Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

The Ulysses Lexicon

Pale

Forms

pale, pallor, paled

Related Terms

Ghost
Flesh

Explication

In Ulysses, pale becomes an important descriptor for Leopold Bloom; consequently, in "Proteus," Stephen's poetic, prophetic vision—"He comes, pale vampire" (U 3.397)—seems to predict Bloom's entrance into the novel at the beginning of the following episode. In "Lotus Eaters," Bloom imagines his naked body in the bath, "pale" and "reclined...in a womb of warmth" (U 5.567-68). Bloom is frequently described in such bodily terms; nonetheless, rather than evincing a hearty vitality, there remains something unmistakably feeble about him, especially in his social interactions, and pale (pallid, faint, weak) works to reinforce this characterization. While this particular usage is a formulation of Bloom's own imagination, pale is also a descriptor projected onto Bloom by others. In "Scylla and Charybdis," Buck Mulligan describes Bloom as having "pale Galilean eyes" (U 9.615). In "Nausicaa," Gerty MacDowell concludes that Bloom is a foreigner upon seeing his "dark eyes and pale intellectual face" (U 13.415-16). In both of these descriptions, pale aligns with projections of foreignness and otherness pointing to Bloom's alienation. The racial aspect of pale is thus somewhat reversed, as pale typically aligns with whiteness, which often represents the opposite of the foreign "other" from a traditional western perspective.

Pale also holds an important meaning for a novel set in Dublin, as it may refer to the English Pale, the part of Ireland under English jurisdiction that included Dublin and the surrounding area (OED 4.a,b). It is somewhat ironic, then, that pale would operate as a marker of Bloom's foreignness, and in this way Joyce's usage of the word undermines conventional binary formations of native and foreign.

Definitions and Examples

  1. I. Pale, adj. (OED 1.a) Of a person's complexion: whitish or ashen, pallid, bloodless, faintly colored.

    "I just simply stood pale, silent, bayed about" (U 3.311).

    "...he said I was lovely the evening we kissed goodbye at the canal lock my Irish beauty he was pale with excitement about going away or wed be seen from the road he couldnt stand properly and I so hot as I never felt..." (U 18.391-93).

    • adj. Feeble, weak, faint. (OED 3)

  2. II. Pale, adj. (OED 1.b, c) Of color: light, faint, almost white, lacking intensity/depth of color.

    "Stephen Dedalus, displeased and sleepy, leaned his arms on the top of the staircase and looked coldly at the shaking gurgling face that blessed him, equine in its length, and at the light untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak" (U 1.13-16).

    "His pale Galilean eyes were upon her mescal groove" (U 9.615).

    • adj. Lacking in brightness or luster; dim. (OED 2)

    "Her pale blue scarf loose in the wind with her hair" (U 4.435).

Related topics

Blackness and Blackface
Bodies
Irish History Transformed
Judaism
Light and Shadow
Native and Foreign

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