James Joyce FAQ
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James Joyce FAQ

Why is ‘Throwaway’ a key motif in Ulysses?

Bloom as the ‘dark horse’ outsider

Throwaway, the surprise winner of 1904 Ascot Gold Cup

One of the most extraordinary features of Ulysses is the subtle way in which real people, places and events are woven into its fabric.

On the 16 June 1904 the Ascot Gold Cup race takes place, near London. The event is followed closely by many in Bloom’s social circle and there are references to the race throughout the text. Bloom himself does not gamble but a misunderstanding leads to a rumour that he has won a fortune by betting on the winner, the 50–1 outsider, ‘Throwaway.

Early in the day, in Lotus Eaters (U5: 519–4) Bantam Lyon asks to borrow Bloom’s newspaper to look up the name of a Gold Cup runner:

At his armpit Bantam Lyons’ voice and hand said:

— -Hello, Bloom, what’s the best news? Is that today’s? Show us a minute.[…]— I want to see about that French horse that’s running today, Bantam Lyons said.

Always looking for a quiet life, Bloom lets him keep the paper:

He rustled the pleated pages, jerking his chin on his high collar, Barber’s itch. Tight collar he’ll lose his hair. Better leave him the paper and get shut of him.

— You can keep it, Mr Bloom said

— Ascot. Gold Cup. Wait, Bantam Lyons muttered. Half a mo. Maximum the second.

— I was just going to throw it away, Mr Bloom said,

Bantam Lyons raised his eyes suddenly and leered weakly.

— What’s that? his sharp voice said.

— I said you can keep it, Mr Bloom answered. I was just going to throw it away that moment.

The conspiratorial Bantam thinks this is a coded tip to back the horse Throwaway, a story he later repeats to anyone who will listen.

He has some bloody horse up his sleeve for the Gold cup. A dead snip. […]

— Is it Zinfandel?

— Say nothing, Bantam Lyons winked. pp. 220–228.

The rumour plays to other widely held anti-Semitic preconceptions about Bloom. One is that he has mysterious connections to the wealthy and powerful (he has inside information about the race). Another is that he conceals his privileged information— those who back the wrong horses blame Bloom for covering up the ‘fix’. Anger is deflected at Bloom (He’s the only man in Dublin has it) rather than Lenehan, who provided the false tip.

but he was a perfect devil for a few minutes after he came back with the stop press tearing up the tickets and swearing blazes because he had lost 20 quid he said he lost over that outsider that won and half he put on for me on account of Lenehan’s tip cursing him to the lowest pits […] “Penelope”, p.887.


Bloom is confronted by a nationalist anti-Semite in Barney Kiernan

This resentment is one of the drivers of the confrontation between the Bloom and the Citizen in Barney Kiernan’s. Ironically neither man has bet on the race but the Citizen implies that Bloom has some corrupt connection with it.

I know where he’s gone, says Lenehan, cracking his fingers.

— Who says, I?

Bloom, says he. The courthouse is a blind. He had a few bob on Throwaway and he’s gone to gather the shekels.

— Is it that whiteyed kaffir? Says the citizen, that never backed a horse in anger in his life.

— That’s where he’s gone, says Lenehan. I met Bantam Lyons going to back that horse only I put him off it and he told me Bloom gave him the tip. Bet you what you like he has a hundred shillings to five on. He’s the only man in Dublin has it. A dark horse. “Cyclops”, p.435.

Dark Horse

We see Bloom as a dark horse in the more positive sense — the man whose modesty hides his virtue. Bloom does not gamble but avoids condemning others for doing so. Surrounded by noisy braggarts he responds with kindness.

And like Ulysses he ultimately defeats all his rivals.



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Kieran McGovern

Kieran McGovern

I grew up in an Irish family in west London