Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

The Ulysses Lexicon



ghost, ghostly, ghostwoman

Related Terms



In Ulysses, ghost is heavily associated with Stephen. Stephen defines a ghost as "one who has faded into impalpability through death, through absence, through change of manners" (U 9.147-49). Stephen himself is ghostlike—obscure, thin, and insubstantial; indeed, there is something fundamentally impalpable about Stephen, who is rarely defined in bodily terms. Different forms of ghost ("ghostcandle...ghostly" U 1.274) illustrate Stephen's memories of his dying mother, the "ghostwoman with ashes on her breath," reinforcing his association with ghosts and the idea that Stephen is haunted by her—or rather, by her death and the role he imagines himself to have played in it (U 3.46).

Another ghostly character is John Howard Parnell, brother of the deceased nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell, whose predicted return from the grave comes up several times throughout the novel. In "Lestrygonians," the brother is described as an "Image of him. Haunting face," and a few lines later, "Eaten a bad egg. Poached eyes on ghost" (U 8.502, 508). In "Wandering Rocks," these eyes are "ghostbright" (U 10.1053). The brother's ghostly presence suggests that he exists, faded and impalpable, in the shadow of his famous and controversial brother. Additionally, it may be argued that Charles Stewart Parnell's metempsychotic presence haunts the entire novel, through both the characters of John Howard Parnell and Leopold Bloom. (See "Irish History Transformed" for a discussion of metempsychosis and the relationship between Parnell and Bloom.)

Ghost appears most frequently in "Scylla and Charybdis," where it relates to Stephen's Hamlet theory: "[Hamlet is the ghost and the prince. He is all in all" (U 9.1018-19). Here, ghost works to reinforce the parallel between Stephen and Prince Hamlet. They are similarly cerebral, moody, and haunted by their dead parents. Moreover, "ghost," "prince," and "all in all" are suggestive of the Holy Ghost and Christ in the consubstantial Holy Trinity. This works to strengthen the link between Stephen and Bloom, who, like Stephen, is often represented as a Christ figure, but is also cast in the role of Father. Stephen and Bloom thus form a kind of shifting trinity, alternately embodying Father and Son, who are linked by the Holy Ghost. Stephen and Bloom are each consumed by anxiety about (and images of) dead family members; that is, Bloom is haunted by the death of his son Rudy as Stephen is haunted by the death of his mother. The Holy Ghost in this Stephen-Bloom trinity might, therefore, correspond to their shared experience of death.

It may also be interesting to consider the silent "h" in ghost as the word's most iconic letter. Though visibly present it is verbally undetectable, hovering in limbo as a shadow, unable contribute any phonetic substance. Since "H" stands for Hamlet and the Holy Ghost/Trinity, its ghostliness further tightens the web of ghosts in Ulysses.

Definitions and Examples

  1. I. Ghost, n. (OED 5, 7, 8a) A (good or evil) spirit or apparition; the soul of a deceased person—spoken of as inhabiting the unseen world OR appearing in a visible form to the living.

    "He proves by algebra that Hamlet's grandson is Shakespeare's grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father" (U I.555-57).

    "Wombed in sin darkness I was too, made not begotten. By them, the man with my voice and my eyes and a ghostwoman with ashes on her breath" (U 3.45-47).

    • n. A shadowy outline or semblance, an unsubstantial image (of something); hence, a slight trace or vestige, esp. in phrase. (OED 10b)

  2. II. Holy Ghost, n. (OED 6) The usual designation of the Third Person of the Trinity.


    • "He Who Himself begot middler the Holy Ghost and Himself sent Himself, Agenbuyer, between Himself and others" (U 4.493-94).

  3. III. Ghost, n. (OED 10a) A person in a state of extreme emaciation; 'a shadow of his former self.'

    "Insidious. Lick it up smokinghot, thick sugary. Famished ghosts" (U 8.730).

  4. IV. "the ghost walks," v. fig. phrase. (OED 10a) There is money in the treasury, the salaries are forthcoming.

    "—The ghost walks, professor MacHugh murmured softly, biscuitfully to the dusty windowpane" (U 7.237-38).

  5. V. To "give up the ghost," v. fig. phrase. (OED 1) To expire.

    "He gives up the ghost. A violent erection of the hanged sends gouts of sperm spouting through his deathclothes on to the cobblestones" (U 15.4548-49).

Related topics

Irish History Transformed
Language and Linguistics
Race and Ethnicity
The Unspoken

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