when they cross paths with Leopold. After this encounter, Buck remarks, “Did you see his eye? He looked upon you like to lust after you. I fear thee, ancient mariner. O, Kinch, thou art in peril.” Now, Joyce may have just used this passing remark from Buck to be taken in a more humorous way to show how common these types of comments are made towards more passive and sensitive males. Yet, in previous episodes, we also see Leopold Bloom engage in activities that readers cannot see being done from other male characters as they conflict with already established gender roles. For example, acts of kindness like bringing his wife Molly breakfast in bed, the amount of care he has for his cats by talking to and feeding them, and buying biscuits just to feed the seagulls are a few instances where Bloom expresses his sensitivity.
Although, with these acts of compassion and sympathy, brings along the suspiciousness of Bloom’s masculinity from other male characters like Buck Mulligan. In the article“Hyspos or ‘Spadia’? Rethinking Androgyny in Ulysses with Help From Sacher-Moss” by Lisa Rado, she comments that “Many scholars have noted that in general Joyce’s aesthetics are connected to his interest in androgyny…”. Rado also points out a moment during one of Bloom’s fantasies in the later chapter “Circe” where Buck Mulligan again questions Bloom’s sexuality and masculinity. Buck declares him to be “bisexually normal” and even mentions him as “a finished example of the new womanly man.” Rado’s comments on androgyny in Ulysses and specifically in the character Leopold Bloom brings attention to ideals that were held during Joyce’s time. To suggest sensitive and feminine behaviours and characteristics in males during this era renders the male as androgynous.
Lisa Rado is not the only one to comment on Joyce’s use of androgyny in Ulysses. In the essay “James Joyce: Moralist” by Ellsworth Mason, throughout the essay he admires Bloom’s form of masculinity despite what the other characters may believe. He reminds readers of a few instances in the “Circe” episode where Bloom “handles the madam with consummate skill and sureness,” and even after a fight in the streets, Bloom alerts the police and “defends Stephen with supreme courage.” In Mason’s article, he implies that by Bloom using his mediator and diplomacy skills, his courage is displayed differently than a hot-headed aggressive male.
With the character Leopold Bloom, James Joyce creates a unique and complex character, unlike any other stereotypical male. Leopold Bloom’s type of masculinity goes against any cultural norms that even he struggles with understanding at times. Yet, even though his type of manliness relies on more diplomacy and empathy towards women especially, this type of masculinity is a more legitimate alternative long term.
- Joyce, James. Ulysses. Ed. Hans Walter Gabler. New York: Random House, 1986.
- Rado, Lisa. “Hypsos or ‘Spadia’? Rethinking Androgeny in Ulysses with Help from
- Sacho-Masoch.” Twentieth-Century Literature. Vol.42, No. 2. Hofstra University.1996. JSTOR. Web. 2019.
- Mason, Ellsworth. “James Joyce: Moralist.” Twentieth-Century Literature. Vol. 1, No. 4.
- Hofstra University. January 1956. JSTOR. Web. 2019.