A Summary of "Ulysses" by James Joyce

by Leslie McClintock

"Ulysses," the seminal work of Irish author James Joyce, depicts, in exhaustive detail, events of June 16, 1904 in the lives of three fictional Dublin residents: Stephen Dedalus, a young teacher and scholar and possible alter-ego for Leopold Bloom, a Jewish man doubting his wife's fidelity with good reason, and Molly Bloom, Leopold's wife and noted Dublin opera singer, who is having an affair with Blazes Boylan.


The structure of Joyce's novel is based on Homer's "Odyssey," which tells the tale of a Greek warrior, Ulysses, and his travels as he makes his way home from the Trojan War. Homer's poem also describes the patience and fidelity of Ulysses' faithful wife, Penelope, who puts off suitors asking when she will marry again by saying she will consider marriage when she finishes weaving a tapestry. She weaves by day, and then by night unravels the previous day's work.


The novel opens with Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom having breakfast with their families. Stephen then goes for a walk on the beach. Leopold displays an epicurean fondness for organ meats and strong-flavored, rich foods. He then goes to a chemist to buy soap and order cream for his wife, and visits the widow of his recently deceased friend, Paddy Dignam. Stephen leaves breakfast and goes to teach school. Meanwhile, Molly Bloom has received a letter from Blazes Boylan, her manager, who is putting together a concert for her in Dublin.


Leo Bloom goes to have lunch at a local pub, where he dines on burgundy wine and a gorgonzola cheese sandwich, and goes to the Turkish baths. Bloom and other friends go to Paddy Dignam's funeral. Leo sees the grave of Charles Parnell, the Irish hero, and wanders the cemetary reflecting on mortality. This chapter is called "Hades," after the Greek underworld and a corresponding section in "The Odyssey."


Stephen Dedalus is in the library teaching Shakespeare and Hamlet. Leo Bloom has just ducked into the library to avoid running into Blazes Boylan. Bloom looks through a newspaper for ideas about an advertisement. Bloom later goes into the Ormond Hotel restaurant for something to eat, and thinks about his wife's infidelity with Boylan. Bloom goes to a nearby pub and gets into an argument over Ireland and his Jewishness, and is kicked out of the pub.


Stephen and Bloom finish their evening at a Dublin brothel, where a heavily inebriated Stephen accidentally breaks a lamp. Stephen pays the madame for the damage to the lamp, and assists Stephen out. Stephen gets into an argument with a British police officer, and gets beat up in the street.


The novel closes with a stream-of-consciousness from Molly Bloom, who is going to bed, and drifting off to sleep. Molly lies in bed thinking reminiscing about her sexual experiences and fantasizing about sex with Boylan. However, as she finally approaches sleep at the end of the day, her final thoughts are about her husband and how they met in Spain and Gibraltar and their early times together and how she would wear flowers in her hair like the Andalusian girls. Molly's very last thoughts, at the very end of the day, are for her dear husband, Leopold, and the words "yes I said yes I will Yes."


  • "Ulysses": James Joyce; 1916