Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

Shea, Daniel. "‘A Rank Outsider’: Gambling and Economic Rivalry in Ulysses." James Joyce Quarterly 48, no. 1 (2010): 75–88.

Related topics:

Irish History Transformed
Rich and Poor

For the financially vulnerable Dubliners in Ulysses, gambling promises to provide wealth and opportunity for class transcendence. Instead, gambling wastes money and deadens the senses, much like drinking. Shea compares the economic resourcefulness of Bloom and Boylan in relation to their gambling and drinking habits, shedding light on the subtleties of their characters and the symbolic victory of Bloom over Boylan. Shea discusses the transition of the economy from traditional to capitalist. The capitalist society demands the worker to be a slave to "the mechanized repetition of action" (78), just like the Dubliners become slaves to the mechanical cycle of gambling, repeatedly playing under the assumption that sooner or later they will win. But in the already shaky financial world of Dublin, continued participation "only worsens one's situation" (79) as even a win ends only in endless rounds of drinks: wasting both money and consciousness.

Shea then compares Bloom and Boylan in terms of erlebnis and erfahrung. Erlebnis is momentary experience, a shock ungrounded in a historical context. Erfahrung, on the other hand, involves awareness and consciously learning from experience. The mechanized worker becomes associated with erlebnis while Boylan, Deasy, the Citizen, and Haines all exhibit erfahrung. Whereas Haines and Deasy "defer to the determinism of history, Bloom's erfahrung allows him the perspective needed to learn from it" (82). Unlike Boylan, Bloom neither gambles nor loses himself or his money in rounds of drinks, allowing "the laws of economics to work for him" (83). Bloom's sense of a successful life and his economic sense are closely linked, paving the way for him, and not Boylan, to come out on top in the longterm. According to Shea, the "narcotics" of Dublin society—gambling, religion, history, and alcohol—"conspire to keep the Dubliners focused both on immediacy and on a transcendent future" (86), and Bloom's abstinence makes him "the book's ultimate winner" (87).

Citations and Related Sources

Flavin, Michael. Gambling in the Nineteenth-Century English Novel: "A Leprosy Is o’er the Land". Brighton and Portland, OR: Sussex Academic Press, 2003.
Loveridge, Mark. "Joycean Narrators Report the Ascot Gold Cup in The Times." James Joyce Quarterly 28, no. 3 (1991): 679.
Osteen, Mark. The Economy of Ulysses: Making Both Ends Meet. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 1995.
Slack, John. "Regular Hotbed: Ulysses, Gambling, and the Ascot Cold Cup Race." Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature 11, no. 2 (1994): 1–11.

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