An Odyssey through Ulysses: Nestor

Achilles and Nestor meet for a drink.

History…is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake. (2.387)

The second chapter of Ulysses finds Stephen hard at work giving a group of students a history lesson about Pyrrhus before having a meeting with his boss, Mr. Deasy, wherein the two men discuss the importance of saving one’s money as well as a letter Deasy has written regarding the correlation between Irish cattle and foot-and-mouth disease.

Most notable for me in this chapter is the anti-semitism espoused by Mr. Deasy, Stephen’s miserly boss, echoing from the previous chapter Haines’s fears of the country falling into the hands of the “German jews” (1.667). Deasy expounds on this xenophobia by explaining to Stephen that they “sinned against the light,” adding also that Jews mark the signs of a nation’s decay.

Deasy’s attitude reflects imperialistic Great Britain during the time of the novel’s events—where as Stephen notes, the sun never set on their empire, which included Ireland at the time. History was indeed a nightmare for Stephen, “a servant of two masters…an Englishman and an Italian,” the British monarch and the Pope (1.638-640).

As time stretches on, all that will be left are books to recount the United Kingdom’s imperialistic era, and history books are indeed written by the winners. James Joyce thrashes against this historic hegemony by providing as realistic a depiction of Dublin life at the dawn of the 20th century.

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