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The world of June 16, 1904, Ulysses is a world of hats: straw hats, silk hats, felt hats, hard hats, soft hats, tall hats, dinged hats, battered hats, boaters, bowlers, billycocks, toppers, Panamas, caps, cocked hats, slouch hats, diaconal hats, Alpine hats, Napoleon hats, sombreros, fezzes, skullcaps, crowns, Mercury's hats, Hamlet's hats, to name only the men's hats. The words "hat" or "hats" appear 194 times in the novel and there are many additional references to hats and to the etiquette of hats. Joyce shows that Dublin remains a tradition-bound society in which men still salute each other with their hats, doff their hats to superiors, and tip their hats to women. You can learn a lot about the manners and morals of a Dubliner by the kind of hat he wears, by how he wears it, and by the actions he takes with it. Hats are arguably the most important of the "symbolic motifs" that Joyce employs to connect the parts of the novel to the whole.1 You can learn a lot about the kind of novel Joyce wanted to write by examining the way hats have "hattracted hattention" throughout Ulysses (FW 99.9).2

The importance of hats in Ulysses is an example of "the materialistic transposition that runs through the book … whose apotheosis," to quote Hugh Kenner, "is the debris-crammed brain of hapless Leopold Bloom."3 Although Wyndham Lewis complained about all the "dead stuff" in Ulysses, more recent critics stress "that what one framework sees as 'dead stuff,' another might place near the center of a symbolic system."4 The advent of so-called "thing theory" has refocused attention on the modernists' interest in "the idea of the idea in things."5 Bill Brown began his influential study A Sense of Things with quotes from Max Weber, "it is only through things that one discerns himself," and from William Carlos [End Page 3] Williams, "Say it, no ideas but in things."6 In a recent study of the representation of clothing in modernist literature, Celia Marshik cited thing theory as urging us "to rethink the firm divide between subject and object."7 Brown described his book as concerning "the slippage between having (possessing a particular object) and being (the identification of one's self with that object). It is a book about the indeterminate ontology where things seem slightly human and humans seem slightly thing-like" (13). I find a similar slippage in Ulysses between the characters and what they wear on their heads. Say it, no ideas but in hats!

This essay is more indebted to comic theory than to thing theory. Philosophers of comedy often arrange theories of comedy into three categories ("the theory of the three theories"): superiority theories, incongruity theories, and relief theories.8 Although examples of all three types of humor can be found in Ulysses, Freud's relief theory that "the gain in pleasure through humour arises out of saved emotional expenditure" is the one that best suits my own purpose (and Bloom's).9

Joyce told a visitor that Finnegans Wake "was meant to make you laugh," and he could have said the same about Ulysses (JJ 716).10 Laughter instigates "the materialistic transposition that runs through the book … whose apotheosis"11 is the derby-crowned brain of "seriocomic" Leopold Bloom (U 15.448).12 As Mikhail Bakhtin noted, "laughter degrades and materializes" but also "heals and regenerates."13 Although Bakhtin maintained that Rabelais's sixteenth-century novel Gargantua and Pantagruel represented "the summit in the history of laughter," he failed to appreciate that Ulysses was another peak in the history of carnivalesque literature (101). Bakhtin's own words provide a good description of Leopold Bloom: "Two aspects of the world, the serious and the laughing aspect, [coexist] in [Bloom's] consciousness" (96). In Joyce's "jocoserious" novel, these two aspects of the world are seen through Bloom's hat (U 17.369). Notwithstanding the "indeterminate ontology" between the hat and the man, the comedy in this relationship is determinate (Brown 13). As Henri Bergson (an incongruity theorist) writes in his essay "Laughter" (1901): "[T]he comic does not exist outside the pale of what is strictly human. … You may laugh at a hat, but what you are making fun of, in this case, is not the piece of felt or straw, but the shape that men have given it,—the human caprice whose mould it has assumed" (62; Bergson's emphasis).14

Joyce "epiphanised" hats in Ulysses in accord with his theory that "the commonest object" can become revelatory (SH 211, 213).15 The "soul" of Bloom "leaps to us from the vestment of its appearance" in his hat (SH 213). [End Page 4] Hats in Ulysses are an example of Joyce's technique of constructing character "by odds and ends, by minutiae," but readers need to remember that hats were more consequential in the early twentieth century than they are today (JJ 368).

All of the important characters in Ulysses are associated with particular hats and characterized by these hats. Buck Mulligan wears a Panama hat. Panamas were the finest of straw hats, but inexpensive versions were available to all social classes. Because Panamas were marketed as hats for "light hearted gentlemen," Mulligan's choice of hats fits his own self-image.16 The reference to Mulligan's "Mercury's hat" (U 1.601) connects him to the messenger god of the ancient Greeks who was depicted in a hat (helmet). "Panamahelmeted" (U 9.1125) Mulligan is no god, though, like Mercury, he is a trickster, but he does deliver one of the novel's sartorial messages when he states that "we'll simply have to dress the character" (U 1.15–16). The Buck refers to his own dandyish clothes when he makes this statement about self-fashioning and also to Stephen Dedalus's "Latin Quarter hat" (U 3.174). Later, Stephen recalls Mulligan's mockery: "My Latin Quarter hat. God, we simply must dress the character" (U 3.174). Stephen's choice of headgear, probably a slouch hat, reflects his artistic pretension and bohemian posturing. In self-mockery, Stephen calls it "my Hamlet's hat" after Mulligan mocks his obsessive interest in Shakespeare's Hamlet (U 3.390).

Bloom's nemesis Hugh "Blazes" Boylan also dresses the character, that of the bounder: "a skyblue tie, a widebrimmed straw hat at a rakish angle and a suit of indigo serge" (U 10.208). Blazes performs his masculinity by affecting what was then known as the "sporting look,"17 a boater with a striped blazer and flannel trousers, as if he were trying to impress one of "those lovely seaside girls" in the 1899 song that Bloom thinks he wrote (U 4.442–43). Throughout the novel, Blazes Boylan is primarily characterized by the straw hat that he purchased at John Plasto's haberdashery at 1 Great Brunswick Street in southeast Dublin. References to Boylan metonymically substitute his clothes, mainly his hat, for the man himself. Molly's soliloquy completes the novel's portrait of Blazes Boylan as a bounder in a boater.

Leopold Bloom's hat is a bowler. As Fred Miller Robinson has shown in The Man in the Bowler Hat, the bowler was the quintessential hat of the middle classes. The bowler also became the "comic hat of modernity" thanks to Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, and indeed Leopold Bloom.18 "Chaplin greets people by taking off his bowler, and it looks [End Page 5] like the lid rising from the kettle when the water boils over," observed cultural critic Walter Benjamin.19 Although Robinson notes the appropriateness of Bloom being given a bowler to wear in Joseph Strick's 1968 film version of Ulysses, he somehow missed that Joyce's comic modern hero is also wearing one in the novel (83). Descriptions of Bloom's hat in the novel—for example, "[t]hese pots we have to wear"—clearly indicate that it is a bowler (U 5.355). When Joyce drew a caricature of Bloom, he depicted him in a bowler hat (see plate xxxvii in JJ).

Jennifer Wicke comments that one of he most pleasurable aspects of Ulysses "stems from the melodramatic grandeur of Bloom, a Chaplin as advertising agent, and the pratfalls he takes, which Joyce himself loved, within mass commodity culture."20 As Chaplin was "his own walking trademark," to quote Walter Benjamin (200), so too is Bloom, walking around Dublin in his trademark hat, a mock-heroic commercial traveler, an Odysseus in a bowler. Joyce was a movie fan who founded and managed Ireland's first movie theater, the Volta, in 1909.21 He was also a Charlie Chaplin fan and attended a Paris showing of The Kid with his daughter, Lucia, in 1921.22 Lucia was so enamored of Chaplin that she used to do impersonations of him at parties, wearing a bowler of course, and published a short article about him in a French journal (JJ 611; Shloss 86–87). "It is about the same length as himself," Joyce told a friend.23 Joyce's comedy in Ulysses contains elements of both Chaplinesque sentiment and carnivalesque satire, the respective voices of Bloom and Buck Mulligan. The first intertitle in The Kid describes it as "A picture with a smile—and perhaps a tear." The sentimental side of Ulysses has a similar, if heartier, quality of "laughtears" (FW 15.9).

Bloom's Chaplinesque qualities are bound up with his bowler. Robin-son points out that British critics have tended to interpret Chaplin's costume as an expression of "his desire to make his arduous way up the social scale," whereas American critics see "a figure of declined caste rather than aspiration, a vaguely genteel person fallen on hard times" (76, 78). The British reading is from bottom to top, from Chaplin's shoes and pants, which suggest his low class origin, to his bowler, which indicates his "brave but ineffectual pretensions to the dignity of the petit bourgeoisie" (qtd. in Robinson 76). The American reading is from bowler to bottom. In this view, "Chaplin's Tramp is 'characteristically American' because he 'refuses to acknowledge defeat'" (qtd. in Robinson 76). Because Bloom's bowler is the only salient feature of his costume, his "bottom-to-top" or "top-to-bottom" qualities must be inferred from his hat alone. In my [End Page 6] interpretation, Bloom's bowler combines the "British" and "American" readings of Chaplin's costume. It signifies class aspiration but also "the opportunity for him to aspire to something beyond social contingency" (Robinson 78). Although Bloom hasn't fallen into the lower classes economically, his behavior, particularly involving his hat, expresses a gentility that is lacking in the Dublin men he encounters in the street. Bloom fits the following description of Laurel and Hardy even better than they do: "Their bowler hats crowned their essential dignity, and the use and misuse of these hats were the activations of their unceasing battle to maintain that dignity" (qtd. in Robinson 80). A straight line can be drawn from Bloom's tragicomic hat to Samuel Beckett's tragicomedy Waiting for Godot with its hat routines in the existential void.

The "British" aspect of Bloom's hat style, which reflects his bourgeois aspirations, is complicated by his Jewish background. Ironically, the bowler became associated with Jews during the 1930s in Nazi Germany and for this reason went out of fashion there (Robinson 113). Yet it was also dangerous to be a Jew in Dublin in 1904, even if there weren't that many. As Louis Hyman writes, "The mere concept of the Irish Jew raised a laugh in the Ireland of Joyce's day."24

The plot of Ulysses is told through its hats. Bloom's first important action on June 16, 1904 is to examine his hat:

The sweated legend in the crown of his hat told him mutely: Plasto's high grade ha. He peeped quickly inside the leather headband. White slip of paper. Quite safe.

(U 4.68–71)

Bloom hides a card in his hat that identifies him as Henry Flower, the pseudonym he uses in a flirtatious correspondence he carries on with Martha Clifford. The words "high grade ha" with the missing "t" are repeated in the next episode, "The Lotus Eaters," at the post office, when Bloom picks up a letter from Martha (U 5.24), and again in the "Sirens" episode when Bloom wonders why he writes these letters, worries that Molly will find out, and decides not to tell her: "Card in my high grade ha. No, not tell all. Useless pain" (U 11.876). This thrice repeated reference to Bloom's "high grade ha" is highly significant, I would argue. The ha in hat highlights the novel's humor and pathos, its comic technique, and Joyce's love of wordplay.

The "ha" word is concealed not only in "hat" but in other important words in the novel. This embedding of the onomatopoeic word for laughter reminds us that life is essentially a comedy for Joyce. "Ha" isn't the [End Page 7] only onomatopoeic word for laughing that Joyce uses. There's also "hee," as in the playfully punning passage about the hard of hearing waiter Pat: "He waits while you wait. Hee hee" (U 11.916–17). More punishing puns mock the cuckold's horns of Bloom: "Horn. Hawhorn" (U 11.23). "Haw haw horn" (U 11.527). Other examples of onomatopoeic variants of the "ha" word are the "Ho Ho Ho Ho," (U 15.3783, 15.3911), "He He He," (15.3805), "Ho Ho! Ha Ha! Hee Hee!" (15.3819), and "Hu Hu Hu Hu Hu Hu" (15.3820) of the whores in the "Circe" episode, reflecting Bloom's laughter at his own sexual humiliation, and even a horse's "Hohohohohohoh! Hohohohome!" at Bloom's lame excuse for being in the red light district (15.4879). Ulysses, of course, is "a great joke on Homer" (JJ 360). Hohohohomer! Finnegans Wake, which also contains a lot of hohohoing, is a great joke on sober notions of death and rebirth:

Hohohoho, Mister Finn, you're going to be Mister Finnagain! Comeday morm and, O, you're vine! Sendday's eve and, ah, you're vinegar! Hahahaha, Mister Funn, you're going to be fined again!

(FW 5.9–12)

Joyce delighted in the persona of a Mister Fun who would turn a funeral into a "funferal" by adding a single letter (FW 120.10). "I am only an Irish clown, a great joker at the universe," he once described himself (qtd. in JJ 703).

Related to the "materialistic transformation that runs through the book" is the linguistic transformation—the outrageous puns, parodies, palindromes, portmanteaus, anagrams, neologisms and homonyms, the missing or transposed letters that turn words into other words or that remind us that "words … are rooted in other words, whose traces they bear."25 Such devices of verbal comedy call attention to the materiality of language by making words self-referential instead of representational. So, too, the fun with phonetics calls attention to the novel's genre, which is comedy, the material genre, the literary domain of "our funnaminal world" (FW 244.13). Thus, the metaphysical doctrine of "metempsychosis" is degraded by a "Who's on first?" style joke: "Met him what?" (U 4.336). "Met him pike hoses" (11.500, 13.1280–81, 16.1473). Like Humbert Humbert, Joyce has "only words to play with."26

Bloom's "high grade ha" makes "soundsense and sensesound" (FW 121.15). When the "t" is dropped, hat sounds like ha, and Joyce doubles [End Page 8] the meaning. When the "t" is returned all hats become funny. By implication, there's a ha in every hat and a hat in every ha, and Ulysses turns into a comedy of hats. "The hat trick!" (U 15.4590). Joyce told Beckett that "every syllable" in his works "could be justified," and so it would seem.27

Not all of Joyce's hat humor is "high grade." Puns, for example, are traditionally regarded as "the lowest form of wit" (Culler 4). In the "Circe" episode, the motorman says to Bloom: "Hey, shitbritches, are you doing the hat trick?" (U 15.195). In cricket, a hat trick is the "feat of taking three wickets with three successive balls" by a bowler.28 Because Bloom wears a bowler, Joyce implies a pun. In Finnegans Wake, Joyce writes, "Grand old Manbutton, give your bowlers a rest!" (FW 607.35–36). Here, "bowlers" puns on "balls," not balls as in cricket but as in men's testicles.29 Addressing Bloom as "shitbritches" lowers the ha even further. According to Tindall, "'The hattrick' is a dirty Irish trick: an Irishman covers a turd on the curb with his hat. Telling a policeman it is a bird, the Irishman goes off for help, asking the policeman to stand guard" (209). The Irishman who shat in his hat could have been Bloom. One of Bloom's secret guilts is the time he defecated in a bucket: "Bowel trouble. In Beaver street. Gripe yes. Quite bad. A plasterer's bucket" (U 15.930–31). Although a bucket isn't a bowler, it looks and sounds like one. Although a bowel isn't a bowler, if you add two letters it puns on one. According to Freud, "it is enough for a pun if the two words expressing the two meanings recall each other."30 If Bloom's hat is sometimes the source of a low grade ha, toilet bowler humor, then it should be remembered that a bowler is only one letter removed from a howler. Puns might be lowly regarded as the excretion of literature, but Joyce's earthy comedy is reminiscent of Rabelais's. To quote Bakhtin: "The mighty thrust downward into the bowels of the earth, into the depths of the human body, is reflected in Rabelais' entire world from beginning to end" (370). "The substitution of the top by the bottom," the bowler by the bowel, effects what Bakhtin calls a "turnabout" (375, 373). Turnabouts turn up (down) frequently in Ulysses, from Bloom's morning bowel movement, to his "usual kissing [of Molly's] bottom" at night (U 18.53).

Bakhtin differentiates between the satirist's laughter and the "people's" laughter. "The satirist … places himself above the object of his mockery" (12). The people's laughter is more ambivalent. It expresses the world's point of view, but "he who is laughing also belongs to it" (12). In Ulysses, the mocking laughter of Buck Mulligan is that of the satirist. Bloom's laughter is always the people's laughter. In one turnabout, the black-clad [End Page 9] Bloom sees a flock of pigeons overhead: "Who will we do it on? I pick the fellow in black" (U 8.402–3). This is the Jewish people's laughter. The distinction between mockery and self-mockery is the difference between Leopold Bloom and Buck Mulligan, an anti-Semite who refers to Bloom as a "sheeny" (U 9.605).

A helpful way to analyze Joyce's technique of comedy is to apply Arthur Asa Berger's theory of humor from The Genius of the Jewish Joke. According to Berger, there are three aspects of humor:

Haha Laughter and PleasureAhah Discovery and PleasureAh Triumph and Pleasure31As Berger explains:

"Ahah" is an inversion of "Haha," and the focus is not on a sudden burst of laughter (which may be connected to insult and aggression, for example) but on an epiphany, a sudden discovery of some relationship between things we had not seen before. "Ah" represents a sense of relaxation, of well-being, of success, perhaps even a sense of triumph in some respect.


Some jokes contain all three of these qualities, and they are the best jokes (Berger 6). Joyce's "high grade ha" jokes display this genius of the Jewish joke. A sudden humorous manifestation turns into "a sudden spiritual manifestation" (SH 211). Joyce wasn't Jewish, but to quote the famous Levy's slogan: "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's real Jewish rye." Bloom, a Jewish advertising canvasser with a wry sense of humor, would have loved the Levy's ad. (The slogan was created by Judy Protas, 1922–2014, born the year Ulysses was published.)

Laughter was important to Joyce, as his friend Frank Budgen recalled in James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses. Joyce's laughter is "free and spontaneous," Budgen wrote. "It is the kind of laughter called forth by the solemn incongruities, the monkeyish trickeries and odd mistakes of social life, but there was no malice in it or real Schadenfreude."32 According to Budgen, "His is the kind of laugh one would expect to hear if the president of the republic took the wrong hat, but not if an old man's hat blew off into the gutter" (14). The comic aspects of hat loss that Budgen distinguishes require some historical explanation. To quote Neil Stein-berg: "Motivated by the triple inspiration of public ridicule, financial loss, and inability to go about one's business, with the possible portend of [End Page 10] doom thrown in, men were inspired to do whatever they could to hang onto their hats."33 Significantly, Bloom is motivated on three occasions in the novel to save a man from the humiliation and comic spectacle of running after his own hat.

Both Bloom and Boylan, the man who cuckolds him, bought their hats at Plasto's haberdashery so they have more in common than the bed they share with Molly. Haha. Bloom's hat must be an old one because his perspiration has sweated off the t. Although wearing a black bowler on June 16 is out of season, Bloom is going to a funeral that day so he might be forgiven for not wearing a straw. But Bloom's unfaithful Penelope complains in her soliloquy that Bloom always wears the same hat. She even uses this fact to justify having sex with Boylan: "God knows hes [Boylan's] a change in a way not to be always and ever wearing the same old hat" (U 18.83–84). Molly's rationalization for adultery invites a skeptical ha! but also an ahah, the laughter of epiphany, a sudden discovery of some relationship between hats and sex that we had not noticed before.

As he goes about the business of his day, Bloom doesn't want to think about Boylan's four o'clock appointment with Molly to bring her the program for their singing tour. "Tenors get women by the score" (U 11.686). Haha. But he keeps glimpsing him: "Straw hat in sunlight. Tan shoes. Turned up trousers. It is. It is" (U 8.1168). Who it is is Boylan, as the hat always indicates: "a gay hat riding on a jauntingcar. It is. Third time. Coincidence" (U 11.302). Is it really a coincidence that Blazes happens to be "wearing a straw hat very dressy, bought of John Plasto, of number one Great Brunswick street, hatter"? (U 11.882–83). There are no coincidences in Joyce's "retrospective arrangement" (U 6.150, 10.783, 11.798, 14.1044, 15.443, 17.1907). Everything connects, including the hats. Although Boylan wears a stylish new boater, it isn't necessarily "high grade." It could be one of those cheap straw hats that were called "throwaways" (Steinberg 230). Add Boylan's hat to the novel's Throwaway/throwaway motif. There are no throw-away lines in Ulysses. Everything is significant. The hat reflects the man. Boylan's character is low grade: "Worst man in Dublin" (U 5.92). So is his music: "He can't sing for tall hats" (U 11.687–88). Bloom can't understand how Molly would be attracted to "a type like that" (U 6.202). Shakespeare defined the type in Much Ado About Nothing: "He wears his faith but as the fashion of his hat."34

At 11:00 a.m., Bloom attends the funeral of Paddy Dignam: "As decent a little man as ever wore a hat" (U 6.303). Although the Homeric parallel [End Page 11] of this episode is to Odysseus's descent into Hades, Joyce's skeptical humor has more in common with the voyages to the underworld in Lucian's comic dialogues. In one of Lucian's Dialogues of the Dead, Diogenes tells Pollux to return to life with a message for Menippus the Cynic: "Tell him that Diogenes says, 'Menippus, if you've had enough of poking fun at things up there, come on down here; there's much more to laugh at.'"35 Bloom is a kind of Diogenes looking for an honest joke. Bakhtin cites Lucian's "image of Menippus laughing in the kingdom of the dead" as a source of Renaissance comedy (69). The one-liners of Bloom, the cynic, about religion provide a comic monologue on the service:

Mr. Kernan said with solemnity:

I am the resurrection and the life. That touches a man's inmost heart.

—It does, Mr. Bloom said.

Your heart perhaps but what price the fellow in the six feet by two with his toes to the daisies? No touching that. Seat of the affections. Broken heart. A pump after all, pumping thousands of gallons of blood every day. One fine day it gets bunged up and there you are. Lots of them lying around here: lungs, hearts, livers. Old rusty pumps: damn the thing else. The resurrection and the life. Once you are dead you are dead. That last day idea. Knocking them all up out of their graves. Come forth, Lazarus! And he came fifth and lost the job." Last day! Then every fellow mousing around for his liver and his lights and the rest of his traps. Find damn all of himself that morning. Pennyweight of power in a skull.

(U 6.669–81)

Bergson's theory of comedy helps to explain why this passage is funny (if you're not the fellow in the six feet by two): "The attitudes, gestures and movements of the human body are laughable in exact proportion as that body reminds us of a mere machine" (79; Bergson's italics).

"Hades" is a high grade ha. The theme of the episode is that "In the midst of death we are in life" (U 6.759). In the midst of death, a joke book is more useful than the Book of Common Prayer. Aristotle wrote that man is "the only animal that laughs."36 Since only man is aware of his mortality, what else can he do?

As the funeral procession travels across Dublin, "caps and hats [are] lifted by passers" (U 6.37–38). "That's a fine old custom," remarks Simon [End Page 12] Dedalus. "I am glad to see it has not died out. … Respect" (6.36–38). Although Joyce finds humor in the old custom, "a certain mechanical inelasticity," as Bergson would describe, he also shares Simon's sentiment (Bergson 67). A doff of the hat out of respect for the dead is more sacred than prayer. Bloom notices a "young man, clad in mourning, a wide hat" (U 6.40). It is Simon's son, Stephen, in his Hamlet hat. Many of the jokes and sacrilegious musings at the burial of Dignam are reminiscent of the graveyard scene in Shakespeare's play, the ha buried in Hamlet.

Freud analyzed this kind of "gallows humor" in Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905) and his paper "Humour." "A rogue who was being led out to execution on a Monday remarked: 'Well, this week's beginning nicely'" (284). As Freud explains, "This is actually a joke." (Freud distinguishes between jokes and humor.) "But humour is concerned in the making of such a joke—that is, in disregarding what it is that distinguishes the beginning of this week from others, in denying the distinction which might give rise to motives for quite special emotions" (Jokes 284–85). "The pleasure of humour," according to Freud, "comes about … at the cost of a release of affect that does not occur: it arises from an economy in the expenditure of affect" (284; Freud's italics). There is also an "economy" in the expenditure of energy necessary to repress the affect. Freud points out that "not all people are capable of the humorous attitude" ("Humour" 566). Leopold Bloom is one of those who are capable of it, but he hasn't yet succeeded in submitting his feelings about Blazes Boylan "to the control of humour" (Jokes 288).

As Bloom's carriage proceeds to the cemetery, he thinks about Boylan's appointment at 4:00 with Molly. At this moment, the other occupants of the carriage see Boylan. They salute him with their hats, and Bloom observes that "the white disc of a hat flashed reply" (U 6.198–99). This is the first of Bloom's "coincidental" sightings of Boylan in Joyce's retrospective arrangement of the hat motif. Also noticed from the carriage is Plasto's, where Bloom and Boylan bought their hats (U 6.191). This isn't really a coincidence either. Joyce authenticated Bloomsday by cramming it with a lot of "stuff" taken from the Thursday, June 16, 1904, edition of the Dublin Evening Telegraph. An advertisement for Plasto's appeared on page 2 that day:


that cannot be beaten.

felt hats, 3/9 & 2/11 [End Page 13]

test cheapness by purchasing either.

    plasto, hatter,

i great brunswick street.37

Two columns over, another hat store, Fortune's, ran an ad that promised "all the latest shapes in straw and panama hats." Why was Plasto's featuring felt hats in June? No wonder they were so cheap. In the same column as the Plasto's ad, underneath an ad for Dublin whiskey, a news story reported "The American Horror" (the sinking of the General Slocam) that Joyce also incorporated into Ulysses.

As the carriage wheels through the streets, Bloom spots an acquaintance, a former solicitor who was disbarred and has become a street vendor of bootlaces. He's a relic of his old self, but he still wears the "silk hat" of his former profession (U 6.234). "Relics of old decency," thinks Bloom (U 6.234). As Don Gifford points out, Bloom's words come from an Irish song "The Hat My Father Wore": "Tis the relic of old decency,/The hat my father wore."38 The same song is alluded to in the tribute to Paddy Dignam: "As decent a little man as ever wore a hat" (U 6.303). Paddy had his flaws, but the eulogy is a reminder that wearing a hat was once as universal as mortality.

While Father Coffey conducts the Requiem mass, Bloom thinks: "Makes them feel more important to be prayed over in Latin" (U 6.602). Joyce invented a new kind of narrative: the interior monologue as stand-up comedy. Much of the humor derives from Bloom's Jewish perspective on Catholic rituals and beliefs. This kind of Jewish humor was shown in the previous episode when Bloom went into All Hallows Church and made jokes about confession. The source of this humor is the ha in hallow. Most of Bloom's humor is at his own expense. In a Jewish stream-of-consciousness passage in "Aeolus," Bloom remembers his father reading from the hagada on Passover. In a Freudian slip, Bloom mixes up the line about how God "brought us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage," and it comes out "brought us out of the land of Egypt and into the house of bondage" (U 7.308–9). Bloom is funny even when he's not trying to be funny, especially when he's not trying to be funny. The ha in hagada. Even the nightmarish "Circe" episode has its haha moments, such as the alienated Bloom's fantasy of being regarded as "the funniest man on earth" (U 15.1737). In the "Ithaca" episode, we learn that, on at least one occasion, Bloom consulted "Everybody's Book of Jokes (1,000 pages and a laugh in every one)" (U 17.442). Borscht-belt dreaming [End Page 14] Bloom is also a mensch. Joyce concludes the "Hades" episode with Bloom pointing out a ding in John Henry Menton's hat and being rebuffed for his concern. It is really Bloom who is "As decent a little man as ever wore a hat" (U 6.303).

Bloom's thoughts on June 16, 1904 keep coming back to hats. Remembering his first job as a salesman for his father's firm, he sees himself "in his first hard hat [i.e., a bowler] (ah, that was the day") (U 14.1049–50). That was an ah moment of triumph and pleasure. However, Bloom's memory of his loss of virginity is more rueful. After sex with a whore on Hatch street (another ha in hat), she ran away from him: "That youthful illusion of thy strength was taken from thee and in vain" (U 14.1075). In retrospect, this was an ahah moment, an epiphany.

The "in vain" refers to Bloom's loss of his son Rudy. "There is none now to be for Leopold, what Leopold was for Rudolph [his father]" (U 14.1076–77). Bloom and Molly have not had full sexual intercourse since the death of their son, eleven days after his birth, over ten years ago ("10 years, 5 months and 18 days" (U 17.2282)). At the end of the "Circe" episode, Bloom imagines Rudy, if he had lived, "dressed in an Eton suit with glass shoes and a little bronze helmet, holding a book in his hand. He reads from right to left inaudibly, smiling, kissing the page" (U 15.4957–60). Although this dream figure might symbolize Bloom's wish for a Jewish son to be for him as his grandfather Leopold was for his father, the helmet associates Rudy with Mercury/Hermes, the escort of the dead in Greco-Roman mythology, and with Buck Mulligan, the scourge of the living with his deadpan joking (U 1.318).

Bloom thinks a lot about his father that day. Rudolph Bloom died from an overdose of drugs "after having, though not in consequence of having, purchased at 3.15 p.m. on the afternoon of 27 June1886 a new boater straw hat, extra smart" (U 17.628–29). Ironically, "The Hat My Father Wore" on the day of his suicide is the same hat Blazes Boylan wears today. It would be a post hoc fallacy to blame the hat for causing these miseries. Rather, the hat is an effect. In the case of Rudolph, a more telling symptom of his "progressive melancholia" than the purchase of a new boater was his occasional forgetting to remove his hat while eating (U 17.1886–87). That Leopold is wearing an old bowler instead of a new straw hat on a June day might be a sign of his own melancholia, but there is no cause for concern unless he begins wearing it indoors while he eats "with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls" (U 4.1–2). [End Page 15]

Joyce's own memories kept coming back to hats when he wrote Ulysses. In "The Wandering Rocks" episode, the movements of Father Conmee and the Earl of Dudley are traced through the streets of Dublin as they are "variously seen by, stared at by, saluted by, ignored by, or missed by" many named and unnamed Dubliners.39 Budgen notes that the point of view "constantly changes from a close-up to a birds-eye view" (124). What remains constant, however, is the hats-eye point of view. The focal points of the camera eye are the hat salutes, or lack thereof, of the people. The way Dubliners automatically doff their hats illustrates Bergson's theory that comedy is "something mechanical encrusted on something living" (97). In "The Wandering Rocks" (art: mechanics), Joyce turns a crusty old custom into a ha raising comedy. At one point, Father Conmee walks by two lovers emerging from some hedges: "The young man raised his cap abruptly: the young woman abruptly bent and with slow care detached from her light skirt a clinging twig" (U 10.200–2). "The Wandering Rocks" would have made a good silent film comedy by Chaplin or Mack Sennett, a kind of Keystone Caps. The episode's closing image is "the salute of Almidano Artifoni's sturdy trousers swallowed by a closing door" (U 10.1281–82). For Joyce, as for Bergson, when people behave like things, laughter restores their humanity.

Whether or not a man salutes Father Conmee or the Earl of Dudley reveals not only his attitude toward religious or political authority but also his attitude toward etiquette. In Emily Post's 1922 bestseller Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home, she provided instruction on "When a Gentlemen Takes Off His Hat" and how "A Gentleman Lifts His Hat."40 Many of the novel's characters are present in this episode that could have been named "The Wandering Hats." The five sandwich-board men with "scarlett letters on their five tall white hats" that spell H. E. L. Y. S. (U 8.126) are still wandering around the city. First glimpsed two hours earlier, they have become a single word: "tallwhitehatted" (U 10.310, 10.377). When the cavalcade of the Earl of Dudley passes Blazes Boylan, "he forgot to salute but he offered to the three ladies the bold admiration of his eyes and the red flower between his lips" (U 10.1245–46). Boylan got the red carnation in the shop where he bought a gift for Molly, flirted with the salesgirl, and, when she bent over, "looked in her blouse with more favour, the stalk of the red flower between his smiling teeth" (U 10.334–35). According to Emily Post: "In lifting his hat, a gentleman merely lifts it slightly off his forehead and replaces it; he does not smile nor bow, nor even look at the object of his courtesy. No gentleman ever [End Page 16] subjects a lady to his scrutiny or his apparent observation" (16). Blazes Boylan is no gentleman.

The low point of Bloom's day takes place at Bella Cohen's brothel in nighttown. The "Circe" episode has been called "the fashion show in Ulysses" because costuming is so important in it.41 In this burlesque of the Freudian unconscious, Bloom's latent fears, fantasies, guilts, and wishes are disguised as articles of clothing, the hat being the most important. In a wish-fulfilling sequence, Bloom is hailed as "the world's greatest reformer" and honored by a "hats off" (U 15.1459). (Hats Off was the title of the first Laurel and Hardy film in which they appeared together in their bowlers. In the fabled finale of that 1927 film, everyone's hat is knocked off in a slapstick hat brawl (Robinson 85). Like Homer's comic mock-epic poem Magrites, and Aristotle's treatise on comedy, and the "t" in Bloom's ha, the print of Hat's Off has been lost.)

In "Circe," inanimate things such as a bar of soap and a cap can talk (U 15.337–39, 2096–98, 2102–3, 2108–9, 2114). In Capital, Karl Marx described "the conversion of things into persons and the conversion of persons into things."42 But the "personification of things and reification of persons" in Ulysses is more akin to Groucho Marxism (Marx 209). Joyce's identification of characters with their hats or other commodities isn't a criticism of capitalism; it's a technique of comedy. According to Bergson, comedy is rooted in the sensation of things behaving like persons and persons behaving like things (Bergson 61–84).43

"Circe" is the only episode in which Bloom wears a variety of hats (Alpine, Napoleon, billycock, silk, apache cap, fez, skullcap). In his subconscious dreams, Bloom is a man of many hats, but the only one that he wears in his waking life remains the most significant. Thus, at one point "Bloom holds his high grade hat over his genital organs" (U 15.1787; Joyce's italics). Joyce was obviously familiar with Freud's interpretation of "[t]he hat as the symbol of a man (of the male genitals)."44 Although Joyce dismissed Freudian symbolism as "mechanical," Ellmann comments that "Joyce was close to the new psychoanalysis at so many points that he always disavowed any interest in it" (JJ 382, 436). In his essay "A Connection Between a Symbol and a Symptom," Freud claimed that "[t]he hat has been adequately established as a symbol of the genital organ, most frequently the male, through analyses of dreams."45 He then connected this symbolism to a symptom of neurotics who torment themselves by worrying "whether some acquaintance will salute them first, by taking off his hat, or whether he seems to wait for their salute" ("Connection" 144). [End Page 17] Freud diagnosed the unconscious motive for this masochistic behavior as the "castration complex" (144). One might argue that Freud, not Bella Cohen, is the modern Circe who turns men into swine through his theory of the unconscious mind. But Joyce's Freudian symbolism isn't mechanical; it's humorous. Joyce's "fashion show" satirizes then fashionable ideas. The technique of the "Circe" episode is hallucination with an emphasis on the ha.

Bloom's holding his hat over his genital organs is a high grade ha, although curiously the "t" isn't omitted from the phrase "high grade hat" in the dreamlike "Circe" episode (U 15.720, 15.1787; Joyce's italics). Maybe the restored "t" signifies that Bloom hasn't lost, or wishes that he hasn't lost, the sexuality that he has given up due to the wear and tear of his marriage. William York Tindall connects the missing "t" to Bloom's failed search for tea that day, but Tindall fails to note that the "t" is found in "Circe" (153). Maybe the restored "t," or the missing "t," is a Freudian slip. What is a Freudian slip? begins an old joke. Answer: It's when you say one thing and mean your mother. Admittedly, this joke works better for Stephen's Hamlet hat. In the case of Bloom, a Freudian slip is when you say "ha" and mean your "hat," or vice versa.

In Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, Freud compares the joke-work to the dream-work. Both processes use techniques such as condensation and double meaning. Freud discusses several jokes that "might be described as 'condensation accompanied by the formation of a substitute'" in which "the formation of the substitute consists in the making of a 'composite word'" (18–19). One of his examples is a joke that changed "a potentate's name from Leopold to Cleopold, on account of the relations he had at one time with a lady with the first name of Cleo. This undoubted product of condensation keeps alive an annoying allusion at the cost of a single letter" (20). There are many such jokes on Leopold Bloom's name in Ulysses. Similarly, from a Freudian perspective, the "high grade ha" might be viewed as the "product of condensation [that] keeps alive the annoying allusion [by Molly] at the cost of a single letter" that Bloom always wears "the same old hat" (U 18.84).

In Joyce's spoof of psychoanalysis, Bloom's "castration complex" is shown when he masochistically sees himself as a hat rack for Boylan to hang his hat on. In the Odyssey's episode on Circe's island, Odysseus and his men feast on "a stag with noble antlers" (qtd. in Gifford 452). In Joyce's parallel, there is an "antlered rack" in the hall of Bella's brothel upon which "hang a man's hat and waterproof" (U 15.2032–33). The [End Page 18] "waterproof" recalls the birth control jokes at the maternity hospital in the "Oxen in the Sun" episode that play on the double meanings of rain gear and contraceptive devices (Tindall 199; Gifford 427). A "waterproof" is slang for a condom. An "umbrella" is slang for a diaphragm (Gifford 427). When Bloom asked himself that morning, "Where is my hat, by the way?," he thought of the hallstand: "too full. Four umbrellas, her rain-cloak" (U 4.485). According to Freud, the majority of cynical jokes are aimed at marriage. He provides an example: "A wife is like an umbrella—sooner or later one takes a cab" (Jokes 132).

When Boylan appears in Bloom's fantasy with "his boater straw set sideways," "[h]e hangs his hat smartly on a peg of Bloom's antlered head" (U 15.3738–39, 3763–64; Joyce's italics). Here Joyce connects the traditional symbolism of the cuckold to the mock modern symbolism of the hat and head as symbols of the male genitals. "Haw haw horn" is how Joyce describes this horny humor (U 11.527). There are other hat rack jokes in the novel. Bloom thinks that women warn off men when they have their period by getting "a hogo you could hang your hat on" (U 13.1032). Molly thinks that a woman's body is more beautiful than a man's with his "thing hanging down out of him or sticking up at you like a hatrack" (U 18.543–44). When Stephen and Bloom gaze into a mirror, they see the face of Shakespeare "crowned by the reflection of the reindeer antlered hatrack in the hall" (U 15.3823–24; Joyce's italics). This image reflects Stephen's theory that Anne Hathaway cuckolded Shakespeare after he left for London. If Stephen has his will, Joyce hath a way with words. The ha (and the hat) in Hathaway! When Carl Jung wrote a sober interpretation of Ulysses as "an example of the schizophrenic mind," Joyce responded, "He seems to have read Ulysses from first to last without one smile. The only thing to do in such a case is to change one's drink" (qtd. in JJ 628).

Stephen is justifiably mocked for his theory that Shakespeare was a cuckold because he recites it so humorlessly. Although Dedalus and Bloom are both dressed in mourning clothes, Bloom's laughing hat indicates his higher wisdom. The artificer of the joke wins the day. Ineluctable modality of the risible. Joyce was the modern master of reproducing the sound of laughter in his texts. Mary Beard points out that "laughter in almost all world languages, and in entirely different linguistic families, is rendered as (or includes within its repertoire) some variant on ha ha, hee hee, or tee hee" (11).46 Beard found only a dozen or so examples of what she calls "scripted laughter" in ancient Roman literature (9). In the plays of Shakespeare, however, there are many instances of such interjections: [End Page 19] "How now? Interjections? Why, then, some be of laughing, as, ah, ha, he!" (Ado 4.1.20–21). Many also be of laughing in Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel, as for example: "You'll be a cuckold, and a proper one, I promise you. You'll have a fine pair of horns. Ha, ha, ha!"47 Joyce replayed this joke when he wrote Ulysses. He knew the script.

Joyce wasn't the first writer to derive a book from a joke. Erasmus based The Praise of Folly (1511) on what he called the "joke" of personifying Folly and having her praise the foolishness of the world.48 Nor was Joyce the first writer to allude ironically to the Odyssey to enhance a cuckold joke. In the words of Erasmus's Folly:

The man who, when he sees a pumpkin, supposes it's a woman, will be called crazy because not many people take part in that particular delusion of his. But when another man swears that his wife, whom he shares with half the neighborhood, is more chaste than Penelope, and so flatters himself to the top of his bent, nobody calls him mad, because it's recognized as the common fate of husbands.


The most elaborate cuckold's comedy prior to Ulysses occurs in the Third Book of Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532–1564). Having announced his intentions to get married by giving up wearing his codpiece and tying spectacles to his cap, Panurge worries that if he finds a wife she will not be faithful to him. So he consults a series of authorities to answer this question of whether or not he will become a cuckold. They include a friar, an astrologer, a poet, a sibyl, a physician, a lawyer, a theologian, a philosopher named Wordspinner, and a fool. Rabelais uses the comic situation of cuckoldry to satirize various forms of divination, learning, knowledge, and interpretation. All of the experts come to the same conclusion: "You'll be cuckolded, you'll be beaten, you'll be robbed" (320). The basic joke is the inevitability of Panurge's fate even before he begins searching for a wife. This joke is apparent in Panurge's apparel. The spectacles tied to his cap symbolize the cuckold trying to see if his wife is faithful or failing to see that she is not. According to one scholar, "the glasses on top of his head signify that Panurge is the grotesque figure of the cuckold/fool who was the butt of all jokes in carnival celebrations."49 Some scholars believe "that the glasses on top of the fool's cap were in fact a late substitution for the phallus that previously was placed there" (LaGuardia 117). [End Page 20]

Unable to find a satisfactory answer to the marriage question and his fear of cuckoldry, Panurge decides to consult the Oracle of the Holy Bottle. In quest of the Truth, he arrives at the Temple of the Bottle in the closing chapters of the Fifth Book. After the priestess Bacbuc prepares Panurge to receive the verdict of the Bottle, he is led to a fountain of water that tastes like wine. The Holy Bottle stands in the middle of the fountain, and it speaks the sacred word: "Trink" (703). The priestess interprets the meaning: "Trink is a panomphaean word. It speaks oracles, that is to say, in all languages, and is famed and understood by all nations. To us it signifies: Drink" (704).50 Panurge has finally found the solution to his lack of faith in marriage, and his hope is restored: "Ho, ho" (705). As priestess Bacbuc explains, "We maintain that not laughter but drinking is the proper lot of man" (705).

Whereas Rabelais and Joyce maintain that not drinking but laughter is the proper lot of man. Joyce's panomphaean word was "ha" and its variants. In Ulysses, Stephen and his father have a trinking problem. Bloom doesn't drink, though as a cuckold he has reason to. Bloom's hat is a later substitution for the cuckold/fool's cap, and it signifies his role as the butt of all jokes in Ulysses.51 As Robert H. Bell comments, "The very label on his hat laughs at him."52 It should be remembered, however, that self-mockery is a staple of Jewish humor. Freud explained the difference between Jews joking about themselves and gentiles joking about Jews:

The jokes made about Jews by foreigners are for the most part brutal comic stories in which a joke is made unnecessary by the fact that Jews are regarded by foreigners as comic figures. The Jewish jokes which originate from Jews admit this too; but they know their real faults as well as the connection between them and their good qualities. …

(Jokes 133)

Bloom's hat bears the label of Jewish humor.

Does Ulysses repeat without a difference the basic cuckold formula: "female insatiability/male insufficiency" (LaGuardia 157)? In an article about "The Place of Laughter in Tudor and Stuart England," Keith Thomas describes "the vogue for what now seems the most remote and distasteful of all bygone fashions in humour, that obsession with cuckoldry."53 He adds that "[f]or us it is hard to understand why deceived husbands should have been objects of ridicule rather than sympathy" (77). [End Page 21] The more familiar complaint about this kind of humor is that it is misogynist. Mitigating these criticisms somewhat is Bakhtin's symbolic interpretation of Panurge's fear of being cuckolded, beaten, and robbed. "This fate is not related to any specific individual; it is symbolized by woman ('the promised spouse')" (242). Man's fate is to suffer the indignities of aging and death. "In the Third Book Panurge symbolizes obstinate old age (actually he has scarcely reached it) which does not accept change and renewal" (Bakhtin 243). Bakhtin's interpretation is applicable to Ulysses. Joyce's comments to Frank Budgen about the "Penelope" episode suggest that he intended Molly to symbolize "woman" and by implication the earth (qtd. in JJ 501). Although Bloom is only 38, he symbolizes obstinate old age, which must accept change and renewal.

The most important memory in this novel about a troubled marriage is the first time Leopold and Molly made love. Several times in the course of his day Leopold remembers this paradisal lost moment on Howth Head overlooking the bay, when they lay in the rhododendrons, and Molly's eyes were like flowers, and they shared a seedcake kiss, and a goat witnessed their lovemaking (U 8.898–916). As he eats his lunch, Bloom reflects, "Can't bring back time. Like holding water in your hand" (U 8.610–11). But Bloom does bring back the goat and hears it bleat "Megegaggegg! Nannannanny! (U 15.3370). The goat adds humor to the Wordsworthian pathos of Bloom's memory: "She kissed me. Never again. My youth. Only once it comes. Or hers. Take the train there tomorrow. No. Returning not the same" (U 13.1102–4).

When he returns home to 7 Eccles Street, Bloom finds evidence of Molly's adultery that afternoon. Then, in the final episode, "Penelope," Joyce surprises the reader by shifting to the wife's point of view after devoting so much attention to the husband's feelings. In Molly's sensuous monologue, "flesh becomes word" (JJ 377). Molly keeps repeating the word "yes," but the word "hat" is just as important. Molly complains about Bloom "always and ever wearing the same old hat" (U 18.83–84). She suspects that he might be fooling around with "some little bitch … not that I care two straws now who he does it with" (U 18.45, 53–54). When Bloom entered their bedroom, he had noticed Molly's "black straw hat" on the commode (U 17.2103). So Molly and Boylan were "two straws" doing it. Flesh becomes the words "straw hat" in this novel.54 Molly blames Bloom for their not having sex: "any man thatd kiss a womans bottom Id throw my hat at him"; "serve him right its all his own fault if I am an adulteress" (U 18.1401–2, 18.1516). Yet Molly and Bloom [End Page 22] continue to connect in the memory of Howth Head that ends the novel: "the sun shines for you he said the day we were lying among the rhododendrons on Howth head in the grey tweed suit and his straw hat the day I got him to propose to me" (U 18.1571–74). This discovery that Bloom was wearing a straw hat on Howth Head is one of the novel's great ahah moments. The change in Bloom's life "leaps to us from the vestment of its appearance" in his change of hats (SH 213).

Molly might resent the loss of sexuality implied by Bloom going around in something that looks like "the hat my father wore," but, because the hat implies the man, she also appreciates that "Tis the relic of old decency." Bloom's hat is emblematic of his old fashioned decency. "[H]e always takes off his hat when he comes up in the street," Molly realizes (U 18.227–28). Bloom may not be one of "the fine gentlemen in their silk hats," but "a man's a man for a' that" (U 18.1419–20, 14.650). In the end, the ha in Bloom's high grade hat becomes an ah of ethical triumph.

Three times in the novel, Bloom rescues someone's hat (Tindall 218). At Dignam's funeral, he points out the dent in John Henry Menton's hat but receives a cold "Thank you" (U 6.1026). At the brothel in nighttown, Bloom picks up Stephen's hat and holds it for him "in orthodox Samaritan fashion" (U 15.4749–50, 16.3). And at a political rally, Bloom picks up Charles Stewart Parnell's hat and returns it to him, this time receiving a warm "Thank you, sir" (U 16.1523; Joyce's italics). "[H]istory repeating itself with a difference," muses Bloom (U 16.1525–26). These Good Samaritan acts are not without their ambiguities. Menton was one of Molly's suitors. Parnell's political career was destroyed when he was revealed to be the lover of a married English woman. History is a nightmare of holding the hats of betrayers from which Bloom is trying to wake.

Bloom's line about "history repeating itself with a difference" is another example of how the hat motif encapsulates the novel's plot, theme, and technique. The context is hats but the larger implication is that history and life are cyclical. Perhaps we should call this theme "Vico's hat" or the "Ecclesiast's hat." "History repeating itself with a difference" is Stephen Dedalus as Daedalus, "Fabulous artificer, the hawklike man" (U 9.952). The "difference" is the novel's joke, the ha in hawklike and Hamlet, the Ho in Homer. "History repeating itself with a difference" is Leopold Bloom as Ulysses, and Bloom's other repetitions as Moses, Elijah, and the Messiah. But the genius of the Joycean joke is that laughter leads to epiphany and triumph, the ah in Pisgah, Elijah, and Messiah. The "difference," which begins in parody when history repeats itself, ends in wisdom. If [End Page 23] Bloom is a mock mahatma, a "mahamahatma" ("Sanskrit: mahatma, 'great-souled, wise'; maha, 'great'—thus, 'great, great-soul'"), then the secret of wisdom is the ha in the hat of mahatma (U 9.281; Gifford 211). Bloom, a decent man, who hasn't found what he was looking for, or perhaps has lost it, repeats the archetype of going home, as we all do. Leaving home that morning he had asked, "Where is my hat, by the way?" (U 4.485). One assumes he will repeat the same question the next day. For the reader rereading Ulysses, "history repeating itself with a difference" is Bloom asking "Where is ma hat, ma hat, ma … ?"

In The Genius of the Jewish Joke, Berger offers an example of a joke that contains all three qualities of humor: haha, ahah, and ah, or, in other words, "laughter, discovery, and success (triumph over adversity)" (7). This Jewish joke bears on the marital problem that Joyce depicts in Ulysses:

A man comes to a rabbi's house and asks the rebbetzin, "Can I see the rebbe? It's most urgent." The rebbetzin shows the man in to see the rabbi. The man then recites a litany of complaints about his wife. As the man speaks, the rabbi nods his head in agreement. "Yes, yes … you're absolutely right." This gives the man great comfort, and he leaves. A short while later, the man's wife comes in and demands to see the rabbi. She is in a state of great excitement. So the rebbetzin shows the woman in. "I'm here about my husband," she tells the rabbi. Then she lists a number of complaints about her husband. As she talks, the rabbi nods his head and says "Yes, yes … you're right." The woman calms down, thanks the rabbi, and leaves. Then the rebbetzin comes in and says to her husband, "I don't understand you. When the man came, you agreed with everything he said. Then his wife came and contradicted everything the man said, and you agreed with her. You're on both sides of the same argument." The rabbi nodded his head and said "Yes, yes … you're right."


Joyce expects his readers to be like the wise rabbi who agreed with a husband and wife who had opposing views of their marriage. Bloom recites a litany of complaints about his wife. As we hear his thoughts, we nod our heads in agreement: "Yes, yes … you're absolutely right." Then Molly lists a number of complaints about her husband. As she talks, we nod our heads and say, "Yes, yes … you're right." We're "on both sides of the same argument," the betrayed husband's, the dismayed wife's, and [End Page 24] the only solution is the equanimity displayed by the rabbi and by Bloom himself when he accepts his situation "[a]s not more abnormal than all other processes of adaptation to altered conditions of existence, resulting in a reciprocal equilibrium between the bodily organism and its attendant circumstances, foods, beverages, acquired habits, indulged inclinations, significant disease. As more than inevitable, irreparable" (U 17.2190–94). The keywords in Ulysses are "yes," "equanimity," "hat," and "ha."

Molly's "yes" that ends the novel is really "Yes. [No.]." Yes, I will make love with you then. No, I won't make love with you now. Some readers will add a bracketed "Maybe." Other readers will quote the line about Moses having "a great future behind him" (U 7.875–76). Like the missing "t" in hat, the word "no" is effaced in order to achieve a humorous attitude. Negative emotions are "economized in favour of the humour … making them … sources of humorous pleasure" (Freud, Jokes 288).

Bloom can only achieve psychological equilibrium by adjusting to the circumstances of his life. One by one, he processes his feelings about his wife's lover: "Envy?" "Jealousy?" "Abnegation?" "Equanimity?" (U 17.2155). With his typical humor, Bloom chooses equanimity "[a]s less reprehensible than theft, highway robbery, cruelty to children and animals. …" (U 17.2182–83). Because Boylan wasn't Molly's first lover, the choice is made even more difficult. In a comic inventory, Bloom lists Molly's many previous suitors up to Boylan "and so on to no last term" (U 17.2142). If Molly had sex with all these men (from the Lord Mayor of Dublin to Simon Dedalus to an Italian organ grinder, "and so on to no last term"), then Bloom rivals Isaac Bashevis Singer's Gimpel the Fool as the most saintly schlemiel of them all. Indeed, Bloom has been interpreted as "progressing from a simple fool to a holy one" (Bell 8).

There are sound reasons for Bloom to choose equanimity. As Freud would say, "It's the economy stupid!" When Bloom compiles his budget for June 16, 1904, it balances because he doesn't include the debit of eleven shillings at Bella Cohen's brothel (U 17.1455–78; Gifford 590). This omission creates the joke, and the joke balances the psychical books. Theories of comedy that view laughter as therapeutic support Bloom's decision. Susanne Langer takes a more biological approach than Freud. She compares the "comic rhythm" to the need for "an organism … to keep its equilibrium … , to regain equilibrium when it has been disturbed, and to pursue a sequence of actions dictated by the need of keeping all its interdependent parts constantly renewed, their structure intact."56 In other words, an organism "adapts itself to the situation" (Langer 271). For [End Page 25] Langer, as for Joyce, "comic action … is the upset and recovery of the protagonist's equilibrium" (Langer 271).

Robert H. Bell maintains that Molly's monologue is the novel's most direct expression of comic equanimity (54). Although I find Bloom's equanimity passage in "Ithaca" to be a more direct statement of this theme, I agree with Bell's thesis that Joyce's humor is "jocoserious" and that "the apparent contraries [meet] in unstable equilibrium" (211). The best explanation for the instability of the equilibrium is Freud's. In the humorous attitude, the joco emotions displace the serious emotions only partially, resulting in "the various forms of 'broken' humour—the humour that smiles through tears" (Jokes 289).

Joyce's humor is "broken" humor. Of Leopold and Molly Bloom it might be said that "they were never happier, huhu, than when they were miserable, haha" (FW 558.24–25). Their epitaph might read: "They lived und laughed ant loved end left" (FW 18.20–21). Live, love, lose, laugh, leave. The rest is mum.

Loud, heap miseries upon us yet entwine our arts with laughters low!Ha he hi ho hu.Mummum.

(FW 259.7–10)

In other words, pray for a good joke.

The ha in Bloom's hat has a lot to displace. To quote Freud:

For the euphoria which we endeavour to reach by these means [jokes, the comic, humour] is nothing other than the mood of a period of life in which we were accustomed to deal with our psychical work in general with a small expenditure of energy—the mood of our childhood, when we were ignorant of the comic, when we were incapable of jokes and when we had no need of humour to make us feel happy in our life.

(Jokes 293)

The return of the repressed, the hat in the ha, can always happen, as it did in "Circe." But because Bloom is only 38, one imagines that he still has enough energy to laugh at the ever altering conditions of his existence. The genre of comedy offers some protection from the "The ['hatache'] and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to!" (FW 127–31).57 There is safety in seeing oneself as a comic figure. Comic characters are "indestructible" (Langer 273). You can't kill Charlie Chaplin! [End Page 26]

In Elisa Faison's interpretation, Joyce uses hats to symbolize "psychic fragmentation": "the hat functions as a barrier between the public identity and the private self; it ultimately serves to fragment the self or to reduce the self to a metonymy."58 Removal of the hat is therefore a positive action and hatlessness is a desirable condition. Having removed their hats, "Bloom and Molly finally meld into one another at the end of Ulysses" (Faison 55). I interpret the hat motif somewhat differently. It is only in the memory of Howth that Bloom and Molly finally meld into one another. It's true that the nannygoat saw Bloom "hatless, flushed, covered with burrs of thistledown and gorsepine" (U 15.3371; Joyce's italics). But only Bloom's lecherous subconscious reduces this experience to just sex. When Molly remembers Howth, she thinks of Bloom in "his straw hat" calling her "my mountain flower" (U 18.1573, 1606). The hat functions here as an indicator of the private self and of its necessary "adaptations to altered conditions of existence" (U 17.2191). The seasons of a life are like the seasons of a hat. Bloom used to be a young bachelor in a new boater; then he became a middle aged husband in an old bowler: "To every [hat] there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1, King James version). Bloom's seasoned hat represents his seasoned wisdom that equanimity and humor are the keys to life.

Joyce didn't write Ulysses to proclaim some sort of hatless freedom in an age when all men wore hats and dressed formally. If words are like clothes, then it is clear that Joyce loved both. In photographs of Joyce, he is always well dressed and suitably hatted in outdoor poses. Joyce modeled the hats in the novel from his own experience. Bloom and Boylan bought their hats at Plasto's because Joyce did. In an April 4, 1903 postcard from Paris, Joyce wrote to his mother: "Send also a blue felt hat (to match [his blue suit])—the same shape as the one I wear now—Plasto's, Brunswick St—no other kind" (LII 40). Stephen's Latin Quarter hat was based on one that Joyce brought home from Paris (JJ 130). Although one of the models for Blazes Boylan was a man who "habitually wore a straw hat," Joyce also wore straw boaters (JJ 378; see photos in JJ plates XLII, L). So did Ettore Schmitz, one of the models for Bloom, and Joyce's source for Jewish humor (JJ 272, 374). As Stephen Dedalus says of Shakespeare, Joyce's relation to his hatted characters "is all in all" (U 9.1049–50). It isn't surprising to learn that in college Joyce was nicknamed "The Mad Hatter."59 From The Mad Hatter to Bloom's meshuggah hat is but a step.

Joyce's relationship to the novel's written laughter was also all in all. Nora said that when Joyce was writing Finnegans Wake, she couldn't get [End Page 27] to sleep at night because he would be in the next room laughing while he was writing. One assumes that Joyce was also laughing at his own words while writing Ulysses. "Now Jim, stop writing or stop laughing," Nora would tell him.60 Poor Nora, lying awake, while from the next room she kept hearing "Haha! Ahah! Ah!"

If words are like clothes, then hatlessness is the naked experience that words cover but that make it possible for us to "dis-cover" the meaning of experience (Galef 428). Though nothing can bring back the hour of hatlessness on the Howth, of glory in the rhododendrons, we will grieve not, rather find strength in the ha that remains behind.61

William Brevda

William Brevda is Professor of English at Central Michigan University. He is the author of Signs of the Signs: The Literary Lights of Incandescence and Neon (Bucknell University Press, 2011) and Harry Kemp: The Last Bohemian (Bucknell University Press, 1986).


1. William Tindall, A Reader's Guide to James Joyce (New York: Noonday Press, 1959), 136. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

2. James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (New York: Viking Press, 1974) (hereafter cited in the text as FW by page and line number).

3. Hugh Kenner, Dublin's Joyce (Boston: Beacon Press, 1962), 230.

4. Wyndham Lewis, Time and Western Man (Santa Rosa, Calif.: Black Sparrow Press, 1993), 89; Paul K. Saint-Amour, "Symbols and Things," in The Cambridge Companion to Ulysses, ed. Sean Latham (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 200–15.

5. Bill Brown, A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 12. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

6. Max Weber, Essays on Art (New York: William Edwin Rudge, 1916), 36; William Carlos Williams, Paterson (New York: New Directions, 1995), 6.

7. Celia Marshik, At the Mercy of Their Clothes: Modernism, the Middlebrow, and British Garment Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 10.

8. Mary Beard, Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling, and Cracking Up (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014), 40. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text. For discussion of the three theories of laughter, see Beard 36–48; Magda Romanska and Alan Ackerman, eds., Reader in Comedy: An Anthology of Theory and Criticism (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), 1–15; John Morreall, Taking Laughter Seriously (Albany: SUNY Press, 1983), 4–37.

9. Sigmund Freud, "Humour," in The Penguin Freud Reader, ed. Adam Phillips (London: Penguin, 2006), 561. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

10. Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983) (hereafter cited in the text as JJ).

11. Kenner, Dublin's Joyce, 230.

12. James Joyce, Ulysses, ed. Hans Walter Gabler, et al. (New York: Vintage, 1986) (hereafter cited in the text as U by episode and line number).

13. Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Helene Iswolsky (Blooming-ton: Indiana University Press, 1984), 20, 70. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

14. Henri Bergson, "Laughter," in Comedy, ed. Wylie Sypher (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1956), 62. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

15. James Joyce, Stephen Hero (New York: New Directions, 1963) (hereafter cited in the text as SH).

16. Susie Hopkins, The Century of Hats (London: Aurum, 1999), 121.

17. Maria Costantino, Men's Fashion in the Twentieth Century (New York: Costume and Fashion Press, 1997), 18.

18. Fred Miller Robinson, The Man in the Bowler Hat: His History and Iconography (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993), 83. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

19. Walter Benjamin, "Chaplin," in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings Volume 2 1927–1934, ed., Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999), 199. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

20. Jennifer Wicke, Advertising Fictions: Literature, Advertisement, & Social Reading (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 125.

21. See John McCourt, ed., Roll Away the Reel World—James Joyce and Cinema (Cork: Cork University Press, 2010).

22. Joyce to Valery Larbaud, Paris, 6 November 1921, in Letters of James Joyce, vol. 3, ed. Richard Ellmann (New York: Viking Press, 1966), 53 (hereafter cited in the text as LIII); Carol Loeb Shloss, Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), 87. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

23. Joyce to Valery Larbaud, Paris (February 1924), in Letters of James Joyce, vol. 3, 88.

24. Louis Hyman, "Some Aspects of the Jewish Backgrounds of Ulysses," in Critical Essays on James Joyce's Ulysses, ed. Bernard Benstock (Boston: C. K. Hall, 1989), 106. For an overview of the critical debate about anti-Semitism in Ulysses, see Harold Harris, "Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom and Anti-Semitism as a Theme in Ulysses," Yiddish 7, no. 4 (1990): 64–77.

25. Kenner, Dublin's Joyce, 230; Jonathan Culler, "The Call of the Phoneme: Introduction," in On Puns: The Foundation of Letters, ed. Jonathan Culler (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1988), 14. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

26. Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (New York: Vintage, 1989), 32.

27. Hugh Kenner, Samuel Beckett: A Critical Study (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 9.

28. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. "Hat."

29. Roland McHugh, Annotations to Finnegans Wake (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 607.

30. Sigmund Freud, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, trans. and ed. James Strachey (New York: Norton, 1960), 50. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

31. Arthur Asa Berger, The Genius of the Jewish Joke (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2006), 6. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

32. Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1960), 14. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

33. Neil Steinberg, Hatless Jack: The President, the Fedora, and the History of an American Style (New York: Plume, 2004), 125. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

34. William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing (New York: Signet, 1998), 1.1.71–72 (hereafter cited in the text as Ado).

35. Lucian, Selected Satires of Lucian, ed. and trans. Lionel Casson (New York: Norton, 1962), 194.

36. Aristotle, Parts of Animals III: 12,

37. The Dublin Evening Telegraph for June 16, 1904 is available from Split Pea Press at The importance of Plasto's relative to other hat stores in Dublin isn't entirely clear. In the February 1907 volume 36 issue of the hat industry's trade journal, The American Hatter, a report on the hat trade in Ireland referred to M. J. Fortune as "Dublin's popular hatter, and what might aptly be described as 'Ireland's largest cash hatter.'" The report also mentioned other Dublin hatters, Morgan, W. Graham, and Woodrow, but not Plasto ( A photograph of Plasto's in 1900 can be found at

38. Don Gifford, Ulysses Annotated (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 109. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

39. Harry Blamires, The Bloomsday Book: A Guide Through Ulysses (London: Methuen, 1966), 107.

40. Emily Post, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1922), 15–16. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

41. David Galef, "The Fashion Show in Ulysses," in Twentieth Century Literature 37, no. 4 (Winter 1991): 420. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

42. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 2 (New York: Penguin, 1990), 209. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

43. See also Matthew Bevis, Comedy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 29.

44. Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, in The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud, trans. A. A. Brill (New York: Modern Library, 1938), 374.

45. Sigmund Freud, "A Connection Between a Symbol and a Symptom," in Delusion and Dream: and Other Essays (Boston: Beacon Press, [1956]), 143. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

46. For an "attempt to develop an auditory aesthetics for the literary laughter of Joyce and Beckett," see Adrienne Janus, "From 'Ha he hi ho hu. Mummum' to 'Haw! Hell! Haw!': Listening to Laughter in Joyce and Beckett," Journal of Modern Literature 32, no. 1 (Spring 2009): 144–66.

47. Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, trans. J. M. Cohen (New York: Penguin, 1955), 325. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

48. Desiderius Erasmus, The Praise of Folly and Other Writings, trans. and ed. Robert M. Adams (New York: Norton, 1989), 3. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

49. David P. LaGuardia, Intertextual Masculinity in French Renaissance Literature (London: Ashgate, 2008), 117. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

50. As defined by The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the word "panomphaean" means "of or pertaining to the god Zeus, as sender of all oracular voices. Also, universally understood."

51. See Hans Holbein's illustration of Folly wearing a fool's cap in the Norton Critical edition of The Praise of Folly (6). For an image of the cuckold with glasses on his hat, see Pieter Brueghel's engraving The Festival of Fools. Joyce was pleased when the French novelist Valery Larbaud compared Ulysses to the works of Rabelais (LIII 39–40, 45).

52. Robert H. Bell, Jocoserious Joyce: The Fate of Folly in Ulysses, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996), 41. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

53. Keith Thomas, "The Place of Laughter in Tudor and Stuart England," Times Literary Supplement (June 1977): 77. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

54. The association of sexuality with straw hats is also illustrated by the "whore of the lane" who wears a "black straw sailor hat" like Molly's (U 11.1252). Bloom's response to the whore is akin to his response to Molly's infidelities: "Damn her! O, well, she has to live like the rest" (U 11.1260). In "Nausicaa," the sexually frustrated Gerty MacDowell wears "a coquettish little love of a hat of wide-leaved nigger straw contrast trimmed with an underbrim of eggblue chenille and at the side a butterfly bow to tone" (U 13.156–58). Bloom's voyeurism triggers his memory of a dirty peep show about "Willy's hat and what the girls did with it" (U 13.795). Only a bat witnesses Bloom's masturbation, "and little bats don't tell" (U 13.752–53). In an interior comic monologue that follows, Bloom riffs on bats, interjecting the word "ba" between the lines. (U 13.1117–43). As Tindall notes, "the bat, flitting from its belfry, is a 'ba,' recalling Bloom's 'ha'" (195). Tindall maintains that "Gerty's lameness is comparable to the imperfection of Bloom's hat" (344). Another straw-hatted character is Myles Crawford, the newspaper editor in the "Aeolus" episode, whom Joyce associates with windy rhetoric, and, by virtue of the "straw hat awry on his brow," the blowhard Blazes Boylan (U 7.469). When Crawford says "Where's my hat?" (U 7.457) he repeats Bloom's question to himself that morning: "Where is my hat, by the way?" (U 4.485). This is another example of "history repeating itself with a difference" (U 16.1525–26).

55. This joke is a variant of a standard Jewish joke displaying "Talmudic logic." In another version:

two litigants … come before the rabbi. After hearing the first testimony,the rabbi says, "It seems that you are right." But after the second manspeaks, the rabbi says, "It seems that you are right too.""How can this be?" says the rabbi's wife, who has been listening to thearguments. "How can both of these men be right?""Hm," says the rabbi. "You're right too."

(William Novak and Moshe Waldoks, The Big Book of Jewish Humor [New York: William Morrow, 1981], 57.)

56. Susanne Langer, "'The Comic Rhythm,' from Feeling and Form," in Reader in Comedy: An Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 270. Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

57. William Shakespeare, Hamlet (New York: Signet, 1998), 3.1.62–63.

58. Elisa Faison, "The Hat Trick: The Fluid Symbol of the Hat in James Joyce's Ulysses" (2011), 1, 6, Further citations to this work appear parenthetically in the text. Faison's essay offers an extensive discussion of hats in Ulysses. Jennifer Wicke's interpretation of "Plasto's high grade ha" is that "Bloom starts his itinerary by donning this hat and simultaneously accepting himself as the subject of advertising, and in a larger sense, as a subject formed by advertising" (130).

59. Kenner, Dublin's Joyce, 286. In Chapter 5 of Alice in Wonderland, the hatter hosts "A Mad Tea-Party." The motif of the "high grade ha" in Ulysses might be called "A Mad T-Party." Joyce's fondness for the "portmanteau word" owes a debt to Lewis Carroll who introduced the term in Through the Looking Glass.

60. Richard M. Kain, ed., "An Interview with Carola Giedion-Weicker and Maria Jolas," James Joyce Quarterly 2 (1974): 96.

61. My sentence adapts William Wordsworth's words from "Intimations of Immortality":

    Though nothing can bring back the hourOf splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;        We will grieve not, rather find        Strength in what remains behind (ll.177–80)

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