Cats and Dogs: Stream of Consciousness in Ulysses Chapters 1-8

Further word vomit regarding the adventures of Leopold Bloom. . . though now Stephen Dedalus has entered the mix as well (because we’ve finally read chapters 1-3, according to my prof’s special order for reading the book).

Stephen’s thoughts generally, though they are stream of consciousness, take the form of complete thoughts, which is echoed in his grammatical expression: there is a subject (very often Stephen himself), followed by a verb in the present tense, expressing a full action. Thus: “A bloated carcass of a dog lay lolled on bladderwrack … You will not be master of others or their slave. I have my stick,” (37). Here we have three examples of Stephen’s general expression of thought, all complete thoughts, grammatically and  otherwise. Interestingly, Stephen does not stick to referring to himself as “I,” but often adopts the second person with himself, usually to criticize or scold. He reserves I for his own actions (as in “I have my stick” or “I see you”), but uses you to think about his thoughts, dreams, ambitions: anything that makes him who he is. Doing this, he creates distance between himself and that being of emotion and unfulfilled ambition. “I” is not the problem, it is “you.” So though Stephen knows and, to some extent, accepts his own limitations, he cannot embrace them fully, preferring instead to treat them as if they belonged to someone else or to some other self.

Bloom, on the other hand, could not be further from this. Bloom accepts himself an his faults entirely. Grammatically, Bloom differs from Stephen in that he often issues the subject of a sentence entirely, particularly if that subject is himself. Where Stephen has two ways of referring to himself, Bloom has none: his existence is an assumed fact in terms of his own thoughts.

Stephen, too, is lyrical, far more so than Bloom. He is an artist, or at least an aspiring one, whose gift with and for language is all he has to recommend him. His thoughts are full of unusual, poetic diction: “The cry brought him skulking back to his master and a blunt bootless kick sent him unscathed across a spit of sand, crouched in flight” (39) and “two shafts of soft daylight fell across the flagged floor from the high barbicans: and at the meeting of their ray a cloud of coalsmoke and fumes of fried grease, turning” (10). We see the world in the first three chapters through Stephen’s eyes and hear it in his voice; it is colored by his poetic, melancholy perception of it. Bloom, on the other hand, is far from poetic. His language, narrative, and thoughts tend to be far more simplistic than Stephen’s. His narrative is more repetitive, too, as well as more colloquial. Turning the page from chapter 3 and Stephen’s poetic last image (“Moving through the air high spars of a threemaster, her sails brailed up on the crosstrees, homing, upstream, silently moving, a silent ship” (42)), the first sentence of chapter 4 is entirely jarring: “Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls” (45).

This difference in language is reflected in the sorts of tools the two men draw upon when looking upon their worlds. Stephen, as a highly educated man, makes constant reference to philosophy and literature, both obscure and otherwise, throughout his narrative. Bloom, on the other hand, conducts his thoughts in terms of clichés and common knowledge, much of which he remembers partially or incorrectly.

In terms of the encounters with the cat and dog, the differences are astounding. In seeing the dead dog on the beach and its live counterpart come up and sniff it, Stephen thinks only of himself. His first thought is fear: will the dog attack me? Should I move, defend myself? The thought of self-preservation is, naturally, the most self-centric one possible. That this is Stephen’s first thought is testament to his tendency to put himself before all else, just as is the fact that his chapters predominantly express his movements in the first rather than third person, like Bloom’s are. Stephen’s interpretation of the event, though, is also self-centric. In seeing the live dog sniff at the dead dog, Stephen sees in it a reflection of himself: “[the dog] stopped, sniffed, stalked round it, brother, nosing closer, went round it, sniffling … (39). Watching the dog seeing, essentially, a future version of himself in the dead dog on the beach, Stephen contemplates his own fate and mortality. He is like the live dog who looks death in the face and this leads him back to the drowned man expected to wash back up on shore. For Stephen, the live dog exists only in terms of the dead one as the live dog is moving inexorably towards its death, just like he is, and the rest of us are. The fact of the live dog’s life means nothing. It will, inevitably, be dead.

Had Bloom witnessed this very selfsame thing, one imagines his thoughts would have been rather different. In the beginning of chapter 4, Bloom thinks himself into the headspace of his cat, thinking of himself only in terms of how the cat might see him: “Wonder how I might look to her,” (45). Nothing in the short interaction he has with the cat is self-centric. All his interest is concentrated outward, in understanding the cat, the world around him. And though he thinks himself deeply into the head of the cat, this exercise doesn’t prompt any sort of existential philosophizing as it might have done for Stephen, had he decided to attempt the experiment (which, itself, is unlikely). Such a small vignette as Bloom’s interaction with the cat is emblematic of his larger attitude: he is turned outwards, engaged with and curious about the world. Whereas Stephen sees the outside world more as a nuisance, an interrupting force, than anything else and takes things in only with regard to himself.

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