A Novel Idea: Ulysses by James Joyce

There are writers who are profoundly influenced by where they have come from. It is the intimate knowledge of place and preciously rare talent that, when combined, offers the world novels that can change the way the world sees a city, a country, the world itself.

James Joyce began writing Ulysses in Dublin, Ireland, exactly one hundred years ago, and perhaps he knew that the words he was penning onto paper were to propel his small world, his city, his country, to the forefront of the literary mindset. Or maybe he didn’t, and he was just genius enough, precocious enough, mad enough to write a novel as fearlessly different as Ulysses.

Split into 18 sections, the complex text of Ulysses has simplicity at its heart: it is one man’s day – Leopold Bloom – seen through the human prism of Dublin. It is through this simplistic set up that Joyce was allowed to show the deeply ingrained nuances of his home city; the humor, the tragedy, the rhythm to which life keeps. The language is deeply entrenched with the world it is describing; long passages of stream of consciousness, as well as sections that need to be read in an Irish accent in order to be understood. Everything, from the content, to the themes, to the characters, to the structure and the language, is stylized to heap a deeper identity onto the place and people of which it speaks. Ireland, Dublin, they are inescapably present in every word and letter in the novel.

Bloom and his friends, spend a lot of time in the novel mulling the philosophical questions of life – an ostensibly Irish pastime – producing questions and theories about theology, love, death and relationships. And that is the key to understanding this goliath of a novel. Life is essentially a platform for reflection, from the trivial to the intense, for which there are rarely answers and yet only more questions. It shows what drives the Irish mindset, and why Ireland produces a disproportionately large cadre of writers, poets, philosophers and thinkers that have long mused over the world we live in.

Joyce’s influence all stems from the small world that Joyce knew, his Ireland, his Dublin, and as the forefather of modernist literature, has come to dominate the way we think about literature everywhere in the world.

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