As people go about their day on the streets of Dublin they see "hoardings," or billboards, advertising a show to be performed by "Mr Eugene Stratton." Eugene Augustus Ruhlmann, a white American from Buffalo, NY, performed under that name in blackface, dancing and singing "coon songs."
Gifford notes that Stratton "toured primarily in the British
Isles, first with a minstrel group and then as a solo
performer" (108). He was billed as a comedian, but his act
consisted chiefly of singing, whistling, and dancing. The
stage was usually darkened, and a spotlight shone dramatically
on Stratton's face. David Pierce notes that "He was popular
with other professionals, and in 1896 and again in 1900 he was
named King Rat. The Chieftains play a hornpipe named after
him" (127). His songs, Pierce observes, included "The
Whistling Coon" and "The Dandy Coloured Coon." He performed
from the 1880s into the 1900s to great acclaim, and ads in the
16 June 1904 Freeman's Journal and Evening
Telegraph, as well as posters on the hoardings,
proclaimed that "the World Renowned Comedian" would be playing
at the Theatre Royal in Hawkins Street.
In Circe Bloom (who saw one of the posted ads through the window of his carriage in Hades) thinks of Stratton in connection with "Negro servants in livery," "Othello black brute," and the "Bohee brothers": "The exotic, you see." The narrative then generates a stage performance in keeping with the Negro impersonator theme: "Tom and Sam Bohee, coloured coons in white duck suits, scarlet socks, upstarched Sambo chokers and large scarlet asters in their buttonholes, leap out. Each has his banjo slung. Their paler smaller negroid hands jingle the twingtwang wires. Flashing white Kaffir eyes and tusks they rattle through a breakdown in clumsy clogs, twinging, singing, back to back, toe heel, heel toe, with smackfatclacking nigger lips."
Later in the chapter, Elijah (a.k.a. John Alexander Dowie)
morphs into Stratton by becoming "black in the
face" and lapsing into faux Negro dialect:
"Big Brother up there, Mr President, you hear what I done just
been saying to you. Certainly, I sort of believe strong in
you, Mr President. I certainly am thinking now Miss Higgins
and Miss Ricketts got religion way inside them. Certainly
seems to me I don't never see no wusser scared female than the
way you been, Miss Florry, just now as I done seed you."
The appallingly racist comedy at the expense of black
Americans in several parts of Ulysses can no doubt be
attributed to the talented Eugene Ruhlmann's stage portrayals,
to their huge popularity in Ireland, and to the absence of
other black people, fictional or real, that might have
supplied more affirmative images to the popular imagination.
Still, anyone who knows and appreciates Joyce's fiction would
think that an artist so savvy about popular culture, and so
deeply humane, might himself have done more to imaginatively
inhabit the lives effaced by these invidious stereotypes about
an oppressed class of human beings.