The Personal Politics of "Cyclops"


Poblacht na h’Eireann (The Irish Republic). The Provisional Government of the Irish Republic to the People of Ireland
[Dublin: s.n., 23 April 1916]
​Image reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Ireland


The episode known as “Cyclops” takes place at five o'clock in Barney Kiernan’s pub in Dublin. It is, I suppose, the most political episode in Ulysses, and also one of the most stylistically exciting. It was written in 1919, but Joyce did not deal directly in any way with the carnage of the First World War, or the 1916 Easter Rebellion in Dublin, or the ongoing War of Independence against British forces. It is emphatically set in 1904. However, there is a discussion about nations and violence and nationalism and it is, in a way, a veiled response to the very world that Joyce knew being torn apart. He had known Patrick Pierce, who was the leader of the Easter Rebellion, and his friend Francis Skeffington, was murdered on the third day of the Dublin Uprising. But “Cyclops” has its own internal explosions. That even though it is ostensibly set in a pub, with men talking, there are regular interruptions in the style of the episode, where there are parodies and pastiches inserted out of the blue as an exciting intervention of types of discourse that were common in Ireland at the time. So the chapter, stylistically, is hugely adventurous and totally exciting, but in the middle of it, are serious discussions about hatred, about history, and about violence, with Leopold bloom, arguing for a sort of pacifism against the nationalists who are drinking more than he is, and are more heated than he is. But he himself in this episode seems particularly articulate, and particularly serious.