Inner and Outer Worlds; the Internal and External in James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ and the Poetry of T. S. Eliot

June 19, 2019 by Essay Writer

In the novel Ulysses, a hallmark of modernist writing, James Joyce presents to the reader a particular relationship between inner and outer worlds, blurring the distinction between the internal consciousness’s of his characters and the externality of the world around them. The two become intrinsically connected and almost indistinguishable due to their mutual dependency on each other. The same could be said for T. S. Eliot’s poem, ‘The Waste Land’, in which the state of the inner world of human thought is a reaction to the chaos of the physical outer world, a contrast to his earlier poem, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, where the outer world is presented as irrelevant in comparison to the neuroses of its titular character.

In ‘Prufrock’, Eliot focusses on the mentality of the individual, paying particular attention to the nuanced processes of thought. Eliot portrays a character who is riddled with anxious and obsessive thoughts that lead to existential crises and self-doubt. Prufrock’s worries are not extraordinary, instead being rather mundane. Concerning his physical, outer self he obsesses over how his body image is perceived by his peers and how they will say “How his hair is growing thin!”[1] or “But how his legs and arms are thin!” [Eliot, Line 44] and worries about his sexual inadequacy, concluding that “I do not think that [the mermaids] will sing to me”, [Eliot, Line 125] the songs of mermaids coming to represent the agelessness of female beauty and sexuality. But these outer world elements do not seem to be the focal concern of Eliot. Instead it is the worries of the inner world, the psyche, which interests him. As James E. Miller Jr notes, the insecurity of Prufrock “extends to all the frustrations universally felt when contemplating the elusive meaning of life – and death.”[2] He catastrophizes, pondering whether his simplest failure would cause him to “dare / Disturb the universe” [Eliot, Lines 45 – 46] and mourns the repetitive monotony of his existence, having “measured out [his] life with coffee spoons”. [Eliot, Line 51]

Eliot dissects the human mind and makes the outer world almost totally insignificant in comparison to these existential threats. Miller notes, furthermore, that “those who cannot identify with Prufrock’s sexual frustrations have no difficulty in sharing all his other frustrations”, thus making the inner world of his character and his utter ordinariness the prevalent concern of the poem. [Miller, pg. 156] Eliot begs the reader to relate with Prufrock and recognize the similarities between themselves and this pitiful character. When Prufrock laments “I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, / And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, / And in short, I was afraid”, [Eliot, Lines 84 – 86] little effort is needed from the reader to see something of themselves in his failings. Thus Eliot deconstructs the inner world of the mind and places it clearly as superior to the outer world of the physical body, making the relationship between the two one of competition. This dynamic, however, is changed drastically in Eliot’s poem ‘The Waste Land’, published in 1922, only seven years after ‘Prufrock’.

In the seven years between these two publishing dates Europe was ravaged by World War One. The structural and economic implications of the conflict manifest in ‘The Waste Land’ where Eliot takes a position towards the outer world that is opposed to that presented in ‘Prufrock’. The symbolic image of decimation evoked by the title can be seen in ‘The Burial of the Dead’, the opening section of the poem, in the second stanza. Here, Eliot presents to the reader a true waste land where “the sun beats, / And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, / And the dry stone no sound of water.”[3] Through this wilderness of Biblical proportions, Eliot creates a truly chaotic outer world. This apocalyptic creation is shown to have a direct effect on the inner world of the human mind, shown through Eliot’s depiction of the inhabitants of London, which, as a consequence to the war, has become the “Unreal City”. [Eliot, Line 60]

The title “Unreal City” suggests something of a spectral community. Max Saunders writes that in the poem there is an “inescapable presence of the war dead, whose presence certainly haunts The Waste Land”[4] and the grief over such an undignified death can be seen in the people of London who have become emotionally stunted having lost all sense of solidity and security through the war. Eliot writes “I had not thought death had undone so many” [Eliot, Line 63] and is thus suggesting that the repercussions of the conflict have had a far greater effect on the psychology of society than he had anticipated. The fact, however, that he thought death would undo even some implies that Eliot has recognized a link between the state of the outer world and the inner world. The wastes of war have, for Eliot, created an outlook on life that is focussed on both the contingency of life and inescapable nature of death. Part IV of ‘The Waste Land’, ‘Death by Water’, can thus be read as a spiritual reaction to the world depicted in ‘The Burial of the Dead’. Here, the character “Phlebas the Phoenician” [Eliot, Line 312] lies dead on a beach. Eliot states that this character “Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell / And the profit and loss”, [Eliot, Lines 313 – 314] showing that in death Phlebas has been relinquished of all sensual and societal bonds, showing the reader that in a world ruled by post-war philosophy nothing of our present outer state counts in death. The finality of death is further emphasized by the line “Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you”, [Eliot, Line 321] reminding the reader that they too shall follow the same fate as Phlebas. Eliot is thus creating a bond between the outer world of ‘The Burial of the Dead’ and the inner world philosophy of ‘Death by Water’, the latter being a direct reaction to the first and thus creating a relationship of reaction between the two.

If we are to view ‘The Waste Land’ as a work where the relationship between inner and outer worlds is one of reaction, we may see Ulysses as a work where the relationship is one of dependence. In the novel Joyce presents several narrative voices, the two most prominent being that of Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom. Though Joyce largely focusses on Bloom, Stephen is a character of equal importance, especially when considering the relationship between inner and outer worlds. For the first three chapters of the novel we follow Stephen through the morning of the 16th June 1904 and here we are given insight into his thought processes. In Chapter 3 we see Stephen detach almost entirely from the physical outer world and into his own personal inner one. Joyce depends heavily on the stream of consciousness style here, following Stephens’s thoughts wherever they may lead. Stephen consistently strays away from the outer world, leaving behind all physical forms and loses himself somewhat in philosophical and literary ponderings. “Stephen closed his eyes to his hear his boots crush crackling wrack and shells. You are walking through it howsoever. I am, a stride at a time. A very short space of time through very short times of space”[5] is an example of how Stephen removes himself from the outer world, the physical act of walking on a beach becomes a rumination on his insignificance in the universe.

There is also, however, a metafictional separation from the outer world as the voice of Stephen takes over from the narrator, the sentence passing from third person through to second into first. This change in tense signifies that Stephen’s inner world has taken prominence over the outer world created by the narrator, which, in context to his character (a precocious artist), is symbolic of how for Stephen the inner world takes prominence over the outer. But unlike in ‘Prufrock’, this is not simply a literary tool to be exploited. Rather, Stephen’s preference for the inner world is a consequence of his upbringing. His father’s negligence, his mother’s recent passing and his own failure to succeed as an artist are all factors of his outer world that have caused him to retreat into an inner world of intellectualism in the endeavor to truly find his own identity. His theory on Hamlet for example, aligning Shakespeare with the ghost of protagonist’s father and Shakespeare’s dead son with Hamlet, shows that Stephen lacks direction from an absent father figure and this absence has affected his outlook on life. While Eliot, through the individual in ‘Prufrock’, presents the outer world as irrelevant in comparison to the endless nuances of the inner world, Joyce suggests that the relationship between the two on an individual level is no different than on the collective level. Just as in ‘The Waste Land’, the relationship is one of reaction and dependence.

To stand as a contrast to the intellectually centered Stephen, Bloom is recognized as being a character that truly embodies the physical sense of being a biological entity. While Stephen barely acknowledges himself as part of humanity, Bloom is unmistakably a human character. In Chapter 4 we are introduced to Bloom as he goes about his morning routine. He consumes a pig’s kidney, sexually lusts after a woman at the butchers and he concludes the chapter by going to toilet and wiping himself with a strip torn from a newspaper and then checks himself for faecal stains, the narrator describing Bloom having “eyed carefully his black trousers”. [Joyce, pg. 85] At the end of Chapter 5 Bloom has a masturbatory fantasy, envisioning his genitals in a bath, “the dark tangled curls of his bush floating, floating hair of the stream around the limp father of thousands, a languid floating flower.” [Joyce, pg. 107] Concerning the latrine scene Marilyn French writes that the “scene, matter-of-factly described even to the extent of Bloom wiping himself … symbolizes Bloom’s mental acceptance of body and bodily functions.”[6] Joyce therefore gives Bloom a place in humanity, unlike Stephen. While Stephen secludes himself to his inner world, Bloom unashamedly celebrates his body and sexuality, the essence of his outer world. This celebration, however, does not mean that his inner self is ignored.

Bloom’s thoughts and feelings are given equal importance in the novel as his physicality, but when compared to Stephen, who exists almost solely as a process of thought and not a physical being, the reader cannot help but be particularly drawn to these examples of a bodily outer world. Once again, however, there is, on an individual level, parallels between Joyce’s character and Eliot’s ‘Prufrock’. Both characters famously suffer some form of sexual inadequacy and both feel like the outsider in society. But it still stands that in ‘Prufrock’ Eliot subjugates the outer world for the inner, while in Ulysses Joyce gives the two equal voice and importance. In that way, Ulysses has more in common with ‘The Waste Land’ in that both works provide equal opportunity to the outer world of society and the inner world of the human psyche.

Jewel Spear Brooker notes that the second stanza of ‘The Burial of the Dead’ “is rich with associations, and satisfying, in part, because it provides what Eliot’s title promised: a waste land.”[7] This passage is satisfying not simply because it lives up to its titles promises, but also because it provides some form of solid setting that the reader can recognize, an outer world that is easy to imagine and free from the disorientating literary allusions that puncture the rest of the poem. Similarly, Dublin serves as a cohesive focalizing setting in Ulysses. Throughout the novel Dublin becomes as much a character in its own right as Bloom or Stephen, Joyce providing it with both an inner and outer world. In the novel Joyce pays meticulous detail to street and shop names, mapping his characters journeys. In Chapter Five Bloom starts his journey walking down Lime Street, crosses Townsend Street and then on to Westland Row where “he halted before the window of the Belfast and Oriental Tea Company”. [Joyce, pg. 86] Such specificity creates a physical sense of the city, blurring the line between fact and fiction. Joyce truly creates an outer world where Dublin dominates as a presence. But, just like Stephen, Bloom and ‘The Waste Land’, there is an inner world to also explore.

From the date of Ulysses’ publication 1922 the reader will have been reading the novel in the wake of the Easter Rising of 1916. Hugh Kenner writes that “Joyce is carefully reproducing the spurious Dublin life of an embalmed past.”[8] Set twelve years before the Rising, the Dublin depicted in Ulysses serves as a record of the city before the fight for Irish independence. The citizens of Dublin act out the part of a colonized people who have had their culture ripped from them. The old milk maid in Chapter One, who fails to recognize Irelands native Gaelic language, ironically spoken by an Englishman, but says she’s been “told it’s a grand language by them that knows”, [Joyce, pg. 16] comes to serve as both the collective inner world of the colonized Irish but also a mockery of W. B. Yeats Irish heroine Cathleen ni Houlihan and thus symbolizes a lack of national identity. Joyce depicts a Dublin with a fully recognized physical form and a colonized and anti-British collective mind, a character in its own right with interconnected inner and outer worlds.

By 1922, the year both Ulysses and ‘The Waste Land’ were published, both Eliot and Joyce depicted worlds and characters that demonstrate that the relationship between inner and outer worlds is one of reaction to the modern world, whether that be conflict or lack of identity. Together, Ulysses, ‘The Waste Land’ and ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ form a group of texts that have become synonymous with modernist writing as a movement, and thus the relationship between inner and outer worlds presented in them come to represent, in part, the relationship in modernism as a whole. Symbiosis is key to the modernists handling of inner and outer worlds, in both Ulysses and ‘The Waste Land’ the outer world defines the inner and the same can be said in reverse. The modernists, as exemplified through Joyce and Eliot, created a literary tradition that rejects the constraints of language and literature and where there is no true definition of an inner or outer world but rather a whole, the inner and outer blending seamlessly together to create one world of thought.

Works Cited

[1] T. S. Eliot, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, in Modernism: An Anthology, ed. by Lawrence Rainey (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), Line 41

[2] James E. Miller, T. S. Eliot : The Making of an American Poet, 1888 – 1922 (Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005), pg. 156

[3] T. S. Eliot, ‘The Waste Land’, in Modernism: An Anthology, ed. by Lawrence Rainey (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), Lines 22 – 24

[4] Max Saunders, ‘Tradition and the march of literature: T. S. Eliot and Ford Maddox Ford’, in T. S. Eliot and the Concept of Tradition, ed. by Giovanni Cianci and Jason Harding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pg. 198

[5] James Joyce, Ulysses (London: Penguin, 1922), pg. 45

[6] Marilyn French, The Book as World, (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1976), pg. 159

[7] Jewel Spears Brooker, Reading “The Waste Land”: Modernism and the Limits of Interpretation, (Massachusetts: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1990), pg. 65

[8] Hugh Kenner, Dublin’s Joyce, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), pg. 214

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