Ulysses is such a well-commented book that it's hard to find questions which have not been widely explored already. However, there's a simple aspect of character motivation I've been unable to clarify.

In Chapter 16, Bloom persuades Stephen that it would be wiser for him to stay the night as a guest in his house. His motivations are clearly partly selfish, but the argument makes sense. Bloom lives much closer than Stephen and it's nearly two in the morning. Stephen accepts.

In the following chapter, however, having enjoyed cocoa at Bloom's house, Stephen's attitude appears to change. He makes an anti-semitic argument, invoking the myth of the blood libel, to his Jewish host. Then, after they urinate in the yard together, he leaves.

The Q&A format of chapter 17 focuses largely on Bloom and, as far as I could see, offers no motivation for Stephen's change of attitude or his decision to walk out into the Dublin night in the small hours. Why does he suddenly seem to change his mind?

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    Not sure how useful these are, but I found some articles which discuss the relation between Stephen and Bloom. This one, in particular, may have some relevant stuff on page 7 (Ctrl+F "Chapter Sixteen").
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 17:42

1 Answer 1


This question has been well discussed. See for example Kenner Chapter 13. Here is my take. All the quotes are from the penultimate chapter.

That is the ending Bloom desires. Bloom gets the son he lost.

Bloom desires Stephen to move in and rent Rudy's room. In Bloom's mind, Stephen can get singing lessons from Molly, tutor Molly in Italian, etc. Bloom dreams of long conversations with Stephen, perhaps even a concert featuring Bloom and Stephen.

What various advantages would or might have resulted from a prolongation of such an extemporisation?

For the guest: security of domicile and seclusion of study. For the host: rejuvenation of intelligence, vicarious satisfaction. For the hostess: disintegration of obsession, acquisition of correct Italian pronunciation.

Bloom would like it to be Bloom and Stephen, with Stephen in the role as son. But that is a power relation, even a capture. Consider the various meanings of asylum.

Was the proposal of asylum accepted?

Promptly, inexplicably, with amicability, gratefully it was declined.

While Stephen was not initially explicitly opposed to the idea, upon entering the premises with Bloom, he begins to experience Bloom's dream in the second to last chapter.

This is not the relationship that Stephen is seeking. Stephen certainly has a gaping father-hole and senses the missing father in Bloom.

He heard in a profound ancient male unfamiliar melody the accumulation of the past.

But Stephen does not need another father. That is a relationship he must move beyond as he becomes a man.

And his subconscious gives this away. As noted in the OP, Stephen sings a horrible anti-Semitic song about a Christian boy who is captured by a Jew and eventually killed! Given that Bloom is a Jew, this is a shot fired.

Then out there came the jew’s daughter
And she all dressed in green.
"Come back, come back, you pretty little boy,
And play your ball again."

"I can’t come back and I won’t come back
Without my schoolfellows all.
For if my master he did hear
He’d make it a sorry ball."

She took him by the lilywhite hand
And led him along the hall
Until she led him to a room
Where none could hear him call.

She took a penknife out of her pocket
And cut off his little head.
And now he’ll play his ball no more
For he lies among the dead.

Stephen becomes aware that such a relationship is dangerous for him. What he will get from Bloom comes at a mortal cost.

Condense Stephen's commentary.

One of all, the least of all, is the victim predestined. Once by inadvertence twice by design he challenges his destiny. It comes when he is abandoned and challenges him reluctant and, as an apparition of hope and youth, holds him unresisting. It leads him to a strange habitation, to a secret infidel apartment, and there, implacable, immolates him, consenting.

If Stephen accepts Bloom's offer, he will again be the predestined victim. The offer comes when Stephen is abandoned, and the apparition of being able to remain a boy is tempting. But if Stephen yields and moves in, he will ultimately be sacrificed.

Stephen cannot accept Bloom's offer. While it is tempting to stay a boy, to stay a boy will "kill" him. Rather he must return and face the world. He must move forward, from the known boy to the unknown man.

Did Stephen participate in his dejection?

He affirmed his significance as a conscious rational animal proceeding syllogistically from the known to the unknown and a conscious rational reagent between a micro and a macrocosm ineluctably constructed upon the incertitude of the void.

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    Thanks for this, and the clear examples from the text which prove your point: I clearly missed that in the density of the language. FYI the song is about the "blood libel" which I referred to in the question en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_libel
    – Matt Thrower
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 12:15
  • I did see that you had got that. I will edit that into my answer.
    – fundagain
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 12:17
  • 2
    When analysing Joyce's large chapters, I use online texts such as gutenberg.org/files/4300/4300-h/4300-h.htm. I cut the chapter to my favourite text editor. Then I can then scan the chapter as a whole, scrolling up and down, highlighting, etc. Of course that is a different exercise to reading the chapter. And now I don't read Joyce, I listen to Joyce, i.e., audio book.
    – fundagain
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 12:20
  • Great answer, nicely argued and supported from the text.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 12:28

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