In James Joyce’s Ulysses readers encounter Stephen Dedalus’s search for identity – a search which will be present through the entire narrative. At the heart of Ulysses is Stephen’s relationship with his mother. Stephen describes both the real mother who reared him and is now dead and an imagined mother serving as a symbol who is a product of Stephen’s consciousness having fear and anxiety (Hill 329). Mother love is idealized by Stephen in Ulysses: “Amor matris,” says Stephen, “subjective and objective genitive, may be the only true thing in life” (207).
The concept of “amor matris,” or mother love, shows the magic power of the mother’s fertility. Motherhood is the only fact of life about which Stephen is confident. A mother’s love, the dyadic relationship in which the mother and child are inseparable, however, Stephen experiences only nostalgically. He attempts to articulate it, when it is over. Thus Stephen’s fantasy of a selfless love is marked by a sense of loss.
Main Body Although Stephen has buried his mother, she subsequently appears as a ghost.
With his own mother dead, it is normal for Stephen to direct his attention sooner or later to Molly Bloom, the Magna Mater presiding over Ulysses. But Molly is something more than a mere person which serves in place of real mother. She symbolizes the sinful flesh, the claims of nature, and human love. Stephen’s attraction toward her is symptomatic of his disillusionment with all forms of patriarchal pressure (political authority and the Old Testament).
She is like a moral goal towards which he is drawn as a result of his opposition to the church.
As Murray explains: “If a man, who believes somehow in the reality and ultimate worth of some religion of gentleness and unselfishness, looks through the waste of nature to find support for his faith, it is probably in the phenomena of motherhood that he will find it first and most strikingly”(Goldberg 36). For Stephen the pain is very strong by the fact that his mother is dead. She has left him alone. She has taken with her his assurance of being related to the world and to himself.
She has left the terrible anxiety about his loss. Moreover, she became the “ghostwoman” who appears to Stephen in the dream of death that lives in his memory throughout the day, together with memories and reflections about the mother in life. Added to his uneasiness about the psychic separation that is necessary for his growth into manhood is the hopeless realization that there is no physical woman to take the mother’s place: “She, she, she,” he says repeatedly in “Proteus,” “What she? ” (426).
As Stephen comes intermittently into focus through the text, so does as much again in strength the problem of the loss of his mother and his necessity for a woman to take her place. The Stephen’s persistent idea with his dead mother is lightened at times by tenderness, but gradually is darkened by feeling of distress, anger, and offence over the relationship. Stephen’s memories of his mother start in “Telemachus” with the recall of his periodic dream of her in her “loose brown graveclothes” (103-4), which draws from him his initial plea for release – “let me live.”
Stephen’s reflection to the memories of his mother in life and in death vibrates at the beginning between the desire for separation and the desire for continuous dependence, and his plea for release in “Telemachus” – “No, mother! Let me be and let me live” (279). In order to become capable of giving immortality to his life, in art, Stephen must first become a man. This requires a rebirth, not through the spirit, as it is in religion, but like the birth from the mother, occurring through the flesh of the loved woman: “in woman’s womb.”
Stephen considers this rebirth seriously. At the end, Stephen is reborn in the text. This rebirth is textually completed at the middle of “Ithaca,” when Bloom opens the garden gate for Stephen, and a birth image includes meanings of the pun on “in woman’s womb. ” Bloom inserts a “male key” into “an unstable female lock,” to reveal “an aperture for free egress and free ingress” (215-19). This is the “rebirth into a new dimension” and is also Stephen’s participation in the incarnation of the artist (Goldberg 96).
Stephen’s image in “Telemachus” of his mother’s “glazing eyes, staring out of death, to shake and bend my soul. . . . to strike me down” (273-76), brings from him the most dramatic raising of the terrible mother. “Ghoul! Chewer of corpses! ” (278) is a manifestation of rejection which is definitely confirmed in ‘Circe” at the appearance of The Mother. Stephen’s mother shelters and nurtures her son with her body, her blood, her “wheysour milk,” who saves him from “being trampled underfoot” by the outside world (141-47).
This motif of interchange between the loving and horrible aspects of the mother, presented in the first two episodes of Ulysses, is repeated in moments of memory any time Stephen’s mother becomes present in the text, until in “Oxen of the Sun,” the birth chapter, Stephen describes his release from the mother’s threat through his proposed appropriation, as an artist, of her sophisticated power: “In woman’s womb word is made flesh, but in the spirit of the maker all flesh that passes becomes the word that shall not pass away. This is the postcreation” (292-94).
Haunted through the whole of the day by the memories of his mother in death and in life, Stephen has moved from his loneliness in the morning, coupled with his inner plea to his mother to free him – “Let me be and let me live” – to this statement of purpose at the maternity hospital. And this statement leads to his claim to a creative power that is greater than that of the mother (Hill 329). In “Circe,” then, The Mother meets with Stephen directly as the terrible mother, in her “leper grey,” with her “bluecircled hollow eyesockets” in her “noseless” face, “green with gravemould” (156-60).
And here in the brothel, Stephen releases from the mother. This release is necessary for Stephen to become the divine creator of his proclamation. The release is accomplished in the unconscious, which is the ruling principle of “Circe. ” The conversation between mother and son in a fundamental manner repeats Stephen’s encounters with her memory in the daytime, more or less changed, but still with the same odd balance between the loving and the horrible that is associated with the conscious memories.
For although The Mother brings with her a message of death – “All must go through it, Stephen…. You too” (182-83) – she contains powerful features of the loving mother. As Stephen frightfully denies responsibility for her death – “Cancer did it, not I” (U 15:4187) – The Mother claims, “You sang that song to me. Love’s bitter mystery” ( U 15:4189-90). This line from Yeats’s ‘Who Goes with Fergus? ” can be found in “Telemachus,” as Mulligan leaves the parapet, humming: And no more turn aside and brood
Upon love’s bitter mystery For Fergus rules the brazen cars. (239-41). The paradox found in “love’s bitter mystery” colours The Mother’s answer to Stephen’s plea, “Tell me the word, mother, if you know now. The word known to all men” (U 15:4192-93). Twice before Stephen has asked the same question in his thoughts about “the word known to all men”: in Proteus (435) and in “Scylla and Charybdis” (429-30). In all the episodes in which the question is asked, in only one is a clear answer given.
The answer, actually, had never been in the published text of Ulysses until Hans Walter Gabler’s 1984 Critical and Synoptic Edition interpreted five lines in “Scylla and Charybdis” (U 9:427-31) – forty-three words, eleven of them in Latin (Deming 129). This text, restored to one of the most scrutinized carefully segments in Ulysses, the source of most liked quotations about art and life, about fathers and sons, about mothers and sons, described love as the “word known to all men” (Deming 129).
Richard Ellmann, in his 1984 presentation address to the Ninth International James Joyce Symposium in Frankfurt, presented the audience with his own identification of the word known to all men as love, claiming that the word was “perhaps” death (Deming 129). Kenner’s position that it might be death is much more than clear in his 1956 Dublin’s Joyce, where he describes Dublin as ‘the Kingdom of the Dead” and characterizes Molly’s final “yes” as “the ‘Yes’ of authority: authority over this animal kingdom of the dead. ” The mother thus becomes the image of the “bitter mystery.”
The complete answer to the question Stephen asks about the “word known to all men” is not ‘love” or “death” but “love” and “death” – for whatever is born of the flesh through love will die at the end (Goldberg 156). In “Circe,” The Mother answers to Stephen’s plea with a conflicting blending of the loving and the terrible mother. The Mother in “Circe” is not gentle. True, she gives evidences of her love for her sun – amor matris – in terms that echo Stephen’s own thoughts that his mother “had saved him from being; trampled underfoot” (146): “Who saved you…?
Who had pity for you? ” (196). But when she asks for Stephen’s penitence, she becomes for him ‘The ghoul! Hyena! ” (198-200). And as the Mother continues to present assurances of her love and concern – “I pray for you… Get Dilly to make you that boiled rice…. Years and years I loved you” (202-3) – her simultaneous threat of “the fire of hell” brings from Stephen the words of appeal, “The corpsechewer! Raw head and bloody bones” (212-14), together with the echo in “Circe” of his rejection in ‘Telemachus”: “Ghoul! Chewer of corpses! (278).
Up to this point in the meeting with The Mother, although mother and son communicate, they do not touch each other. But with Stephen’s frantic denial of The Mother’s final demand for remorse, a crab unexpectedly appears, and mother and son touch through the crab. This “green crab with malignant red eyes,” although evidently autonomous, is nevertheless mysteriously, ambiguously connected with The Mother, who “raises her blackened withered right arm slowly towards Stephen’s breast with outstretched finger,” uttering, “Beware God’s hand! ” as the crab “sticks deep its grinning claws in Stephen’s heart” (217-21).
This crab is real, and at the same time “Cancer did it, not I” (187) – has all features of a primary creature from the dark depths of Stephen’s unconscious. Stephen’s crab is not visible to others, and his inner creature is not certainly visible even to him. But the terrible ghost with whom both crab and dragon are connected remains – for the reader and for Stephen himself – Stephen’s mother (Hill 329). Even Stephen’s references to Mother Ireland, Cathleen ni Houlihan, are tinged with gender bias. Stephen betrayed his mother as well as Mother Ireland.
In the early morning at the Martello tower, he connects the old milk woman with the Shan van Vocht, “silk of the kine and poor old woman” (403), but doubtfully recognizes that the “wandering crone’ serves the “conqueror and her gay betrayer [Mulligan]” (403-5). Unlike the patriots who glorify Mother Ireland, Stephen thinks of “Gaptoothed Kathleen, her four beautiful green fields, the stranger in her house” (184). Mulligan and Stephen at the Martello connect woman with nature: the “great sweet mother” (78) of the sea. “Our mighty mother” (85) is, as in case with the Romantic poets, nature (Rickard 215).
In Ulysses, there is Stephen’s misogyny. He realizes the significance of “woman’s place” in a man’s life and in his sense of himself. Ulysses is, without doubt, typically a man’s book. It begins and ends with the mother figures who complete the male artist’s self. The mother, who is the “first incarnation of the anima archetype” (330), enters Ulysses with young Stephen and stays with him throughout most of Bloomsday. Thus, in Ulysses, though there are not many women, Joyce has presented to readers in symbolic terms the important interdependence and complementarity of the man and the mother.