Statue of James Joyce in Earl Street, Dublin, Ireland

Maps and Traps in Joyce’s Ulysses: A Closer Look at JML 46.3

By Sarah Coogan, author of “‘I am other I now’: Identity, Intertextuality, and Networks of Debt in Ulysses,” Journal of Modern Literature (JML) 46.3, now available on Project MUSE, FREE for a limited time.

Ulysses (1922) is a novel particularly susceptible to diagrams. Those familiar with Joyce’s work will think immediately of the Gilbert and Linati schemas, the two charts of the novel that Joyce provided to scholars in the 1920s to elucidate its correspondences to The Odyssey as well as other thematic and stylistic elements of the text. Joyce apparently told Vladimir Nabokov that the schemas were a mistake, yet their influence on Ulysses’ readers has not waned.

The wanderings of the characters, so specifically described, practically beg to be mapped. Nabokov, for all his skepticism of the schemas, felt it necessary to provide a hand-drawn map of Stephen Dedalus’s and Leopold Bloom’s movements in Lectures on Literature. This is in keeping with Joyce’s purported intention, shared with Frank Budgen, to “give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city suddenly disappeared from the earth, it could be reconstructed from my book” (69). Maps continue to play a key role in popular reception of Ulysses, particularly in Dublin tourism and the annual Bloomsday festivities on 16 June, which often involve visiting sites mentioned in the novel. The James Joyce Museum provides a convenient Ulysses Map of Dublin” for this purpose. Though the most detailed record of characters’ wanderings must be this fantastic Google map of the “Wandering Rocks” episode. The massive cast of interconnected minor characters demands its own variety of chart, such as this character map by Amanda Visconti, Rhonda Armstrong, Regina Higgins, Steven Hoelscher, and Pamela Andrews.

My article on networks of debt in Ulysses emerges from another sort of map—not literal diagrams, but webs of human connection that readers encounter in Stephen Dedalus’s mind. One is a list of debts that he silently tallies in the second episode:

Mulligan, nine pounds, three pairs of socks, one pair of brogues, ties. Curran, ten guineas. McCann, one guinea. Fred Ryan, two shillings. Temple, two lunches. Russell, one guinea, Cousins, ten shillings, Bob Reynolds, half a guinea, Koehler, three guineas, Mrs. MacKernan, five weeks’ board. The lump I have is useless.


The other appears in the third episode, wherein Stephen observes midwives walking on the beach and imagines humanity as a web of umbilical cords—which, in the logic of stream of consciousness, become telephone wires—reaching back to Eden. Stephen reflects:

The cords of all link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh… Hello! Kinch here. Put me on to Edenville. Aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one. Spouse and helpmate of Adam Kadmon: Heva, naked Eve. She had no navel.… Womb of sin. Wombed in sin darkness I was too, made not begotten.


These passages represent two kinds of network: financial obligation and heredity. Both can be sources of human connection, and both can be cumbersome burdens. Stephen’s financial indebtedness causes concern at multiple points in the novel, particularly as it shapes his uneasy relationship with Buck Mulligan. Nonetheless, it is the bonds of familial obligation that he truly seems to fear.

The web back to Eden is not a path Stephen can freely traverse, but a snare that entraps him, binding him to his impoverished family and his guilt over his mother’s death. Likewise, the city of Dublin, which he seems to wander freely, becomes for him a great trap, a place where he is bound by debt and by his own failures to carve out a life as an artist on the Continent. Stephen’s struggle throughout the novel is to escape from that trap, not by fleeing again, but by reimagining the city and its social networks, even and especially the borrower-lender relationship, as a voluntary, non-hierarchical system. And understanding Stephen’s idiosyncratic financial decision-making as fundamentally relational illuminates Joyce’s own approach to the question of artistic influence—the question that drove him to make schemas of his novel in the first place.

Works Cited

  • Budgen, Frank. James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses. Grayson & Grayson, 1934.
  • Joyce, James. Ulysses. Edited by Hans Walter Gabler, Vintage Books, 1986.
  • Nabokov, Vladimir. Lectures on Literature. Harvest Books, 1980.

Sarah Coogan ([email protected]) earned a PhD from the University of Notre Dame and is a scholar of transnational modernist poetics. Her research explores the political, philosophical, and theological complexities of modernism’s relationship to the cultural past. Her work has also appeared in the New Hibernia Review, Religion & Literature, and the edited volume David Jones: A Christian Modernist?

James Joyce photo courtesy of Adobe Stock Images.