“fullblooded life”

 “fullblooded life”


Leopold Bloom’s Embodied Empathy

Leopold Bloom is a character you can “see and hear and feel.” 1 Much care is taken into making him a man of physicality. In the scene in which the reader first observes him, Bloom cooks a kidney, eats it and then later, excretes. In one chapter, he has ingested, digested, and produced waste, which is much more than what Stephen Dedalus does in three chapters. Joyce continuously reminds readers that this is a man that thinks about the world around him from inside the confines of his body. While he ponders abstract concepts, like love and compassion, he is aware of the underlying processes of his body and the bodies around him. Everything, from his thoughts on grief (“Broken heart. A pump after all, pumping thousands of gallons.”), the grieving process (“Not much grief there. Quarter mourning. People in law, perhaps.”), to the way he distracts himself (“The nails. Yes”) are filtered through the lens of and lead back to the body.2 This is in strong contrast to Stephen, who searches for himself everywhere other than his own skin. While the first observation focuses on Stephen’s failure at being a part of the world, this observation concerns how Bloom’s physical nature works in tandem with his consciousness and leads him to empathize with those around him. In a way, he becomes a Christ figure, a son of man (the body) and of the spirit, who is able to make sacrifices for and consider the positions of the other Dubliners.

The link between Bloom’s physicality and his emotional intelligence is brought to the forefront in chapter six, “Hades.” As Bloom goes to Paddy Dignam’s funeral with Cunningham, Dedalus and Power, he comes face to face with the issues that plague his friends, their “broken hearts.”  At the funeral, Bloom notices some funeral goers, and it’s because he connects emotions to physical representations. He states, “Not much grief there. Quarter mourning. People in law, perhaps.” 3 In a strange way of approximating how much Dignam meant to the mourners, Bloom notices their attire. Grief to Bloom is something you can wear. While this attitude toward other people’s feelings might seem simple, it shows that he is constantly noticing details about other people that other characters are not attuned to. This keen eye is the same one that observes Cunningham’s “large eyes” and sees that he is a “sympathetic human” with “always a good word to say.”4 As Bloom perceives Cunningham, and looks into his eyes, Bloom thinks of the trouble that Martin is having with his wife. The two men share a connection for a moment; Martin knows of Bloom’s father’s suicide and Bloom knows of Cunningham’s issues with his wife. The pain that they share is what Bloom calls a “broken heart.” 5 That is, heartbreak is more than an emotion; Bloom feels and thinks of heartbreak physically. The heart is “a pump after all, pumping thousands of gallons of blood every day. One fine day, it gets bunged up and there you are.”6 In the same way broken hearts are a type of emotional death, they are also of the body, and the body deteriorates as well. However, this death, emotional or physical, becomes “blood sinking in the earth [that] gives new life.” 7 Bloom enacts the cycle of life and death. As bodies break down and decay, they become fertilizer for a new form of life, and Bloom realizes that the same cycle occurs with emotions. As he learns to deal with the grief of his father passing and the impending incident of his wife’s affair, Bloom is undergoing an emotional metamorphosis. With this, the grave becomes a womb, a coffin band becomes “his navelcord” and a fragile connection remains between the life and death of emotions. A second birth, that is yet to occur: “the gates [glimmer] in front: still open.”8 As he walks out of the cemetery, he is walking out of the grave of his own broken heart which has been reborn by hope. There is still “plenty to see and hear and feel yet” in his body and of the world around him. 9

Because of his ability to empathize with those around him, his understanding of embodied emotions, and his status as an outsider, Bloom becomes a savior figure in the novel. He is compared to Jesus and Moses. This is hinted at in the “Kyrie Eleison!” section of chapter seven. A conflict that Joyce explores in Ulysses is that of Irish independence. In chapter seven, parallels are drawn between the British colonization of Ireland, the Roman’s conquest of the Greeks, and Egypt’s enslavement of the people of Isreal. In “Kyrie Eleison!,” Professor MacHugh, one of Bloom’s coworkers, extends this discussion. In a regular Kyrie, the invocation “Christ have mercy” is sung three times. Here the three iterations are “Kyrios!”, “Kyrie!”, and “Kyrie Eleison!”, each a cry for a savior from British oppression, the same way the Jews were saved by Moses and the Christians were saved by Christ from their oppressors.10 Furthermore, the comparison continues in the section “From the Fathers,” in which the Irish are compared to the Jews (“Israel is weak and few are her children”) and it is Moses (Bloom) that “brought the chosen people out of their house of bondage.”11 As an empathetic “outsider,” Bloom meets the requirements for the savior that the men are looking for and the allusions continue in chapter eight.

The reader is once again returned to the internal, eating and digestion take the foreground in this chapter, and the concept of consumption, and rebirth are referenced as Bloom shows his penchant for embodied empathy. “Heart to Heart talks” reads the flier Bloom holds at the very beginning of the chapter, followed by “Bloo. . . Me? No. Blood of the Lamb.”12 The mention of the “heart to heart” alludes  to the funeral in chapter six , and pulls into focus Bloom’s emotional depth which is constantly depicted in this chapter. With each new depiction the reader sees Bloom empathize with a new person or animal which leads to a better understanding of his compassion.The mention of the emotional communication, a “heart to heart”, followed by Bloom mistaking his name for one of Jesus’s names frames the chapter, in which Bloom empathizes with and helps those he can, physically as well as emotionally. As Bloom passes through the city, he feels pity for Dedalus’s daughters and thinks to himself, “Good Lord, that poor child’s dress is in flitters.”13 As he is on is way, he cannot stop and help them, but in a form of wish fulfillment he stops: “wait. Those poor birds,” he thinks, and then he feeds the seagulls. 14 He empathizes with Mrs. Breen about her husband offering emotional support: “I believe you. Trust me.”15 And feels compassion for Mina Purefoy and imagines himself in her condition noting that giving birth to a child would “kill” him.16 While he helps the blind stripling cross the street, he contemplates perception and thinks, “Poor fellow! Quite a boy. Terrible. Really terrible. What dreams could he have, not seeing?” 17 These interactions are examples of the “Heart to Heart talks” mentioned at the beginning of the chapter. While the writing on the flier at the beginning of the chapter is in reference to the Gospel, the phrase “heart to heart” comes to signal a deep emotional exchange. Bloom’s methods of connecting are physical as well as emotional like his feelings about grief and heart break. After helping the blind boy across the street, Bloom closes his eyes in order to understand the way the boy perceives the world. With his eyes closed, he touches his cheek which is “[n]ot smooth enough” and feels “a slack fold of his belly.”18 This example of the physical and emotional heart to heart exemplifies how Bloom thinks about the world and those around him. Just as Christ empathized with men and lived as one physically, Bloom empathizes with and imagines himself in the positions of those he encounters throughout the novel.

How does Bloom’s consumption intersect with his embodied empathy? Look to the rats. Joyce’s inclusion of rats in his depiction of Dublin is a minute detail that adds depth to the theme of consumption and production. In chapter six, Bloom notices the rats in the cemetery and thinks to himself that the corpse must be “ordinary meat” for the rats.19 In a way, the rats are Dubliners and they live life just like the other characters do, eating, consuming, and producing, straddling the line between life and death. Bloom is the only character who notices these small Dubliners and their similarities to his fellow humans. Because Bloom is so conscious of what he consumes and produces, he is tuned into the production and consumption of those around him, including the animals in the city. This is a huge contrast from Stephen Dedalus who spends most of his time drifting in the ether of his own thoughts.

This attention to life differentiates Bloom from the other characters in the novel who seem to ignore such nuances because they are not as present in their physical bodies.  As he eats and excretes food, he also consumes the emotions of those around him and processes them. The digestion of food and emotion occur simultaneously in Bloom linking them together throughout the novel. No body escapes Bloom’s emphatic eye. He is acutely aware of his needs and how human he is, and this allows him to understand the humanity in everything.



  1. James Joyce, Ulysses, (Vintage Books, 1990), 115.
  2. Joyce, Ulysses, 105; 92; 92.
  3. Joyce, Ulysses, 92.
  4. Joyce, Ulysses, 96.
  5. Joyce, Ulysses, 105.
  6. Joyce, Ulysses, 105.
  7. Joyce, Ulysses, 108.
  8. Joyce, Ulysses, 114.
  9. Joyce, Ulysses, 115.
  10. Joyce, Ulysses, 133.
  11. Joyce, Ulysses, 143.
  12. Joyce Ulysses, 151.
  13. Joyce, Ulysses, 152.
  14. Joyce, Ulysses, 153.
  15. Joyce, Ulysses, 158
  16. Joyce, Ulysses, 161.
  17. Joyce, Ulysses, 182.
  18. Joyce, Ulysses, 182.
  19. Joyce, Ulysses, 114.
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