Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

The Ulysses Lexicon



Mary, merry, merrily, marry, marriage, married

Related Terms



Throughout Ulysses, Joyce cites Mary as a godly, virginal figure; Mary is being prayed to when Bloom wanders into a church and during the temperance service in "Nausicaa" (U 13). Joyce also seems to conflate the Virgin Mary with other female characters in the novel. Most female characters have similar "m" names—Molly, Marion, Milly, Mary, Martha—emphasizing the interchangeability of these women. Bloom sees all aforementioned women as sexual beings, either because he has had specifically sexual exchanges with them, or, in the case of Milly, through his recognition that she is a "ripening" woman with suitors: "Young kisses: the first.... Will happen, yes. Prevent. Useless. Girl's sweet light lips" (U 4.444-58). By only vaguely distinguishing between these women's names and Bloom's sexual estimation of them, Joyce not only conflates their sexuality but also relates all women to the Virgin/Mother Mary, thus suggesting a universalized holiness. This proffers the idea that women's sexuality and morality are not mutually exclusive.

In contrast to the coexistence of women's sexuality and virtue, to be merry and to marry are presented as being in conflict, a divergence satirized and emphasized by their homonymity. Merriness is often applied to widows—in part because they are not married, yet no longer have to maintain their virginity—and to unchaste men, for example: "'Tis a merry rogue" (U 12.1620). By contrast, this reinforces that not all marriages are merry, such as Josie Breen's marriage to a man who wears his muddy boots in bed (U 18.230). Though women's sensuality is destigmatized through the correlation of sexual women and the Virgin Mary, the separation of merriness from marriage suggests that a conjugal bed is not necessarily the best environment to explore one's erotic, pleasure-seeking side.

Definitions and Examples


  1. I. Mary, n. (OED 1.a) A proper name for the the mother of Jesus.

    "Pray at an altar. Hail Mary and Holy Mary. Flowers, incense, candles melting" (U 5.431-32).

    "Martha, Mary" (U 5.289).


  2. II. Merry, adj. (OED II) Characterized by happiness and joy.

    "Richard, a whoreson crookback, misbegotten, makes love to a widowed Ann (what's in a name?), woos and wins her, a whoreson merry widow" (U 9.985-86).


  3. III. Marry, v. (OED 1.a) To enter into the state of matrimony.

    "In God's name, John Henry Menton said, what did she marry a coon like that for? She had plenty of game in her then" (U 6.704-05).

Related topics

Language and Linguistics
Race and Ethnicity
Touch and Feeling
Union and Division

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