Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

Inside Leopold Bloom

Both Leopold Bloom and Llewyn Davis have identities tied to feline imagery. For instance, the etymologies of both protagonists’ names relate to lions. Leopold can be broken into Leo-pold, the "Leo" clearly reminiscent of the Latin word for "lion." Likewise, the "Welsh word for lion is ‘llew’ and the suffix "yn" denotes self-ness," suggesting that Llewyn Davis is "Lionlike" (Wainwright). Interestingly, the "yn" suffix is also reminiscent of Bloom’s indecisive "Nes. Yo" in "Circe" (U 15), a word play on the suffix "-ness" and the Spanish personal pronoun "yo" that further highlights the relationship between identity and names (U 15.2766).

This etymology sets the tone for a space in which Davis’s identity (through his name) is deconstructed. Earlier in the film, Mr. Gorfein’s secretary takes Davis’s message—"Llewyn has the cat"—as "Llewyn is the cat" (ILD). Similarly, in a particularly Joycean slip-up, a fellow musician mistakes Davis’s name as "Lou N. Davis" and "Elwyn" (ILD). While humorous, the inability of strangers to get Davis’s name right also reflects the anonymity against which Davis struggles. Indeed, if Llewyn is indeed the cat, it is telling that even he cannot remember its name, illustrating his own obscurity as a musician. Bloom’s "pussens" also lacks a name, and the reshaping of Davis’s seems to echo Bloom’s anagrams of his own name in "Ithaca": "Leopold Bloom / Ellpodbomool / Molldopeloob / Bollopedoom / Old Ollebo, M. P." (U 17. 405-409). The effort mirrors Bloom’s own lack of recognition by his fellow Dubliners throughout the work, representative of an identity that devolves into nonsense when left on its own.

If we take the litter of examples tying cats to identity down a gendered path, things start to get hairy. In "Circe" (U 15), Bloom is emasculated by Bello in a series of verbal and physical abuses. During this scene, Bello shouts "Up! Up! Manx cat!" at Bloom, placing cat-related imagery in tandem with Bloom’s decomposing maleness (U 15.3129). More specifically, Bello compares Bloom to a cat of suspect masculinity: the Manx cat is "tailless cat from the Isle of Man," taking away Bloom’s phallic "tail" in an otherwise "Man-ly" environment (Gifford 505). In this way, Bello deconstructs Bloom’s masculinity, reducing the man to a pussy.

Likewise, Davis’s masculinity is also tied to his cat. During a climactic sequence following a tense a dinner party, Davis—who thought he had found his hosts’ cat after losing it— is informed that the cat he found is not only the wrong cat but also the wrong gender: "Where’s its scrotum, Llewyn? Where’s its scrotum?" implores the devastated Mrs. Gorfein (ILD). Consequently, Davis is stuck with the rejected, nameless cat and forced to bring it along for a road trip to Chicago, prompting a fellow musician to ask, "So, did you bring your dick along too?" (ILD). If Llewyn is still the cat, then its lack of a scrotum is not only parallel to Bloom’s tailless Manx but also representative of Davis’s own challenged identity as a man. Thus Davis and Bloom have their masculinities challenged in context with a cat.

It is during this road trip that Davis abandons his cat, just as Bloom leaves his cat home as he departs on his own adventures. However, like Bloom, Davis’s return home confronts him with his identity, particularly through the idea of fatherhood. Bloom’s role as father and husband is dictated by the loss of his infant son, Rudy. Likewise, Davis’s "fatherhood" is dictated by death: a significant portion of the film is dedicated to Davis trying to procure money for an abortion for Jane, the wife of a friend he has impregnated. Where Bloom’s failed fatherhood was accidental, Davis intentionally terminates pregnancies for women, a process he has gone through two years before with a woman named Diane. However, when Davis tries to pay for Jean’s abortion, he is informed that, rather than having the arranged procedure, Diane went to term. Suddenly, Davis’s identity is warped into a different sort of failed father-figure, unintentionally absent for the infancy of his child. In other words, the child Davis thought was dead has returned; it has proved to be a cat of nine lives, so to speak.

This notion haunts Davis while driving home from Chicago. Sleep-deprived, Davis notices an exit for Akron, where he has been informed Diane and his child now reside. Davis misses the turn, and continues driving, and one can almost hear Bloom’s inner-conflict projected into Davis’s head: "Too late now. Or if not? If not? If still?" (U 11.1067). Where Bloom’s Rudy returns at the end of "Circe" (U 15), so too does Davis’s child return to him in the form of a fantasy, a missed opportunity that, as for Bloom, confronts Davis in a hallucinatory state of sleep-deprivation.

It is in this state of sleepy wonder that Davis hits a cat in the road. Pulling over, Davis inspects the car to find blood on the fender, and barely makes out the cat’s form limping into the forest. Was it his cat? We never know: Davis climbs back into the car and continues the drive. Despite its absence during this portion of the film, Davis’s brief encounter with the cat on his way home illustrates his total rejection of responsibility—both as a father and pet-owner—despite his urge to turn around and face his identity. Like Bloom, his internal musings have made him impotent. In other words, his curiosity killed the cat.

Yet his identity continues to haunt him. Returning home without a record deal (reminiscent of Bloom’s inability to renew the Keyes advertisement), Davis states "I’m done. I’m tired" to Jean, who has procured a gig for him at the Gaslight Cafe (ILD). If the cat was his artistic identity, then it is fitting that Davis gives up his dream of being a musician after hitting it with his car. His exhaustion is reminiscent of Bloom’s in "Eumaeus" (U 16); where Bloom reaches the end of his day, Davis reaches the end of his week, and the end of his rope, stating, "I thought I just needed a night’s sleep but it’s more than that" (ILD). Just as the text in "Eumaeus" takes on a "weary, rambling" tone, so too does Davis’s third act, which takes a detour in the form of visiting his near-vegetative father and a failed attempt to rejoin the merchant marines (Blamires 199). His misfortunes drive him back to the Gorfeins, who forgive him for his earlier outburst and announce that their cat has returned. Here Davis is finally reminded of the cat’s name: "Ulysses," of course.

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