Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

The Ulysses Lexicon



bloom, bloomers, blooming

Related Terms



In Ulysses, the significance of the word bloom lies primarily in the fact that the protagonist's surname is Bloom. Consequently, every time the common-noun form of the word appears, associations with Leopold Bloom inevitably form. Bloom and blooming are used throughout the novel to signify flowers and blossoming, fertility and motherhood, and feminine beauty. Flowers are obviously closely related to the word bloom synonyms in some cases--and flowers play an important role in Ulysses, especially when it comes to marriage and sexuality. Bloom's chosen pseudonym for his sexual correspondence with Martha Clifford is Henry Flower; however, flowers are heavily associated with Molly as well. On the one hand, flowers come to be associated with her adultery, as Bloom notices a flower in Blazes Boylan's coat and continues to wonder who gave it to him (U 11.366). However, flowers also connect to Bloom's relationship with Molly, as Molly happily remembers Bloom calling her a "flower of the mountain" on the day he proposed (U 18.1576). Such flowery implications of Bloom's name are covered further in our lexicon entry for flower, but "bloom" also incorporates Bloom's interest in undergarments through the variant "bloomers." Thus, bloom is at the nexus of marriage, adultery, and desire in Ulysses.

Bloom also contributes to the fluidity of gender in the novel, especially in the case of Leopold Bloom. The appearance of bloom in such pointedly suggestive phrases such as "womanly bloom," (U 14.676) "full bloom of womanhood," (U 14.16.1429) and "first bloom of her new motherhood" (U14.1317-18) works, on some level, to intimate Bloom's femininity. Indeed, "womanly bloom" clearly resonates in "Circe," (U 15) where Bloom becomes the "womanly man" (U 15.1799). According to one definition in the OED, bloom may refer to "a mass of iron after having undergone the first hammering" (OED) This connection to metallurgy contributes to the sense of transformation and flux that characterizes identity, especially gender identity, in the novel.

The bloom/Bloom connection clearly associates Bloom with fertility, both masculine and feminine, and yet this association is ironic in light of his unconsummated sexual relationships and, arguably, the death of his son. Bloom's relationship with Martha exists only on paper, his emission in "Nausicaa" (U 13) is merely masturbatory, and we learn that he and Molly have not had sex since their son's death several years ago. The description of Bloom's penis as a "languid floating flower" at the end of "Lotus Eaters," (U 5.571-2) consolidates the link between bloom and Bloom's failure of fertility and traditionally masculine sexuality.

Bloom relates not only to fertility, but also to death. In "Circe," (U 15) Old Gummy Granny appears with the "deathflower of the potato blight on her breast," (U 15.4579-80) which not only points to the Great Famine in Ireland, but also recalls the flower in Boylan's coat. However, the connection between bloom and death comes primarily from the closeness of the words bloom and blood. This closeness is established not only by the fact that these words differ by only one letter (Bloom confuses them when reading the throwaway pamphlet: "Bloo...Me? No. / Blood of the Lamb" (U 8.8-9)), but also by the definition of bloom as a flush, which signifies blood flow. Thus, the blood of bloom encompasses both death and vitality; accordingly, blood and bloom ultimately intersect in "Penelope" (U 18) when Molly begins to menstruate. In this way, bloom spans the gulf between Molly and Bloom (Leopold), male and female, and life and death.

Definitions and Examples

  1. I. bloom, n. The blossom or flower of a plant; "in bloom" = flowering, blossoming (OED 1a,d)

    "The chestnuts that shaded us were in bloom: the air drooped with their persuasive odor and with pollen floating by us" (U 14.1145)

  2. II. bloom, n. Pinnacle of perfection or beauty; most flourishing condition (OED 3a)

    "It grieved him plaguily, he said, to see the nuptial couch defrauded of its dearest pledges: and to reflect upon so many agreeable females with rich jointures, a prey to the vilest bonzes, who hide their flambeau under a bushel in an uncongenial cloister or lose their womanly bloom in the embraces of some unaccountable muskin when they might multiply the inlets of happiness, sacrificing the inestimable jewel of their sex when a hundred pretty fellows were at hand to caress, this, he assured them, made his heart weep" (U 14.672-79).

    "Stephen, obviously addressed, looked down on the photo showing a large sized lady with her fleshy charms on evidence in an open fashion as she was in the full bloom of womanhood in evening dress cut ostentatiously low for the occasion to give a liberal display of bosom..." (U 16.1427-30).

    "Reverently look at her as she reclines there with the motherlight in her eyes, that longing hunger for baby fingers (a pretty sight it is to see), in the first bloom of her new motherhood, breathing a silent prayer of thanksgiving to One above, the Universal Husband" (U 14.1315-1319).

  3. III. bloom, n. A crimson flush or glow (OED 3a)

    "The twilight hours advance from long landshadows, dispersed, lagging, languideyed, their cheeks delicate with cipria and false faint bloom" (U15.4075-77).

  4. IV. bloom, v. To bear flowers, to blossom (OED 1, 2)

    "There is a flower that bloometh" (U 15.2489-90).

    "The flowers that bloom in the spring" (U 15.3354).

  5. V. blooming, adj. In the prime of youth, health, and beauty; flourishing (OED 2a)

    "...oblige M Bloom youre looking blooming Josie used to say after I married him..." (U 18.842-43).

  6. VI. blooming, adj. slang Full-blown; often a euphemism for "bloody" (OED 4)

  7. VIII. bloomer, n. (More fully Bloomer costume, bloomer dress): A style of female attire consisting of a short skirt and long loose trousers gathered closely round the ankles. (OED 4)

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