Narrative Innovations in James Joyce’s Ulysses

January 9, 2021 by Essay Writer

James Joyce’s Ulysses represents one of the most important works of modernist literature. The name of the novel is a Latinised name of Homer’s Odysseus and there are many parallels between the two works. The novel has been highly controversial and considered to be obscene so it attracted a lot of attention. In this essay I am going to focus on the narrative innovations Joyce brought in his work. The work is written through the stream of consciousness technique and it is full of puns, allusions and parodies. My goal in this paper is to explain in details the innovations James Joyce brought to narration and how he managed to combine them and create such a great piece of literature. I am going to focus most on the stream of consciousness because it is what made the novel stand out from the rest of the 20th century works.

To achieve this goal, I have organized my paper into two main sections. In the first section, I provide a brief description of the author and his style of writing. Also, I mention some of his other works and draw a parallel between them and Ulysses. I put an emphasis on narrative techniques he used in his other works and how they differ from those in Ulysses. In the second section, I focus on the definition of stream of consciousness and provide examples of it in the novel as well as the purpose of using it. I describe how and why the author used that technique and what makes it so special and important. I focus on the Episode 3, Proteus and Episode 18, Penelope because those are the best examples of the technique.

<h2>James Joyce’s Writing</h2>James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist, short story writer and poet who made a great contribution to the modernist avant-garde. He is considered to be one of the most influential authors of the 20th century. His work Ulysses is one of the most important works of that century because through it Joyce made an innovation in narration by using stream of consciousness and inner monologue.

His other major works are Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Exiles and poetry and Finnegans Wake. Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories which was written when Irish nationalism was at its peak. The focus of the stories is on the moment the character experiences a life-changing illumination. A connection can be drawn to Ulysses because the characters in it constantly think about everything but don’t actually get one simple answer to their thoughts. What is most interesting about it is that many of the characters appear in Ulysses from which we can see that the author found inspiration in it. Some of the techniques used in Ulysses are best shown in the autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The novel was an early example of Joyce’s stream of consciousness, interior monologue and references to character’s psychological reality rather to his surroundings. Finnegans Wake was written after Ulysses so it could not have an effect on it.

Stream of Consciousness

Stream of consciousness is one of the techniques Joyce uses to tell the story in his novel Ulysses. Along with it we also encounter with inner monologues and the character’s reference to the psychic reality but I haven’t distinguished them separately because they are a part of the stream of consciousness. The characters have their problems about which we hear most from the monologs they have in their consciousness. Their flow of perception and feelings is constant in their inner thoughts. This is what makes Ulysses a masterpiece, although it can be a bit difficult to read. We are provided with the entire mental process the character has, which offers us a vivid picture of the plot and events described in the novel. By using this technique Joyce gives us precise descriptions of the character’s personality.

The character becomes a real person whose past, present and ideas about the future we get to explore and identify with. We know the character’s problems and his relations with others and most important, the way he perceives the world and people surrounding him. Throughout the entire novel we get to meet the characters on a more personal level and understand their way of thinking and the reasons which are behind their actions. Stream of consciousness might be one of the best techniques of narration because it is something we all do in everyday life. It can get a bit complicated because of all the thoughts and connections going through one’s mind but in the end it is how our brains function. It is a fictional device which gives an equivalent of the character’s thought processes and connects the outer with the person’s inner world.

It is interesting that Joyce doesn’t use the technique in the same ratio throughout the entire novel. The first two episodes have almost no traces of this technique whereas the rest of the novel is full of it. The third episode is a great example of it. It shows Stephen’s stream of thought while walking on the beach. He makes an entire story in his mind about the two women he sees and draws multiple connections to his thoughts. His mind creates a path on which he flows while thinking about various things. He jumps from one topic to another, he thinks about woman’s original sin and then his own conception which he later compares with Christ’s. Stephen’s mind works so fast it becomes very complicated to follow that stream of thoughts. His focus shifts from very deep intellectual topics to those which are rather simple and easy to understand. There are no rules or order which rule over his mind and direct the way of his thinking. The information Stephen gets from his senses reminds him that he has to take Deasy’s letter to the newspaper and meet Buck at The Ship pub.

Stream of consciousness is a process in which reason, emotions and memory work together. We can see that from the following example where Stephen thinks about visiting his aunt Sara and then imagines his father mocking his decision because he doesn’t like Sara’s husband. Then he imagines a situation that hasn’t happened and won’t happen. Joyce used this technique to show us the power of the mind and created one of the most important works in literature. The mind is so powerful that it reminds Stephen how he felt in his childhood, the shame he felt for his family. Stream of thought can bring not only memories but real feelings we had in the past and make us feel them once again. Stephen’s reminiscing made him to pass the turn to his aunt’s house which proves the power of the mind and how it can distract us from the destinations we were planning to reach.

This entire episode is the best example of Joyce’s innovative narrative techniques. He manages to tell so many details about the character’s life and introduce us to his way of thinking which helps us understand what kind of person he is and what goes on in his head. Another interesting element of stream of consciousness is that the sentences are not very connected and it seems as the author is just listing things that go through Stephen’s mind. There are many things that go through Stephen’s head, he thinks of his life in Paris which reminds him of his mother’s death and then he returns to reality and looks at the sea. He stares at the horizon and suddenly notices a carcass of a dog, then he sees the complete contrast – a live dog running. The beach represents a place which brought many memories to Stephen and made him think about past and present. He even goes to the far past and imagines the first Danish Vikings invading Dublin, a scene which he did not witness and could only presume how it looked. The author manages to tell us Stephen’s past in an unrelated way. The events which happened are intertwined with those which didn’t and the mere thoughts he once had about something.

Another example of stream of consciousness is the last episode named Penelope. The episode follows Molly Bloom’s thoughts which might be perceived as confusing since the author omits punctuation and makes it difficult to understand. We find a lot about Molly from this episode and begin to truly understand her whereas in the rest of the novel we could only recognize her through other characters. From her thoughts we find out that she is a confident woman fully aware of how special she is and what she means to her husband. Her stream of thought is very fast and perhaps a bit hard to follow. She thinks of the intercourse she had with Boylan and how she prefers his lovemaking technique better than her husband’s. Then she goes back to the past and thinks about how handsome her husband was in his young age. She shifts from thinking about her husband and the problems they have to her lover and how liberated she is when she’s with him. Molly remembers past events and how they affected her, her husband and Boylan. After thinking about real problems she somehow starts thinking about her weight and wishes to have more money.

Joyce truly helps us enter Molly’s world and everything that has happened to her and how she perceived the world around her. There is no logical order in her it, we get a subjective perspective on her life. The author shows us how Molly is consumed with her thoughts and how many things she has on her mind. There is a lot of misspelled words which only highlight how fast she thinks and how preoccupied she is. The last episode is the best example of the author’s innovative technique because it gives us an insight in the character’s world and makes us think as we are truly in her head and have the very same thoughts as she does.

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