Leopold Bloom is the unlikely hero of Ulysses (1922), James Joyce’s monumental interpretation of Homer’s epic. Funny, kind, gentle, unfailingly polite in the most trying of circumstances, he is one of the most endearing characters in modern fiction.
On the surface, Bloom, a middle-aged Dublin salesman, is severely under-qualified to play the swashbuckling Odysseus. His public life is undistinguished and his private affairs problematic.
Unswervingly devoted to his wife, Molly, Bloom is aware that she is having an affair with the flashy Blazes. He is also haunted by the death of their only son, Rudy, who died after only eleven days. Even Milly, his teenage daughter is a cause for concern, as heworries about meeting the costs of her horse-riding and social activities.
In crucial respects Bloom is an outsider in a very insular society.Though he has converted to Catholicism in order to marry Molly, he is never allowed to forget his Jewish origins.
“Force, hatred, history”
Bloom’s finest hour is his moral victory over an anti-Semitic nationalist (the Citizen) in the Cyclops episode. Bloom enters a raucous pub, Barney Kiernan’s, looking for his friend Martin Cunningham. Joining some acquaintances at the bar, he joins in a conversation about capital punishment.
Bloom’s thoughtful remarks incite a bellicose response from the Citizen. Drunk, and spoiling for a fight, he chooses to take them as a slur on the ‘martyrs’ executed by the British over the centuries. Bloom responds with a quiet condemnation of all violence:
Force, hatred, history, all that. That’s not life for men and women, insult and hatred. It’s the very opposite of that that is really life”.
The scene ends with Bloom’s hurried exit and the deranged Citizen throwing a biscuit tin at his departing stagecoach. It’s a typically ignominious outcome for Bloom.
It’s also an emphatic moral victory. The anonymous narrator underlines by describing what is essentially a bar-room scuffle in terms of Elijah being called to Heaven in his own chariot.