Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

The Ulysses Lexicon



useless, uselyss

Related Terms



As mentioned on the Ulysses page, useless can serve as an auditory anagram for the name "Ulysses" (i.e., "uselyss"). Just as the name "Ulysses" is only mentioned four times, the word useless does not make much of an appearance throughout the work either. Furthermore, its uses are very terse, operating in sentences that rarely exceed three words. These sentences describe a variety of things as useless: money, words (spoken), pain, return home, moving, and words (written).

Relating the word back to its quasi-anagram, useless seems to describe (and undermine) things relevant to Ulysses. For example, Bloom is rendered incapable of returning home by the threat of adultery, a direct challenge to Ulysses's desperate journey home to rejoin his wife and, ultimately, fight off her suitors. Likewise, Bloom finds the act of moving useless, which contradicts Ulysses's constant, purposeful journey (U 4.447, 4.450). Even words, the means by which Ulysses is able to communicate, get himself out of trouble, and have his (originally oral) story told, are rendered pointless by Bloom (in fittingly short sentences).

These examples in mind, the word useless seems to be contagious: although it is not said often, its meaning bleeds into the characters' sentiments, immobilizing, discouraging, and making impotent the work's heroes. Here, the quasi-anagram theory comes into play: could the fact that the name "Ulysses" is in the DNA of the word useless be what gives it its destructive qualities? Could the word useless be "Ulysses" in disguise—a threatening, looming presence of the hero Bloom and Stephen can never be? Just as useless is an frustratingly-close, imperfect anagram, so too does it contain Stephen and Bloom's frustrated heroic potential. In this way, useless punctuates the struggles of the heroes in Ulysses, echoing the promise of better shores while simultaneously slowing down the heroes' progress towards them.

Definitions and Examples

  1. I. Useless, adj. (OED 2.a) Devoid of useful qualities.

    "The lump I have is useless" (U 2.259).

    "Trams passed one another, ingoing, outgoing, clanging. Useless words. Things go on the same, day after day: squads of police marching out, back: trams in, out" (U 8.476-78).

    "Folly am I writing? Husbands don't. That's marriage does, their wives. Because I'm away from. Suppose. But how? She must. Keep young. If she found out. Card in my high grade ha. No, not tell all. Useless pain. If they don't see. Women. Sauce for the gander" (U 11.874-77).

  2. II. Useless, adj. (OED 2.b) Futile, pointless.

    "Useless to go back" (U 8.633).

    "A soft qualm, regret, flowed down his backbone, increasing. Will happen, yes. Prevent. Useless: can't move. Girl's sweet light lips. Will happen too. He felt the flowing qualm spread over him. Useless to move now. Lips kissed, kissing kissed. Full gluey woman's lips" (U 4.447-50).

    "Some flatfoot tramp on it in the morning. Useless. Washed away. Tide comes here. Saw a pool near her foot" (U 13.1259-60).

Related topics

Language and Linguistics
Obedience and Rebellion
Rich and Poor

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