Owe nothing

In Brief

The money-conscious Mr. Deasy brags to Stephen and challenges him: "I paid my way. I never borrowed a shilling in my life. Can you feel that? I owe nothing. Can you?" Mentally ticking through a list of debts, Stephen acknowledges that he cannot say the same. But the problem is far worse than Deasy knows: Stephen's debts are compounded by mad, self-destructive prodigality. He recognizes the problem, but he cannot help himself, as the succeeding events of June 16 poignantly demonstrate.

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Stephen is being paid "three twelve" (£3 12s.) for a month's labor (a good salary), but he owes more than £25: "Mulligan, nine pounds, three pairs of socks, one pair 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." (Most of the people on his list—Constantine Curran, Fred Ryan, George Russell, James Cousins, T. G. Keller, Mrs. MacKernan, and possibly Bob Reynolds—are actual Dubliners whom Joyce knew. McCann and Temple are fictional characters from the last chapter of A Portrait of the Artist.) Given this dismal balance sheet, Stephen may well conclude that "The lump I have is useless." From the Protestant accountant's perspective, the best that can be said of him is that he does keep careful mental records of his self-ruination.

For a very young man Stephen has accumulated a fairly staggering sum of debts, and rather than making plans to pay it down, he takes its unpayability as an excuse for blowing what now burns a hole in his pocket on a daylong binge of treating casual acquaintances to drinks. In Proteus, immediately after recalling his appointment to meet Mulligan at "The Ship, half twelve"—where Mulligan plans to spend some of his "Four shining sovereigns" on "a glorious drunk" (Telemachus)—Stephen thinks, "go easy with that money like a good young imbecile." He does dodge the appointment with Mulligan, but only to spend his money treating the men in the newspaper office to drinks.

[2018] In Oxen of the Sun he has "two pound nineteen shilling" left, meaning that he has already spent nearly a sixth of his month's wages on alcohol, and he lies to his companions in the hospital common room, telling them that he has the money "for a song which he writ." This fabrication seems designed to boost his ego as an artist—he is not publishing anything, much less being paid handsomely for it—but it also contributes to the mad spiral of borrowing and spending. A monthly salary for instructing boys in a private school is something that should be saved and spent judiciously. A windfall for happily placing a poem in a journal or book is something to be celebrated over drinks with friends.

By the time that Bloom takes him under his wing in Circe, offering to safeguard the coins spilling out of his pockets, Stephen has "one pound six and eleven. One pound seven, say." Of the 72 shillings he was paid, only 27 remain—not much more than a third. He happily hands over all his remaining money to Bloom, not because he has reason to trust him and appreciates the offer of a banker, but because he simply doesn't care.

JH 2012
Source: winspoetry.blogspot.com.