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Theme of Motherhood in James Joyce’s Ulysses

James Joyce structured Ulysses to correspond with events in Homer’s Odyssey. The relationship between two principle characters in Ulysses, Leopold Bloom as a sonless father and Stephen Dedalus as a fatherless son parallels the circumstances of Odysseus and Telemachus. This interpretation of the relationship between Bloom and Stephen, however, does not account for a significant theme of Ulysses, that of motherhood. Despite the idea that Bloom is a father looking for a son and that Stephen is a son looking for a father, the desires of both of these characters go beyond that of a father and son relationship. Although Joyce makes it evident that Bloom is, in face, in search of a son, Bloom is more suited to assuming the role of a mother than a father to that son. In Stephen’s case, it is difficult to determine whether he is in search of a father, a mother, or whether he is attempting to free himself from maternal ideas and figures altogether.

Before exploring the role of the maternal caregiver in the lives of Bloom and Stephen’s, it is important to first establish motherhood as a powerful theme of the novel. In Ulysses, women are portrayed as unfaithful; Bloom’s wife, Molly, is having an affair with Blazes Boylan, Stephen maintains that Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, was unfaithful to her husband, and in the play that Stephen discusses, Hamlet, Gertrude betrays her husband. Despite these negative images of women, Joyce does not underplay the importance of motherhood. Bloom realizes that “Home always breaks up when the mother goes,” and he believes that a mother’s duty to her son is “To protect him as long as possible even in the earth [after death]” (pp. 151, 110). Bloom even wants to keep a talisman, a small potato, because i…

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…rom representations of motherhood contributes to the ultimate failure of a lasting bond between Bloom, who attempts to be Stephen’s surrogate mother, and Stephen, who rejects Bloom’s offer to stay in his home. Being disillusioned with his father, and feeling resentment toward his mother, perhaps Stephen instead seeks a “lover” to fulfill his need for nurturing as he wonders when and how he will ever find a partner. Thus, the acceptance, rejection, fulfillment, and significance of motherhood pervades Ulysses. Joyce not only equates motherhood with the universal role of nature and the cycle of life, but he also extends the role of motherhood into the production of literature when Stephen claims that “In woman’s womb word is made flesh” (p. 391). Continuing this analogy, Joyce becomes the “mother” of Ulysses, a novel unprecedented in style, imagination, and technique.

The Themes in Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown

The Themes in “Young Goodman Brown”

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” the reader finds several themes. These will be discussed in this essay.

Morse Peckham in “The Development of Hawthorne’s Romanticism” explains what he interprets Hawthorne’s main theme to be:

Once the self has been redeemed from society it can be explored in its own terms, and for this purpose Hawthorne developed his peculiar use of emblematic allegory. . . . This technique, though Hawthorne’s is different from that of European writers, creates analogies between self and not-self, between personality and the worlds. . . .Henceforth Hawthorne’s theme is the redemption of the self through the acceptance and exploitation of what society terms the guilt of the individual but which to the Romantic is society’s guilt (92).

The interplay between the guilt of the individual, Goodman, and society’s guilt, underlies all of “Young Goodman Brown” from beginning to end.

In reading Hawthorne’s tales, Herman Melville in “Hawthorne and His Mosses” (in Literary World, August 17, 24, 1850) makes discoveries relevant to the themes:

Where Hawthorne is known, he seems to be deemed a pleasant writer, with a pleasant style,–a sequestered, harmless man, from whom any deep and weighty thing would hardly be anticipated:–a man who means no meanings. But there is no man, in whom humor and love, like mountain peaks, soar to such a rapt height, as to receive the irradiations of the upper skies;–there is no man in whom humor and love are developed in that high form called genius; no such man can exist without also possessing, as the indispensable complement of these, a great, deep intellect, which drops down…

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…“The Return into Time: Hawthorne.” In Hawthorne – A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by A.N. Kaul. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.

Martin, Terence “Six Tales.” In Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Twayne Publishers Inc., 1965.

Melville, Herman. “Hawthorne and His Mosses,” The Literary World August 17, 24, 1850.

Peckham, Morse. “The Development of Hawthorne’s Romanticism.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.

Swisher, Clarice. “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.

Wagenknecht, Edward. Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Man, His Tales and Romances. New York: Continuum Publishing Co., 1989.

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