In addition to being bathed in alcohol, Ulysses is
suffused with the smell of tobacco. Cigarettes figure
prominently in the book, backed by briefer appearances from
pipes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and snuff. As with alcohol,
Bloom does not abstain totally, but he does resist the pull of
this addictive substance, pondering its health effects as a
Pipes had been the chief vehicle for smoking in the 19th
century. Simon Dedalus smokes one in Sirens, Bloom
remembers his father smoking one in Oxen of the Sun,
Molly remembers the same of her father in Penelope,
and in Circe a fantasized Bloom smokes a peasant's
cheap clay pipe. But times
changed with the arrival of machines for rolling cigarettes in
the 1880s. The newfangled smoking sticks were catching on in a
big way by the turn of the century, and by 1920 the "swaggerroot"
(Zoe's fanciful coinage in Circe) had largely
People offer cigarettes to one another in Telemachus,
Aeolus, and Circe, and in Lotus Eaters
Bloom thinks about the companionly comfort of the habit as he
passes by the drivers at the cabstand: "Like to give them an
odd cigarette. Sociable." Smokers seem to relish lighting up
in restaurants even more than in pubs. Kevin Egan "rolls
gunpowder cigarettes" as he sits in a Paris café in Proteus,
and in Lestrygonians Bloom inhales "sweetish
warmish cigarette smoke" and "reek of plug" in the Burton.
Women enjoy the weed equally with men. Gerty MacDowell thinks
of "the nice perfume of those good cigarettes" that Reggie
Wylie smokes, and she remembers the night when Cissy Caffrey
"dressed up in her father’s suit and hat and the burned cork
moustache and walked down Tritonville road, smoking a
cigarette." As Bloom walks through the streets of the Monto he
sees prostitutes smoking in doorways and open windows. Their "birdseye
cigarettes" cohere with the hundreds of animal
transformations in this chapter, but birdseye was a technique
for cutting tobacco leaves across the central stem, giving a
distinctive appearance to the strips.
When Bloom gets home he sees that Molly and Blazes Boylan
have been smoking cigarettes at the piano, and when Molly
imagines her husband bringing Stephen to the house she thinks
"we can have music and cigarettes I can accompany him."
Ithaca observes that in the Blooms' bedroom the
odor of "Muratti's Turkish cigarettes" hangs about
Molly's clothes. In Penelope she recalls smelling
cigarette smoke in one of Milly's dresses.
(In Eumaeus the patriotic proprietor of the cabman's shelter declares confidence in Ireland's ability to grow even warm-weather crops: "You could grow any mortal thing in Irish soil, he stated, and there was that colonel Everard down there in Navan growing tobacco." Gifford notes that "Navan was a small market town in County Meath, twenty-eight miles northwest of Dublin. Col. N. T. Everard was a gentleman farmer who in 1904 was conducting what he regarded as a successful twenty-acre experiment in tobacco growing." Such aspirations notwithstanding, the climate in Ireland is not conducive to growing top-quality tobacco plants.)
Amid the wave of enthusiasm for tobacco Bloom displays his characteristic skepticism. The cigar that he reluctantly accepts in Cyclops is a defense not only against being "treated" to countless alcoholic drinks but also, it seems, against the omnipresent consumption of cigarettes. When Zoe tries to bum a cigarette off of him, he replies, "Rarely smoke, dear. Cigar now and then. Childish device. (Lewdly.) The mouth can be better engaged than with a cylinder of rank weed." He then launches into a denunciation of Sir Walter Ralegh for bringing to Europe "a poisoner of the ear, eye, heart, memory, will, understanding, all."
Bloom clearly believes that tobacco may affect the body in harmful ways. When he sees a desperately poor boy "smoking a chewed fagbutt" in Lotus Eaters he thinks of telling him that "if he smokes he won't grow." He seems also to believe that the stuff may have deranging mental effects. In Lotus Eaters these appear to him under a pleasant guise—"Cigar has a cooling effect. Narcotic"—but in Eumaeus he tells the incapacitated Stephen that "it wouldn’t occasion me the least surprise to learn that a pinch of tobacco or some narcotic was put in your drink for some ulterior object." The drug seems to lodge in his imagination as a dangerous pleasure, as treacherously seductive as sex:
(Gaudy dollwomen loll in the lighted doorways, in window embrasures, smoking birdseye cigarettes. The odour of the sicksweet weed floats towards him in slow round ovalling wreaths.)
Sweet are the sweets. Sweets of sin.