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  • The Money Question at the Back of Everything:Clichés, Counterfeits and Forgeries in Joyce's "Eumaeus"

The "Eumaeus" episode of Joyce's Ulysses marks the beginning of the Nostos, or return to origins. Likewise the reader, after the dizzying transformations of "Circe," begins the sixteenth episode with some relief: we seem to have returned to recognizable novelistic prose and to a homely world of sandstrewers, brooms and cups of coffee. Along with this apparent realism the narrative is also imbued with the economic ideology of realism—a bourgeois economism in which all objects carry price tags (Vernon 67). Indeed, the narrator foregrounds economics as both form and intent, finding "the money question . . . at the back of everything" (.1114) in a dual sense: habitually employing economic terms to explain behavior, the teller also relies (perhaps unwittingly) upon homologies between money and narration in hopes of discovering a stable economy of meaning.1 The reassurances these homologies promise soon dissolve for, beneath the appearance of realism, beneath the narrator's bourgeois ideology and entrepreneurial plans, a counternarrative emerges that challenges conventional economies of meaning, subverts stable identity and undermines the belief that money explains and stabilizes value. As part of the Nostos, "Eumaeus" is also much concerned with origins and originality. In this regard, too, the very homologies that seem to reassure actually problematize the relationships among origins, value and authenticity: here money and narratives are counterfeit; identities are [End Page 821] genuine forgeries; charity is just a disguise for profit-making. These tensions in the economy of "Eumaeus," then, expose tensions in the concepts of originality, genuineness, ownership, and value upon which the money economy and the economy of realism are based. In addition, these problematic relationships ultimately shed new light on both the relationships between the narrator and the protagonists and the relationship between Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom.

I. Coining Words

The episodes of the Odyssey that correspond to "Eumaeus" depict narrative as deception and disguise. In Book XIII Odysseus is finally taken home by the Phaiakians, his ship laden with the treasures he has received in exchange for his colorful tales: his narratives have earned substantial returns. Profoundly asleep when he lands, the awakened Odysseus fails to recognize both Ithaca and Athena, the latter appearing to him disguised as a boy and telling him where he is; asked to identify himself in return, Odysseus contrives an elaborate fiction of origins that identifies himself as a wandering, ragged Cretan. As in the "Cyclops" episode, here Odysseus responds to a request for identification with a lie, thus implying the unreliability of such narrative identification.2 Praising him—"you play a part as if it were your own tough skin" (239)—Athena transforms him into just such a ragged old man (244), thereby making his lie true. Then in Book XIV Odysseus approaches the hut of his swineherd Eumaeus, who fails to penetrate his disguise but welcomes him anyway. Though Eumaeus is dubious of travelers' tales ("wandering men tell lies . . . for fresh clothing"; they can "work [a] story up at a moment's notice, given a shirt or cloak" [251]), he asks the Cretan to identify himself. Once again Odysseus responds with a narrative disguise, embellishing the tale he told Athena and offering a story that parallels his real history at several points. Despite his skepticism, Eumaeus credits the entire narrative—all but the true part in which the Cretan claims that Odysseus is alive and will soon return to reclaim his oikos. One of his stories (about receiving a cloak from Odysseus) earns the Cretan a warmer cloak. Here, then, narratives are cloaks, false skins, truthful lies by means of which tellers earn return gifts. Narrative is a medium of exchange whose value as currency depends not upon veracity or proof of origins but upon fictional credibility. Joyce's "Eumaeus" likewise treats narrative as counterfeit currency, as disguise and deception; however, in Joyce's reworking of the tale, money is also subject to the deceptions inherent in narrative.

Just as the Odyssey portrays Odysseus's attempts to return to his place of origin, so "Eumaeus" charts the beginning of Bloom's return. Joyce's schema gives...


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