Monday, April 14, 2008

Cows and Bulls

Cows seem to be a reoccurring symbol throughout Ulysses. In Episode 4, Bloom ponders how cows are made to suffer as he looks at an ad for Israel: “Those mornings in the cattlemarket the beasts lowing in their pens…flop and fall of dung…there’s a prime one, unpeeled switches in [the breeder’s] hands”. and then associates the white heifer with Israel and the Jewish people (59). The Jewish people and the land they inhabit suffer like the stallfed heifers: “The oldest people. Wandered far away over all the earth, captivity to captivity”; the land “dead…the grey sunken cunt of the world. Desolation” (61). Likewise, a few chapters later, the funeral car passes “branded cattle…lowing, slouching by on padded hoofs…Tomorrow is killing day…Roast beef for England” (97). Here, the cows serve as a metaphor for Ireland and Irish culture, which is purged by and for the benefit of the English.

It follows that the cows in Episode 14 Oxen of the Sun do not represent the sanctity of life. Rather the cows symbolize the unheard people who are relegated to the periphery. Women, like Jews and the Irish, are oppressed peoples. Joyce statement, “In Horne’s house rest should reign”, is a cry for calm and peace for women.

And if women are the cows, then men are the bulls: “He’ll find himself on the horns of a dilemma if he meddles with a bull that’s Irish, says he. Irish by name and Irish by nature, says Mr. Stephen, and he sent the ale purling about, an Irish bull in an English chinashop” (399). Irish men are the ones who silence the birthing mother in the next room. Another bull in the novel is the Church. Lord Harry “bought a grammar of the bulls’ language to study…In short, he and the bull of Ireland were soon as fast friends as an arse and a shirt. They were… as the ungrate women were all of one mind, made a wherry raft, loaded themselves and their bundles of chattels on shipboard”.


Ruthie Sacks said...

I was reading your post about the emphasis Joyce puts on cows in this chapter and realized that he fails to allude to the most notorious cow in biblical jewish history: the golden calf. When the Israelites were awaiting the arrival of the ten commandments, they thought that Moses was never going to come back down the mountain because he had been gone for so long. As a result, they decided to build a golden calf which they began to worship. The rest of the story goes that Moses came down the mountain, threw the ten commandments, and God punished the Israelites for their sinful ways.

In the maternity ward scene, Bloom resembles a Moses-like figure in the fact that he is able to see what really matters. His priorities are in the right place and he has things figured out. Stephen, like the Israelites, is still confused about what path to take in his life and as a result he is following a path that may feel right but may not necessairly be the best path. The Israelites thought the golden calf was a good investment; however, Moses' act of smashing the ten commandments woke them up and allowed them to redirect themselves towards a life of righteousness. As Stephen's pseudofather figure, Bloom like Moses is going to provide Stephen with the guidance to pursue a better life.

Adam Stoller said...
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Adam Stoller said...

Interesting idea, but I don’t know if I agree with you about Bloom being a Moses-like character. As you said, Joyce doesn’t allude to the golden calf. According to the midrash, Moses destroyed the ten commandments impulsively out of frustration and not in a moment of clarity. Bloom is just as irrational as the other men. Even though he is far more sentimental and effeminate than the other characters, he is deluded for thinking he can speak for women. His voice is one of many that drown out the female perspective.