Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

The Ulysses Lexicon

Flower

Forms

flower, flowery, flowered

Related Terms

Flesh
Private
Mary/merry/marry

Explication

Flowers in Ulysses are often symbols of worship. For example, flowers play a role in church services, honoring the Virgin Mary: "Pray at an altar. Hail Mary and Holy Mary. Flowers, incense, candles melting" (U 5.431-432). As flowers are an expected part of the worship schema, elsewhere they also become symbols to be worshipped. Bloom calls Molly "a flower of the mountain" (U 18), a compliment that Molly broadens to include all women's bodies as flowers: "So we are flowers all a womans body yes" (U 18.1577). This image draws on the use of flower as a popular euphemism for 'virginity' and 'vagina,' within the larger birds and bees metaphor for heterosexual reproduction. It is confounding (if not ironic), then, that Bloom also relates flowers to his own body by referring to his penis as a flower: "And saw the dark tangled curls of his bush floating, floating hair of the stream around the limp father of thousands, a languid floating flower" (U 5.569-72). Thus, bodies and flowers interact to relate sanctity and (inter)sexuality.

Flower and Flora are also used as false last names to arouse a potential sexual partner's interest. Bloom tells his romantic pen pal, Martha, that his last name is Flower, while Molly tells a suitor that she is "engaged for fun to the son of a Spanish nobleman named Don Miguel de la Flora" (U 18.772-73). These lies allow Bloom and Molly to engage in sexual behavior with less criticism; with his true identity concealed, Martha and Bloom will never meet to consummate the infidelity, and Molly is allowed to be more flirtatious because it is assumed that she will be married soon. In both cases, the false names are given to men, again mixing genders as the feminine symbol is applied to a masculine body.

Alternately, flower can be a noun relating to liquid, based on the verb "flow" and the suffix -er, meaning: "one who flows." This possibility, based on a multimorphemic analysis of the word, confuses all of the other uses of flower, as the definitions could be interchangeable based on the shared spelling. For instance, Molly is the flower of the mountain—but Bloom may have intended to mean either that she is the bloom of a plant, or that she is a mountain stream. This morphoambiguity creates a confluence of elements in the natural world, by making the boundary between water and plants linguistically indeterminate. It should also be considered that Molly is a flow-er in relation to the "flow" of her period, which comes in episode 18 and also recalls the disparity of experience between Molly and Bloom during the opera incident (U 18.1110-25).

Definitions and Examples

  1. I. Flower, n. (OED 4.a) A flowering plant; a plant cultivated or esteemed for the sake of its blossoms.

    "after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes" (U 18.1575-77).

    • n. Menstrual discharge; the process of menstruation. (OED n. 2. b.) This sense relates to the shared bodily experience of all women, and to the possibility that Bloom means flow-er, rather than flower as in 'blossom.'
    • n. Virginity. (OED n. 6. c.) This sense, though it does not describe Molly, relates to the cultural imagination of and control over the feminine body, and is another way in which flowers have been euphemistically tied to vaginas.

  2. II. Flower, n. A last name.

    "Henry Flower Esq, c/o P. O. Westland Row, City" (U 5.62-64).

    • n. The condition of prosperity, fame, beauty, or vigour. (OED n. 11) Martha is attracted to Bloom partially because she thinks his last name, supposedly Flower, is "beautiful" (U 5.248). She seems to take these connotations of the word as evidence of his desirable character and status.

  3. III. Flower, v. n. (OED 1.e) Of a river: That which carriers down water in its current.

    "Vehement breath of waters amid seasnakes, rearing horses, rocks. In cups of rocks it slops: flop, slop, slap: bounded in barrels. And, spent, its speech ceases. It flows purling, widely flowing, floating foampool, flower unfurling" (U 3.457-60).

Related topics

Bodies
Doubles
Language and Linguistics
Maternity
Paternity
Reproduction
Sexuality
Water

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