Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Glenn P. Wright
James Joyce's Ulysses, the most influential novel of the twentieth century, has often been criticized for its fragmentation and complexity. Impenetrable to some readers, misunderstood by others, Ulysses bears within its eighteen episodes a symmetry of subject and form that at once clarifies and multiplies the meanings to be found there. Richard Ellmann calls Joyce's theory of art "the perception of coincidence," a theory best exemplified by "Wandering Rocks," the central episode of Ulysses. The use of "symmetrical coincidence" in ''Wandering Rocks" can be seen in two ways: 1)the internal structure of the episode, and 2)its location among the other episodes in the novel.
The analysis of this episode's internal structure takes three directions. The first involves tracing the three major journeys against which the rest of the action is laid. Father Conmee, the Elijah skiff, and William Mumble all navigate their ways through the labyrinthine Dublin of 1904, establishing a compass-like symmetry within the episode. A second form of symmetry is brought to the episode by its nineteen sections and the thirty-three "co-incidents" which intersperse them. These narrative threads connect disparate characters and scenes, weaving a pattern of narration that is web-like in its reader traps and in its overall congruency. The third feature of this episode's balance involves the depiction of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus. Bloom stands immobile at the very center of the novel of which he is the hero, and Stephen appears in scenes neatly framing our modern Odysseus.
The second topic of discussion here is the relationship "Wandering Rocks" bears to the other chapters in Ulysses. "Wandering Rocks," the tenth episode of eighteen in the book, functions as a link between the first and second halves of the novel and also serves as a microcosm of the whole. One way in which "Wandering Rocks" fills these roles is in its narrative style. Many voices and phrases appear here that either recall or forecast elements in other parts of Ulysses. Thematically, too, "Wandering Rocks" occupies an important position among the other chapters. The actions and thoughts of the principal players in this episode, the thematic considerations offered in Joyce's own schema for the novel, and the correlations between each section in "Wandering Rocks" and each episode in the novel further establish the notion of "symmetrical coincidence" and its special significance to us as readers of Ulysses.
Scruton, James A., "The Perception of Coincidence: Artistic Symmetry in the "Wandering Rocks" Episode of James Joyce's Ulysses" (1983). Masters Theses. 2879.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.