The Specter of Death in James Joyce's "Ulysses"




Stevens, Clay

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Before Sigmund Freud incorporated the death drive into his theories of the unconscious in Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Martin Heidegger emphasized the individuating power of facing death as our “own most-potentiality-for-Being” in Being and Time, Joyce was deeply familiar with the effect of the conflicting forces of life and death on consciousness. A comparison between the personae of Ulysses and these thinkers’ theories reveals a recursive principle at work in Joyce’s construction of character and identity. With technical virtuosity, Joyce employs a detailed account of life’s resistance to the destructive power of death when rendering the characters Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom. By locating vivid death imagery within the separate narrative space of Stephen’s and Bloom’s interiority, and presenting the manner in which they deal with its presence, he distinguishes these two characters from every other persona in the novel. When Buck Mulligan, Simon Dedalus, or C.P. M’Coy speak of death or the deceased, we hear rote and superficial phrases, projected toward an impersonal externality; for Stephen and Bloom, dealing with death and dying is a powerful and personal experience. Considering that our highest esteem is often reserved for those who are willing to face the destructive finality of death, we might also see that the “anti-heroes” Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom emerge as surprisingly courageous.



death, literature, Joyce, James, Ulysses


Stevens, C. (2008). The specter of death in James Joyce's "Ulysses" (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University-San Marcos, San Marcos, Texas.


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