"Poor Mamma's Panacea" --The Potato in Ulysses
From: EurAmerica(Vol. 49, Issue 1)
Publisher: Institute of European and American Studies, Academia Sinica
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 13,698 words
Wandering the streets of Dublin on 16 June 1904, it was not the latchkey which kept Leopold Bloom company, but a more indispensable talisman: the potato inherited from his mother. This potato is usually referred to at critical moments in the text. In the course of his wanderings, Bloom feels strongly reliant on this heirloom. For a long time, this shriveled potato is regarded as a talisman, corresponding with the moly Hermes gives Odysseus to protect him from Circe's magic. But where does the "magic" of this talismanic moly come from? Why does Joyce depict a reminder of the Great Irish Famine, and thus a symbol of betrayal, as a talisman for his modern-day Odysseus? The shriveled potato in Bloom's pocket, a talisman replete with significances carried by an Irish Jew, seems more mysterious than previously thought. This paper aims to investigate the significances of the potato in Ulysses by tracing the cultural heritages that have endowed it with various implications, including the Andean, the Spanish, the Irish, and the Jewish. The potato in Joyce's text is not only a complex symbol, but an icon of histories and heritages, and of the reality of daily life; thus its significations are multicultural and plural, rather than parochial and singular. Key Words: potato, Ulysses, Ireland, talisman, food culture
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