Telemachus concludes with an epiphanic snippet of interior monologue that crystallizes Stephen's thoughts about the man who has just "called to him from the sea." "Usurper" implies that, like Telemachus and Hamlet, Stephen feels deprived of his rightful place by a malicious interloper. He may not be thinking of princes deposed in their royal palaces, but he has reason for feeling usurped at this moment, and readers have reason to think of the Odyssey and Hamlet, because Mulligan has just taken from him the key to the tower that evokes those palaces. The recognition implied by this one word leads to many others.
Read MoreTelemachus began with narration that hovered about Mulligan's gaily performative ego, interrupted occasionally by unvoiced grudges from Stephen. This drama persists at the end of the chapter, but much has happened in the interim, including a struggle over living arrangements precipitated by Haines' night terrors. Although Mulligan offers to send his Oxford chum packing, Stephen correctly intuits that it is not Haines who has worn out his welcome: "He wants that key. It is mine. I paid the rent. Now I eat his salt bread. Give him the key too. All. He will ask for it. That was in his eyes." Mulligan gets the key, he chummily disparages Stephen to the new roommate in Wandering Rocks, and he returns to the tower with Haines at the end of the day, having given Stephen the slip. Stephen is homeless on June 16, and he knows it. In a personal communication, Doug Pope notes that he has essentially received an eviction notice: "It is only when Mulligan takes back his house key that Stephen gets the full import of the message: he's no longer wanted, he's been replaced by a new houseguest with better manners."
This physical displacement no doubt focuses Stephen's sense
of being coopted and displaced in other ways. Mulligan has
insinuated himself into a position of authority in his life (a
life whose credo is evading
subjection) and uses it to demean and impeach the young artist he
purports to be nurturing. In Circe, as Stephen
approaches the climax of desperation signaled by his mother's
ghoulish return from the dead, he cries out against his
"foes," one in particular: "Break my spirit, will he?" He does
not name this person, but it can only be Buck. The word
"usurper," which typically refers to rulers, offices, and
powers, also suggests that Stephen is nurturing political
grievances. Haines stands in for the English nation that has
usurped Irish autonomy for more than 700 years, and Mulligan,
who chooses this patronizing English tourist over Stephen,
stands in for a treacherous Irish nation that has always
betrayed its leaders.
No doubt more could be said about the psychological and
political implications of Stephen's word, but it also implies
that Mulligan has coopted the artistic role of
one of the three principal characters of Ulysses. So
sullen, withdrawn, reactive, and inert is Stephen in the
opening chapter, so ebullient, charming, and active is
Mulligan, that many readers new to the book must struggle to
decide who is the protagonist and who the antagonist. The
inversion of roles goes far beyond differences of temperament.
At the beginning of this great comic novel, Mulligan is funny
and Stephen mostly is not. In an encyclopedic narrative that
alludes to everything under the sun, displays vast learning,
and finds classic literary archetypes in modern Irish life,
Malachi the messenger leads
the way in announcing these glad tidings, not Stephen.
In his critical study Ulysses, Hugh Kenner notes
these displacements: "So ready indeed is Mulligan with
quotations, one would think he, not Stephen, was the littérateur
in residence. It is he, moreover, who introduces theme after
theme. His first words introduce, at six removes, the Jew in exile. His next
quotation is from Homer’s
Greek. It is he, not Stephen, who intones the song from Yeats that will
attend Stephen like a leitmotif. He invokes Swinburne, mocks Wilde, alludes (in a
German word) to Nietzsche.
. . . Whether playing Christ
as he drops his gown . . . or playing the Fool . . . or
conjuring up mock-Gothic spooks
to make half-drunken medicals roar with delight . . . always
on stage, the stately plump Buck in his primrose vest . . .
plays parts like a chameleon and plays onlookers like fish (‘Why
don’t you play them as I do?’) in roistering
affirmation of Mulligan’s Law, the first principle of Dublin,
that all is style, is appearances, is show" (36-37).
Later chapters show that Stephen, although ambivalent about
playing audiences for laughs, possesses all of the substance
falsely promised by Mulligan's flashy performances. But in Telemachus
this capaciousness is scarcely visible in him. Kenner
identifies the cause: "Mulligan usurps Stephen’s place,
stage-centre; usurps, with his mockery, Stephen’s anguished
unbelief; usurps, quoting classroom Greek and facile
Swinburne, the office of the Hellenising bard" (37).
Mulligan has rented a decommissioned military tower to be the
omphalos that will
bring ancient literary greatness to birth in modern Ireland;
his model, Oliver Gogarty, said the aim was to "house the
Bard," James Joyce. But while living there Stephen has watched
the cherished materials of his art aped and debased into mere
clownery, and now he finds himself turned out altogether. At
the end of A Portrait of the Artist he aspired to
merit the name of Dedalus. Here, that patrimonial claim
appears to have been taken from him.