In Brief

"— Mrkgnao!" Something strange is happening when a novel gives a cat a part in the dialogue, with her own quotation dashes, what appear to be her own emotions and intentions, and very realistic sounds. Without violating the principle of realistic representation that he took to be one of the sacred imperatives of fiction, Joyce broadens the scope of the novel from human society to a somewhat larger community of sentient beings.

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It is no exaggeration to call this exchange at the beginning of Calypso a dialogue. In context, the cat's properly spelled first word (Bloom's "Miaow" much later in the chapter is a human bastardization) reads as "Hello there, you! I'm here":

      — Mkgnao!
      — O, there you are, Mr Bloom said, turning from the fire.

When Bloom says that he will give her some milk, the cat's somewhat longer reiteration comments impatiently on the fact that he is not actually doing it:

He bent down to her, his hands on his knees.
      — Milk for the pussens, he said.
      — Mrkgnao! the cat cried.
     They call them stupid. They understand what we say better than we understand them.

Her third speech, louder and longer still, clearly demands, "Feed me!":

     — Mrkrgnao! the cat said loudly.

And Bloom feeds the cat. Her response to this satisfactory outcome, whatever subtleties of feline intention it may contain, obviously means "Yes!":
     — Gurrhr! she cried, running to lap.

The cat has other modes of discourse, Bloom reflects: "The cat mewed in answer and stalked again stiffly round a leg of the table, mewing. Just how she stalks over my writingtable. Prr. Scratch my head. Prr." The communication between man and beast effected in these exchanges is as real as the communication between man and wife that is narrated several paragraphs later:

     He said softly in the bare hall:
     — I'm going round the corner. Be back in a minute.
     And when he had heard his voice say it he added:
     — You don't want anything for breakfast?
     A sleepy soft grunt answered:
     — Mn.
     No. She did not want anything.

To the man who knows her moods and inflections, Molly's sleepy soft grunt communicates her intention just as effectively as an articulate sentence would, suggesting that something more than logical syntax is involved in language. Gestures, intonations, a shared repertoire of signals: these animal resources are also a foundation of human communication, as Michel de Montaigne recognized.

Joyce fantastically eloborated his innovation in novelistic discourse in Circe, where not only animals but objects speak, in a fantastic variety of dialects.

JH 2017
Bloom petting his cat, on The Cracked Looking Glass. Source: