The novel depicts one day from life of a 34-year-old Dublin Jew Leopold Bloom and his 22-year-old friend Stephen Daedalus. The day is 16th of June, 1904. Three parts of a huge book, divided into eighteen chapters should, according to the author, relate to “The Odyssey” by Homer (Ulysses is the Latin transcription of the name “Odyssey”). But the connection with the ancient Greek epic poem is too subtle to notice without being a skilled literature critic.
It’s hard to distinguish the plot of the book (if it has any). It is written as a narrative from several points of view, but actually, nothing important happens in such a lengthy novel. The action starts and ends in the capital of Ireland, the city if Dublin. It is described with explicit details, as is the time of action: the characters spend exactly that amount of time they would in reality.
The first part includes three chapters. At the eight o’clock in the morning a man named Buck Mulligan who rents an apartment together with Daedalus in Martell tower, wakes his friend up. Daedalus complains that their third neighbor, Haines, had a fever at night and shot the gun. He is too touchy and cowardly to do something with it, especially he is afraid to talk to Haines.
Daedalus’ mother has recently died of liver cancer. He had a complicated relationship with her for all his life, but when Mulligan starts mocking him mentioning his mother, Daedalus is offended with disrespectful words about her. They change the topic of the conversation and now are talking about father and son relationship and especially sons searching for their father. They use historical and mythological examples of Hamlet, Jesus Christ and Telemachus, the son of Odyssey.
Two hours later Daedalus goes to school where he works part-time as a History teacher and continues this discussion with his pupils. This topic is still present in his talk with the school principal Deasy who asks Daedalus to help him print his article about cattle disease in the newspaper. Tired of Deasy lecturing him about his way of living, Daedalus agrees. Later, to calm his nerves he imagines himself walking along the seashore. While resting and recalling in memory his childhood and early adolescence he composes a short poem that he writes down at home on the backside of Deasy’s article.
That very morning a humble advertising agent Leopold Bloom also wakes up in his apartment. The central and largest part of the book consisting of twelve chapters starts with his breakfast: the kidney of a pig that he bought before in the meat shop nearby. He checks his mail, looking at the advertisement of a Palestinian farm and thinking about it. There are two other letters: one from his daughter Milly who just turned fifteen and started working as an assistant of a photographer in Mollingar. The second letter is for his wife, Molly, the concert singer from her producer Blazes Boylan (who as Leopold suspects may be also her lover). Blazes informs her that he will come for her at four o’clock. Leopold goes downstairs reading the letter from his daughter. Later he takes the magazine and goes to the toilet with it.
At eleven o’clock Bloom should attend his schoolmate’s funeral, so he leaves the house an hour before it to do some daily routine before. He receives a letter from Martha Clifford at the post office. He doesn’t want these letters to be delivered home, because it is the response for his flirtatious announcement in the local newspaper about the search of the pretty secretary for various delicate tasks. Martha writes that she already dreams of their night and Bloom indulges his erotic fantasies while reading the letter. However, he still has to go to the cemetery.
On the funeral, Bloom walks to the grave with lots of other people along with Stephen’s father Simon Daedalus. They start a conversation about various things: the future tour of Bloom’s wife and about Bloom’s father who committed suicide that day but many years before. After the funeral ceremony, Bloom goes to his working office where he should manage the advertisements. There he meets some of the people from the funeral again (his schoolmate was their common friend). Other people who come to the office are Professor McHugh, the lawyer named O’Malloy and the editor Miles Crawford. Bloom leaves his office and returns again several times during his working fay. In his absence Daedalus comes to the office asking to publish the school principal’s article. He chitchats with everyone and after all invites everyone to the pub. The editor is late and irritated because of it, so, when Bloom returns again, Crawford releases all his anger on him rejecting all his advertisements.
Embarrassed, Bloom leaves the office and goes wandering around the city, gradually feeling more and more hungry. Soon all his thoughts are about food. He meets a friend and has a small talk with her, then he observes the behaviour of a madman and is amused with it. Finally Bloom enters the pub where he has an appointment. One of the other visitors informs the owner of the pub about Bloom’s connections with masons.
At the same time, at two o’clock Daedalus meets with the smartest people of Dublin in the public library where he presents his own version of analysis of Shakespeare’s biography and personality. Daedalus includes some unusual ideas in his speech: for example that Shakespeare’s cameo in “Hamlet” was the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Despite his original approach and his sincere desire to be understood, he still remains an outcast amongst the audience. Neither his poems are printed nor he is invited for the evening party unlike Bull Mulligan who is also here. Offended, Daedalus notices more and more uncomfortable things for him. Suddenly Bloom walks into the library, almost not noticing Stephen.
In the middle of the day, people are socializing and chatting. Bloom’s friends discuss the beauty of his wife, rather playfully. Leopold himself looks through the books with masochistic erotic content in the library and takes one of them. He notices that Boylan sends wine and fruit with a courier to the address unknown to Bloom. Bloom already knows that today Boylan is going to meet with Molly at four, so he is almost sure now that his wife has a love affair. After meeting Boylan, Bloom secretly follows him to the restaurant “Ormond”, watching his rival while Boylan dines with his friend, listens to the music and finally leaves to pick up Molly.
Bloom is jealous but aroused simultaneously. He thinks about his wife as of Penelope from “The Odyssey”, but his Penelope doesn’t wait for her husband in chastity, she sleeps with everyone who can give her pleasure. Imagining Boylan sleeping with his wife Bloom writes his reply to Martha, teasing her but refusing to meet her immediately: he wants to enjoy the foreplay itself for some more time.
At five o’clock the yard of the pub is filled by Irish patriots who discuss the current political affairs and the oppression of Irish people by Britain and Irish Jews. Bloom is still waiting for Martin Cunningham, the man he has an appointment with. He needs to talk about the insurance of the deceased classmate of Daedalus. He listens to the talks of the other visitors while drinking and waiting. The debates of patriots offend Bloom who is also a Jew and doesn’t appreciate their extremism towards non-Irish people. When Bloom leaves the pub, an empty can is thrown at him because he looks Jewish.
Bloom goes to rest at the sea beach and he reaches it around eight o’clock. He sees three young girls nearby and is interested in one of them named Gerty McDowell. She notices Bloom staring at her and, pretending to do it inadvertently, shows off her legs, underwear and more, letting Bloom masturbate. When she leaves with her friends, Bloom notices that she is limping. Bloom notices that his clock stopped at half past four and decided it is a sign marking the time when Boylan had sex with his wife.
Bloom doesn’t want to go home. At ten o’clock, he still wanders Dublin, finding himself in a shelter for women ready to give birth. One of the women is in labor for more than three days. Going there, Bloom discovers a company of happy, loud and drunk young men, Dedalus and Bull among them. Bloom drinks with them and is engaged in the talk.
This part of the book is extremely hard. In addition to the stream of consciousness narrative style, author heavily stylizes the talk of the characters, shifting from one style to another, taking range as wide as from “The Odyssey” itself to the most modern of writing styles.
The conversation becomes more and more erotically-flavoured. Arrival of the pretty nurse, who came to inform that the woman has finally given birth, doesn’t help - now the friends discuss how hot she is. Aroused enough, Stephen, his friend Lynch and Bloom (who, for some reasons, feels a strange sympathy for Daedalus) go to the brothel to buy some sex.
Bloom, drugged and drunk, enters the state of delirium, equally sexual and horrifying. He wanders the night Dublin engaging in every activity that gives him additional pleasure. Bloom hallucinates, seeing his parents, lovers, familiar and random people he met during the day. He tries to defend himself from them, thinking that these ghosts want to accuse him of his wickedness: his desire for power, his masochism, adulteries and more.
His thoughts and memories are fractured. Bloom regains his senses in the arms of a prostitute in the brothel. He also sees Daedalus and his friend there. Then, he dives into his delusions again, seeing himself transformed into a woman and accused of all kings of perversions including taking pleasure in spying on the adultery of his wife. The punishment for these “crimes” is violent orgy with “her” as main victim.
Suddenly Stephen, who also participates in the orgy (the real-life one) sees the ghost of his poor mother who has risen from her grave to shame her son. Daedalus breaks the chandelier in panic and runs away to the street where he engages in a fight with the soldiers. Bloom follows him, and somehow settles down the scandal. He leans over the unconscious body of his friend lying in the dust and understand in horror that Daedalus is his son Rudy, who died eleven years ago in infancy. So we can assume that his delirium continues.
The third and the last part of the book consists of three chapters. At one o’clock in the middle of the night, Bloom and Daedalus make their way to the night teashop where they sit in the corner and drink tea. Daedalus is mostly shy and silent, so Bloom does all the talking. He shows Stephen a photo of his wife and invites him to visit his house, so he can introduce Daedalus to her. Secretly he hopes to see their sex. Having discussed lots of other things, as meaningless, as it is only possible for the conversation of two drunkards, they go to the Bloom’s house. Bloom struggles to put the key to the keyhole, but finally they enter the kitchen. Bloom makes cocoa for them and they continue talking. They go to the garden where they urinate together and then Daedalus goes home and Bloom goes upstairs to his and Molly’s bedroom.
Lying near his wife in the bed, Bloom thinks about her infidelity, her possible lovers. He wakes her up, talks to her a bit and finally falls asleep. The novel ends with the forty pages of Mrs. Bloom’s thoughts that are presented to the readers without any punctuations. She thinks about her lovers (countless) and her husband. In the process, she discovers that she is having menstruation, but she is too aroused by her thoughts to care. So, when sleepy Bloom grabs her breasts she passionately answers “yes” and she probably has sex with him.