One of the most memorable episodes in James Joyce’s Ulysses occurs in the “Circe” chapter, when Leopold Bloom is transformed into a woman during his masochistic encounter with Bella Cohen, who herself transforms into a man. This gender swap is often cited as the culmination of Bloom’s feminine nature in the novel—not only is he the “new womanly man,” but he has also literally become a new woman (16.1798-1799). Such a confusion of gender has inspired a wide array of responses as critics attempt to wrestle with this rather confusing—if endearing—modern Ulysses. Bloom’s effeminate nature has also given rise to a body of literature about his sexuality, as queer theory and gender studies began to make their way into Joyce criticism. Stephen has also been examined through these critical lenses, as has Molly, but all three have not been examined together, nor have their genders and sexualities been analyzed with regard to one another. As such, a new reading of Ulysses’s complicated central trio is required: Ulysses is a book known for its sense of hyperrealism, and in this spirit, the ambiguity of its characters’ genders and sexualities must be read as realistic portrayals of gender and sexuality in the modern world. Joyce sought to create characters like the “all-round” man Ulysses, so it follows, then, that his characters’ “roundness” would include a more ambiguous representation of gender and sexual identity. Additionally, Joyce wanted to deconstruct the English language to suit his purposes, and thus he might also choose to deconstruct traditional gender identities to present a new, modernist vision of man and woman, or something in-between. Indeed, a purely heterosexual perspective is too limited for Joyce’s aims. Something new, something more worthy of the gravitas and reality of a project like Ulysses must therefore be sought beyond the limits of long-established social boundaries.
Heffner, Samantha, "Blurring the Lines: The Ambiguity of Gender and Sexuality in Ulysses" (2017). The Expositor: A Journal of Undergraduate Research in the Humanities. 10.
The Expositor: A Journal of Undergraduate Research in the Humanities