Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Three Jokes, One Punchline

I'm still rereading the first chunks of Ulysses; I finished the second chapter around a week ago, and haven't had too much to say about it. But here's a bit of a synopsis, I think.

Stephen Dedalus teaches rich schoolkids to make ends meet. He's kind of bored with the job, and a bit resentful of the kids. He mentions Pyrrhus, leading me to suppose he'll have his own Pyrrhic vicotory coming down the pike. Or the pier, as the kids' joke goes. Another allusion the the drowned man?

Stephen tells a nautical ghost story (of Lycidas, another death at sea) and then poses an unusual riddle that I can't make heads or tails of:

The cock crew
The sky was blue:
The bells in heaven
Were striking eleven.
Tis time for this poor soul
To go to heaven.

He says the punchline/answer to this riddle is, "The fox burying his grandmother under a hollybush." A real knee-slapper, that. I've got no clue what that's about. (Neither do the schoolkids, so there's that.)

Stephen sees himself in an awkward, weakling kid who has trouble with math and is about to be trounced on the sports field. Then he meets with Mr. Deasy.

Deasy gives him his pay, riding him about spending his money wisely and paying his own way through life. This leads Stephen to muse on his own debts.

Then Deasy lectures Stephen on Irish history, about which I'm woefully ignorant. Deasy's a pretty untrustworthy source, it seems to me, anyhow -- his antisemetism and conservative worldview surely color how he tells the history. At several points, he makes allusions to women in classical mythology -- Cassandra and Helen -- calling each a "woman who was no better than she should be." A curious statement, curiously repeated.

Like Haines in Chapter 1, Deasy thinks "England is in the hands of the Jews." (33) He closes the chapter with an antisemetic joke about Ireland being the only country that never persecuted the Jews, since Ireland never let them in in the first place. Ha, ha. Go bury your grandmother under a hollybush, y'know? (Maybe that's the point -- everyone's jokes fall flat to other people in this chapter. There's some social disconnection there.)

There are some terms in Deasy's history lesson (31) that I didn't get right away. "Fenians" are irish nationalists, but who exactly is "O'Connell" that he refers to -- the surname is a little too common for me to wiki. Armagh is a city in Northern Ireland; the "lodge of the Diamond in Armagh" is a mystery. And I've got no idea what he means by "Croppies lie down." (UPDATE: Actually, that phrase googles just fine; it's part of a chorus to an anti-republican folksong. Deasy likes his fight songs.)

This segment is known as "Nestor," for an old warrior in the Trojan war -- he's too old to join in battle, but he gives plenty of advice. Hello, Headmaster Deasy.



Travis said...

Just a quick note before I bounce out of here, the riddle is supposed to be unanswerable.

Rob S. said...

Sweet! Then I got it right!

Anonymous said...

Daniel O'Connell(1775-1847) an Ireland National independence leaders in British Lower House
Maybe you can wiki/google for mor information.

lodge of the Diamond in Armagh
1795.9.21 more than twenty Roman Catholicism Irish countrymen gathered in the lodge of the Diamond in Armagh to protest the decree to renvoi Romanist English colonizer.There was a terrible massacre here and no one survive
(Ulysses chinese version by Xiao Qian and Wen JieRuo)
^^ I finished the second chapter days ago and also confused by the "cock crew " riddle.