Chapter One, Telemachus
Narrative Focus: Stephen
Characters: Stephen Dedalus, Malachi “Buck” Mulligan, Haines, elderly milklady, various bathers.
Setting: The Martello Tower, Stephen’s residence, 8 PM.
While Odysseus is delayed in his return from the Trojan War, suitors besiege his wife Penelope and overrun his palace at Ithaca. Disguised as Odysseus’ loyal friend Mentor, Athena advises Telemachus, son of Odysseus, to set off in search of his father. He journeys to Pylos to consult Nestor, and to Sparta to consult Menelaus, who reports that Odysseus is held on Calypso’s island (Books. I-IV). Here, Stephen appears a sort of mentorless Telemachus.
Stephen and Mulligan prepare to meet the day in the Martello tower they rent (a seaside fort built by Cromwell to enforce English rule in Ireland). Their exchanges center on Stephen’s guilt about his mother’s death: he had refused to kneel and pray at her deathbed. Accompanied at breakfast by Haines, their English visitor, an Oxford student they both resent and whose nightmare antics Stephen fears. Conversation centers on Ireland, its oppression both political and artistic, and on hints of Stephen’s theory of Hamlet.
1) Theme of father-son reconciliation suggested by theological references (father and son of the Trinity) and by Stephen’s Hamlet theory. His guilt about his mother is closely related to these themes.
2) Stephen’s references to Mulligan suggest that Mulligan is John the Baptist to his Christ. Appropriately, then, Stephen is the Son in this Trinity, Mulligan his precursor (and betrayer). Betrayal is a paramount issue in Stephen’s relations with friends, just as betrayal and fidelity are the center of the Leopold/Molly-Odysseus/Penelope relation.
3) Ireland is personified in the milklady as “The Old Woman.” The crone figure will appear again.
4) References to a drowned body and to Mulligan’s saving of a drowning man suggest Shakespeare’s “Full fadom five thy father lies”: the motif of recovering the drowned man, then, connects with a) the theme of the mariner’s return and b) with Stephen’s dream of restoring his lost father.