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Don’t Call Him “Blazes”: Hugh E. Boylan’s Narrative Caricature

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 48, Number 2, Winter 2011
pp. 229-249 | 10.1353/jjq.2011.0049



Is the figure of Hugh “Blazes” Boylan in Ulysses a simple caricature, or is there more to him than that? The question invites us to explore what precisely we know about Boylan and how we learn what we know about him. It also prods us to think theoretically about the issue of how character is constructed in a work of fiction, and specifically what features determine whether a character is flat or round—a question that draws our attention to interiority. Given how significantly Boylan’s actions affect the plot and the fate of the Blooms in the novel, it is surprising that Boylan is given less interiority than many other minor characters and emerges generally as a caricature constructed by a small set of repeated features noted chiefly in the thoughts of Bloom and through the descriptions and innuendoes of narrative voices. Does this construction challenge the reader to question the fairness of Boylan’s representation and to distrust the subjectivity that infects his representation? By the end of Molly Bloom’s monologue, we have both a more complicated sense of this figure and a more cautious response to the ways fictional writing may prompt and condition our judgments.