Anyone who’s ever had to do required summer reading knows that there’s always controversy over what makes a book a classic. Everyone has their own opinion, and here at Books With A Past, we have many opinions. Fortunately for us, the staff also has differing opinions, which leads us to this thread: Point-Counterpoint. Each literary opinion in this section will be argued, then countered, by different booksellers.
In honor of Bloomsday (June 16), here is Becky’s defense of the eponymous Leopold Bloom and Ulysses.
James Joyce’s Ulysses has been deemed unreadable and offensive by multitudes, and yet it remains an important classic. It took Joyce almost a decade to write Ulysses and it is often considered to be his greatest work. The book takes place over the course of one full day and features the “Odyssey” of the main character, Leopold Bloom, as well as some accounts of the life of Stephen Dedalus, the main character of Joyce’s previous work, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. “If Ulysses is not worth reading,” Joyce declared, “Life is not worth living.”
Each section of Ulysses is written in a different writing style, each of which is reflective of the content of that particular episode. It shifts from realism to modernism and even contains a section composed entirely of newspaper titles. The style reflects the characters and the situation as well as strengthens the overall plot and ideas presented. For example, when Stephen Dedalus (the young “poet”) is the central character of a chapter, it is filled with literary allusion and analysis while the sections that focus on Leopold Bloom contain more common thoughts and observations that easily reflect a middle-aged man living in turn-of-the-century Dublin.
Despite the obvious and consistent references to Homer’s Odyssey, Ulysses is often attacked for being a work with no central ideas or, worse, a mere satire on the honor and heroism found in the Odyssey. However, it is more than an extensive criticism on heroism. The work is revolutionary because Leopold Bloom is virtuous in the traditional sense, but Joyce does not glorify the main character and does not overlook his less-than-noble qualities. This true realism only brings the reader closer to the characters and makes the entire work far more believable. The personalities that populate the pages are not larger-than-life heroes; they are starving artists, lonely middle-aged men, and overly romantic young girls. Ulysses shows that there is life beyond standard greatness that is often intriguing, intelligent, and spirited and presents it in a perfectly honest and perhaps even shocking way.
Ulysses is another “portrait” by Joyce, but it is a portrait of a day and the unconventional heroes that reside within it.