Molly Bloom’s soliloquy:
Don’t tell Professor Stonum, but I never finished reading Ulysses. I’m not proud to say that I got an “A” in the class, a fact that has haunted me especially in my last 29 years as an English teacher.
To protect my students from my wanton ways of faking knowledge of texts they haven’t/partially read, I created a metaphor – that is, that someone can describe the experience of eating a warm, gooey brownie right out of the oven (using Sparknotes, enotes, etc.) but you still miss out on the actual experience of eating a warm, gooey brownie right out of the oven (reading a book).
But, I know enough about James Joyce’s character, the very physical Mollly Bloom and the New Testament’s very pure Virgin Mary to see parallels between the two women. At the risk of being sacrilegious,let me show you what I mean.
Joyce’s masterpiece ends (so I’m told) with Molly’s possible reminiscence about falling in love – with whom is not clear: “… and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.” The power of this language is clear. It’s a quote I had run into, not knowing that I’d missed it in the context of Joyce’s masterpiece. I’ve also heard it parodied. But, like much great literature, its meaning may take many forms. Regardless of whether or not you know exactly what the quote means in the context of the book, its repetition, lack of punctuation, and stream of consciousness, is moving and certainly nails what I think is the feeling when you passionately, enthusiastically, commit to something or someone.
What we don’t have in Molly Bloom’s story is what she is responding to. And her energy is not necessarily the norm.
With the Virgin Mary, we know exactly what she’s responding to.
Imagine that you’re Mary. First of all, an angel shows up. Then he speaks. He knows you’re a virgin. He tells you you’re going to have a baby. He tells you what to name the baby. And when Mary collects herself enough to ask how this dandy little plan will all come about, he says that the Holy Spirit has it covered. And then, the best part of all, is when Mary says, ”May it be to me as you have said.” ”May it be to me as you have said.”!!!
Huh?? What if Mary had said, “Not on your life, bub!” or “Go get yourself another girl!” or “No way you’ll have THIS virgin to kick around!” Imagine – Christianity would have come to a screeching halt. Millions of people would have nothing to do on Sunday morning. December would not be a spot of joy in a sluggish economy.
We can’t really imagine what would have happened in Ulysses had Molly said “No way Jose! (or Leopold, or whomever)” – and for most people, the fact that they’re at the end of a 700-page book, that’s probably a good thing.
The point is that Molly Bloom and the Virgin Mary both said, “yes.”
Being an FOT, I realize that if I don’t say “yes” now, I never will. So, I’ve recently said “yes” to something that I’m pretty unsure about. I’m kind of on Mary’s enthusiasm level on this one. It’s a job that is something I’ve never done before, but hope that my accumulation of skills is enough to allow me to do well.
As in life, in fiction, the moment when we say “yes” propels the action forward – Hamlet learns that his father has been murdered and after much hand-wringing, causes him to seek revenge; in Great Expectations, Pip meets a terrifying convict in the graveyard to whom Pip says “yes” out of fear, but the convict never forgets the little guy and secures Pip’s fortune; in It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey’s father has a heart attack just as George is about to fulfill his lifelong dream of leaving Bedford Falls, causing George to stay and become a banker instead of a world traveler. Even though those tales didn’t necessarily end smoothly, the story goes on.
So, my story is moving forward. I’ll keep you posted.