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An Extraordinary Ordinary Man

June 22, 2018
Emmetsburg News

Last week in an editorial, my colleague, Anesa McGregor, challenged our subscribers and readers to get back to the basics and read. I agree; and because Anesa made a compelling argument, I feel no need to repeat it. Instead, I will discuss my literary hero and his impact on my life.

Leopold 'Poldy' Bloom is one of two protagonists in James Joyce's "Ulysses." Stephen Dedalus is the other Dublin peripatetic on that fateful Thursday, the 16th of June 1904.

I will not bore you with literary criticism mostly because I don't know anything about it.

Dedalus is the academic -- the tortured intellectual who quotes Aristotle, ruminates on "Hamlet," waxes on ineluctable modalities and confounds readers by his bewildering stream of consciousness. Bloom is everyone else. He is a newspaper ad canvasser. He is a Jew in Catholic Ireland; meaning, he is an outcast. He is a cuckold he spends the day avoiding his wife's lover. He is father to a teenage daughter and a deceased son.

As Bloom gambols about the city that Thursday, he has his ruminations: his suicide father; gravity; blindness; politics and metempsychosis what Molly, his wife, refers to as 'met him with pike hoses.' He ogles a teenage girl as she flirts with him on a swing. He tries to discuss Judaism and Christianity with a windbag and is chased from a pub for his efforts.

After a day of slights and mostly minor epiphanies, an exhausted Bloom falls in with an inebriated Dedalus as they explore the Nighttown section of Dublin in the early hours.

Bloom takes the younger Dedalus home. On the way they share common interests. The two form that type of kinship that only alcohol and the wee hours can nurture.

Bloom is my hero because he is I. Cuckold? Oh yeah. Bullied? Been there. Insecure? You bet. But what I find most compelling about the man is his will. Because he is a Jew, Bloom will never be one of the boys; he knows this. But this knowledge does not prevent him from trying. Bloom does not want to be liked; he wants to be respected.

Bloom may be the most self-aware character in literature. He is a 38-year-old Odysseus who experiences everything through the senses. Unlike Dedalus, who submits his observations to a rigorous aesthetic, Bloom simply is. His postal dalliance with another woman under his nom de plume Henry Flower is so sophomoric it does not qualify as infidelity.

Bloom's hero's journey is literally a journey, a canvass, a day in the life of this wonderfully introspective Dubliner.

The book is not an easy read it has kept scholars scribbling for a century. Be patient. Take it a few pages at a time. Dedalus can be a bore but Bloom never disappoints.



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