This article proposes that the narratological problem of character in Joyce's Ulysses is inseparable from the biopolitical problem of population. More important than the presentation or ontological status of any individual character in Joyce's novel is the sheer number of characters who populate Ulysses as a whole. Drawing attention to Joyce's use of reproductive metaphors for character-creation, the author argues that this proliferation of fictional characters compensates for a very real sense of demographic deficit in the wake of the Irish Famine. By refusing to abide depopulation within his novel, Joyce transforms a realist character-system based on the premises of scarcity and an overpopulation of characters. The search for a more inclusive and democratic mode of representing population leads him (via the street directory that he used to plan Ulysses) to the Irish census. After examining the census's influence on episodes such as “Ithaca” and “Wandering Rocks,” the author argues that Joyce embraces a key assumption of the statistical movement that gave rise to the census: the idea that individuals are quantifiable, and thus commensurate, almost to the point of being interchangeable. The preoccupation with “enume ration” in Ulysses points to an expansive vision of population that extends the census's egalitarian logic beyond the quantifying unit of the household. In his own “census,” Joyce presents his characters in demographic detail, confounding the distinctions between flat and round, major and minor, that usually frame discussions of character.
Skip Nav Destination
Sam Alexander; Joyce's Census: Character, Demography, and the Problem of Population in Ulysses. Novel 1 November 2012; 45 (3): 433–454. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-1723034
Download citation file: