Happy Bloomsday: A Guide to Knowing Your Ulysses Schemata

Bloomsday is this Thursday and I couldn't be more excited. I've memorized my favorite page of the novel (the early rise of Bloomusalem) and will exchange recitations with friends and strangers alike throughout the day. I'll be rereading The Dubliners as I'm not sure I'm up to racing through Ulysses again. So what is Bloomsday? It's the world's greatest literary holiday* based on the time frame of James Joyce's landmark Modernist novel Ulysses. Ulysses tells the story of a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, a Jew who converted to Catholicism to marry his wife Molly Bloom. Leopold lives in Dublin, a very Catholic city in Ireland. The novel takes place over the course of one day starting on 16 June 2011..

There are many ways to read Ulysses. The most common interpretation is how the novel parallels the story of The Odyssey. That means that each of the 18 chapters of the novel correspond quite nicely to a character, location, or major event in the epic poem. For example, chapter 11 corresponds to the Sirens. It's told through a bunch of musical motifs (jazz specifically, and for that alone it's my second favorite chapter) explaining how Molly Bloom--a professional singer--is having an affair with Blazes Boylan. Molly and the music are the Sirens while Blazes, Stephen Dedalus (star of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), and the rest of the men in Dublin are powerless to stop her.

Still another reading of Ulysses relates different fields of art or science. For example, Chapter 6 is argued to be connected to the Occult. In it, Leopold enters a funeral procession. Suddenly, everything that happens to him reminds him of the death of his young son Rudy. Every sight, every sound, and every smell casts a spell over his mind that tries to force him to confront the tragedy in his life. It's like some mysterious force is trying to make him remember while he fights against it with all his strength.

There are even stranger readings of the novel. One schema suggests that every chapter is related to a different human organ. Chapter 14 takes place in a hospital where babies are being delivered; hence, it is the uterus chapter. Another schema suggests each chapter is a different style of language. Chapter 18 is Molly Bloom's monologue. It's a stream of consciousness chapter that connects quite nicely to natural speech. Other schemes include political philosophy, ancient deities, colors, male roles in society, and even the ancient Celtic alphabet.

Whatever school you belong to, Ulysses is a literary work that can be reckoned with for a lifetime. What's a day dedicated to a masterful novel in the context of a life? Head down to your favorite Irish pub on Thursday and read some James Joyce. It's fun.

*totally subjective. Some would argue for Shakespeare Day (the Bard's birthday) or even something wackier like Edible Woman parties (inspired by Atwood's novel of the same name).