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Joyce’s Comedic Self-Revision in “Cyclops”

Abstract

The following paper addresses the “Cyclops” episode in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Joyce’s novel is fraught with epic comparisons, especially in regards to The Odyssey. For example, the protagonist, Leopold Bloom, continually parallels the brave and cunning Odysseus. While these epic comparisons tend to be somewhat insincere, there is an undeniably genuine element in the connection. Similarly, the “Cyclops” episode within the novel contains numerous narrative interruptions that often liken the ordinary to the grand. Yet, the interruptions ultimately mock and parody their subject. This paper relates these two different types of comparisons that are basically structured in the same way—they both relate the banal to the extraordinary—yet they have opposite results. My research draws on key works in Joyce criticism, and argues that the comparisons within “Cyclops” can function as a joke on Joyce’s much used technique of epic parallelism. The joke is that Joyce’s technique of epic parallelism is comically revised into a caricature—the mocking comparisons in “Cyclops.” It is precisely this ability to poke fun at oneself that is the answer to the fanatical patriotism exhibited by the Citizen, the Cyclopean figure within the episode. This performative joke on Joyce’s writing is consistent with Joyce’s habit of comical depictions of his work and of himself; and the analysis in this paper offers this comedic rendering as another facet to consider when examining the ingenuity and complexity of Joycean humor.

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