From charlesreid1

Explanation of my 2016 reading of Ulysses.


Before starting to read Ulysses, I revisited Dubliners, James Joyce's collection of short stories. This was helpful for a number of reasons:

  • There are several characters that appear in both Dubliners and Ulysses, so there will be a few familiar faces.
  • There are several events referenced in both Dubliners and Ulysses.
  • James Joyce's writing can take some time to adjust to - it's very dense and often difficult to understand. It takes some practice to return to the mode of reading actively, constantly scanning for clues while reading, cross-referencing other parts of the book, or actively seeking out threads to connect with other works of literature.

Dubliners stories read: "Araby", "Two Gallants", "Ivy Day in the Committee Room", "Grace", and "The Dead"



  • Begin reading Ulysses with Chapters 1-3. These parts of Ulysses correspond to the parts of Homer's The Odyssey that talk about Telemachus. Stephen Daedalus is a symbol of the son, Telemachus, while Leopold Bloom, whom we meet in Chapter 4, is a symbol of the father, Odysseus.
  • The first three chapters don't introduce you, full on, to the narration of action together with a character's stream-of-consciousness. Rather, Chapters 1-2 are more traditional - they describe what's going on, and inject fragments of thought into the narration. Chapter 3 is full-bore stream of consciousness, but there essentially no action to describe, as Stephen is simply walking along the beach.


  • Once you get past the first three chapters, things transition to include a full description of the action, plus the stream of consciousness of the main character.
  • As each chapter progresses, the narration techniques and writing styles will become much more fluid. Each chapter can be thought of as a standalone experiment in some particular method of narration or writing.
  • Some chapters are more difficult to understand than others. Don't be afraid to skip a chapter or two - if you aren't enjoying reading your book, what's the point?!


  • Be aware that Joyce left the most dense and difficult chapters to be nearer to the end. You will definitely want a guide for Chapters 12-17.
  • Each of these chapters has an unusual narration technique, which can make it very confusing to follow if you don't know what Joyce is doing. But remember, you don't have to figure it out for yourself - many people have gone before you in reading Ulysses, and have done all of the hard work of looking things up in the library for you.


  • To make it full-circle, I listened to Chapters 15 through 18, with minimal or no notes or research. It means I missed a lot - probably 90% - but made it all the way through.
  • Planting flags is important!

How To Actually Read Ulysses:

  • Read each chapter multiple times. It takes longer, but then, each time you listen to the chapter, you pick up something different. You would be amazed at how long it can take us to pick up on something. You'll still be noticing new things the tenth or twelfth time through.
  • Read it while listening to the audio book. Like reading a chapter multiple times, you'd be amazed at how completely different a chapter will sound, even if you've already read it. Shakespeare is the same way - seeing it performed, hearing it read aloud, is an entirely different experience than reading it.
  • Read it with a pencil in your hand. Ulysses has recurring themes, phrases, images, and symbols; underlining something helps it stick in your mind, and makes it easier to go back and find later. There are also many patterns that you'll notice occurring in little flashes - for example, in Chapter 12, there is a back-and-forth dialogue between two characters, and over the course of ten or so lines, each continually does something different with his hands. In Chapter 13, colors occur throughout the chapter. Underlining helps draw out those patterns. Eventually you can begin to ask questions about it. Why is Joyce focusing on hands? Why colors? Why spend so much time on a seemingly irrelevant detail?
  • Remember: among other things, Ulysses is a giant linguistic puzzle. It should be used for enrichment and entertainment, and reading it should bring you happiness. If that isn't happening, skip to the next chapter. Change the way you're reading it. Look up a study guide. Talk to someone about it.

How to Listen to Ulysses:

  • It's useful to listen to Ulysses alongside your reading. (Not every chapter, necessarily, but with some chapters at least.)
  • Recommended audio book is the Naxos audio book - an excellent reader, and a great performance.
  • You can also listen to Librivox audio books - some are good. See Ulysses/2011 for notes on which ones to listen to.

Joyce Quotes

I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of ensuring one's immortality.

- James Joyce

You began Catholic, that is to say, you began with a system of values in stark opposition to reality. Your mental existence is obsessed by a monstrous system of contradictions.

- James Joyce, Letters I (275)

Table of Contents