The Exile of Leopold Bloom: Joyce's "Ulysses"and Anti-Semitism
Copyright 2018 by Michael W. Rickard II
Editor's Note: Last fall, I took a graduate-level class concerning James Joyce's Ulysses. Here is an analysis of a few lines from the novel's 12th episode.
Ulysses’ 12th episode lines 1784-1795 focus on the Citizen cursing Leopold Bloom, reflecting his anti-Semitic hatred. While Bloom is ridiculed by the patrons at Barney Kiernan’s pub, the Citizen makes little secret of his hatred for Jews. The episode is narrated by an unknown person who observes the Citizen’s rage in these lines. His account of the events show how the Citizen wants Bloom is to be exiled, both by earthly and ecclesiastical means. Tragically, the Citizen’s sentiments mirror the anti-Semitism of other Europeans as seen in the pogroms suffered by Jews in Europe and later, the Holocaust.
Line 1784 begins with “begob” a word which recurs through this passage and means a “euphemistic alteration of by God” (“begob”). The word “begob” dates back to 1889 and its first known use was in the St. James Gazette. The phrase “by God” dates back to Middle English circa 1225 A.E., reflecting “…a desire to avoid the charge of taking God's name in vain arise various distorted or ‘minced’ pronunciations of the word” (“god”). The narrator’s use of begob arguably serves two purposes. First, it legitimizes what he is saying by invoking the Almighty’s name as if he is swearing under oath. Second, the narrator invokes the Almighty’s name in a respectful way i.e. the euphemism begob, as opposed to taking the Lord’s name in vain. Thus, the narrator establishes his character as a good Christian man. This is important as the narrator is relating his story to others and he arguably wants to establish his credibility.
The narrator next describes the Citizen’s furious curses at Leopold Bloom. The first curse is a state-sanctioned one while the second curse has the authority of the Catholic Church. Both curses have grave consequences for Leopold Bloom and reflect the intensity of the Citizen’s hatred for Bloom and all Jews.
The narrator observes the Citizen’s first curse on Bloom “cursing the curse of Cromwell on him” (U.12.1786). As Gifford and Seidman note, this curse “Calls the ruthlessness and brutality of Cromwell’s suppression of Irish insurrection down on the head of the person cursed” (378). Cromwell’s ruthless attack on Ireland is described by Jim and Sharon Lacey:
Before it was over, almost half the population had been killed by war, disease, or famine, and another 50,000 were shipped overseas as indentured servants. The subsequent Cromwellian Settlement banned Catholicism and deprived Catholic landowners of their property” (7).
Here, the Citizen shows he wants to unleash an earthly and state-sanctioned wrath on Bloom, much as Oliver Cromwell did to the Irish. Knowing the severity of “the curse of Cromwell,” the Citizen is arguably calling for a Jewish genocide.
The Citizen furthers his attack on Bloom, invoking an ecclesiastical curse. The narrator observes how not only does the citizen invoke “the curse of Cromwell,” but he does it with further authority as seen by the phrase, “bell, book, and candle” (U.12.1786). This term is described by Gifford and Seidman as:
To curse “by bell, book, and candle” is to pronounce “major excommunication” (absolute and irremovable exclusion of the offender from the Church). The bell calls attention; the book contains the sentence to be pronounced; the candle is extinguished to symbolize the spiritual darkness into which the excommunicant is cast (378).
The Citizen wants to remove Bloom not only from Ireland, but from the Catholic Church. This reflects the Citizen’s remarks Bloom is not a true Irish citizen and reflects remarks that no one knows if Bloom is a Jew, Catholic, or Gentile. If Bloom is indeed Catholic, the Citizen’s curse will guarantee Bloom is excommunicated. This excommunication takes on significant penalties. As David Long points out, “In the Separation from the body of the faithful, the excommunicated loses valuable interaction with the community, including tokens of goodwill, common prayer, marks of respect, and the basic human activities of communication and sharing in meals” (12). The Citizen’s curse is particularly insidious as it’s arguable he knows he will get rid of Bloom from Ireland one way or another i.e. through earthly means or ecclesiastical. Furthermore, a major excommunication implies Bloom will be unable to find salvation in the Catholic church by partaking in the sacraments, thus damning him to Hell.
The Citizen’s outburst upsets even the other patrons in the bar. The narrator observes how people try to calm him down and he uses the colloquialism, “sit down on the parliamentary side of your ass.” Gifford and Seidman define this as “In other words, sit down and conduct yourself as you would in a parliamentary discussion.” This is somewhat appropriate as the Citizen seems to be holding court with the other bar patrons, discussing what is to be done with Leopold Bloom. However, the Citizen’s outburst proves too much, even for the bar patrons who had mocked Bloom out of prejudice and ignorance. The narrator concludes with an inner monologue of “Jesus, there’s always some bloody clown or other kicking up a bloody murder about bloody nothing” (U 12.1794-1795). This remark poses the question whether the Citizen’s vocal anti-Semitism offends the narrator or whether he is concerned it might expose his own hidden anti-Semitism. This brief exchange in lines 1784-1795 show Joyce’s skill in showing overt and subtle prejudices in his characters.
Gifford, Don and Robert J. Seidman. Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce's Ulysses. 2nd
ed., University of California Press, 2008
"god, n. and int." OED Online, Oxford University Press, June 2017,
www.oed.com/view/Entry/79625. Accessed 14 November 2017.
Joyce, James. Ulysses (The Gabler Edition). 1st ed., Vintage, 1986.
Lacey, Jim, and Sharon Tosi Lacey. "The curse of Cromwell: his soldiering was ruthless,
brilliant, and backed by faith." MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, Autumn 2014, p. 68+. Academic OneFile, proxy.buffalostate.edu:2101/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=buffalostate&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA378104741&asid=c2701d8332ff99461ac162d8173a6125. Accessed 12 Nov. 2017.
Long, David P. "Eucharistic Ecclesiology and Excommunication." Ecclesiology, vol. 10, no. 2,
May 2014, pp. 205-228. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1163/17455316-01002005.
Cunningham, John. “Oliver Cromwell and the ‘Cromwellian’ Settlement of Ireland.” The
Historical Journal, vol. 53, no. 4, 2010, pp. 919–937., doi:10.1017/S0018246X10000427.