Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

The Ulysses Lexicon

Flesh

Forms

flesh, fleshy, flesh(hot)pot, fleshless

Related Terms

But(t)
Touch

Explication

Flesh is both eroticized and rejected in Ulysses; a contradiction evident, for example, as Bloom happily wallows in Molly's ample body, which is for her a source of anxiety. Bloom is particularly attracted to Molly's "fleshy charms" (U 16.1428), which also attract Lenehan—"Hell's delights! She has a fine pair" (U 10.559)—and John Henry Menton—"And a good armful she was" (U 6.697-98). Still, women (present mostly only through the characters of Molly and Gerty) continuously express concern over their weight. Molly worries that Boylan was unimpressed by her body during their tryst and contemplates cutting her after dinner stout out of her diet in order to lose weight (U 18.450). A rejection of women's fleshiness is also suggested in "Nausicaa," as Gerty works hard to maintain her slim figure and, according to some critics, is possibly anorexic (U 13.228-230). However, ultimately flesh is more erotic than not, as most of the novel is from a male perspective that admires bodily women.

The sexualization of the word flesh is explicitly apparent in the Shakespearean phrase "fleshpot of Egypt," used to describe Cleopatra (U 9.884, again in U 15). According to the OED, a fleshpot is a pot in which meat is boiled, yet it is also used to suggest a place or individual characterized by sexual hedonism. This compound thus ties together the sexual, womanly sense of definition I with the more banal, culinary sense of definition II, while hinting at the imperial appropriation of eroticized foreign culture.

The duality of flesh and fish reinforces Bloom's sexual interest in stereotypically unappealing bodily functions. Flesh is considered to be attractive; therefore, the text's contrast of flesh and fish suggests that fish is the unattractive, repellant opposite. Even so, in a sexual fantasy, Bloom imagines the "fishgluey slime" of a woman's armpits. This further sexualizes bodies, including their usually unattractive aspects.

Definitions and Examples

  1. I. Flesh, n. (OED 1.a) The muscular parts, of an animal body; that which covers the framework of bones and is enclosed by the skin.

    "Be near her ample bedwarmed flesh. Yes, yes" (U 4.238-239).

    • n. The substance of a body that is plump, in either excess or good condition. (OED n. I.1.3.)

    "they give a delightful figure line 11/6 obviating that unsightly broad appearance across the lower back to reduce flesh my belly is a bit too big" (U 18.448-50).

    "That suits your book, eh? Fleshhotpots of Egypt to hanker after. Wallow in it" (U 15.2365-66).

    "Warmth showered gently over him, cowing his flesh. Flesh yielded amply amid rumpled clothes: whites of eyes swooning up. His nostrils arched themselves for prey. Melting breast ointments (For him! For Raoul!). Armpits' oniony sweat. Fishgluey slime" (U 10.619-22).

    • n. Used in euphemisms describing sexual intercourse. (OED n. I.1.g.)

  2. II. Flesh, n. (OED 4.a) The muscular tissue, or the tissues generally, of animals, regarded as an article of food. Except when otherwise defined by the context, always understood as excluding fish.

    "He shore away the burnt flesh and flung it to the cat. Then he put a forkful into his mouth, chewing with discernment the toothsome pliant meat" (U 4.389-91).

Related topics

Animals
Bodies
Ingestion and Excretion
Native and Foreign
Rich and Poor
Sexuality
Touch and Feeling

If you are an editor of Ashplant, you can edit this page.