For James McMichael, Joyce's Ulysses invites the wide range of interpretations it has received: what it also does is to prod its interpreters to put the book to some just use. If Ulysses were more conventional than it is, McMichael claims, its readers could set more comfortable limits for themselves in their responses to it, limits that did not extend beyond Ulysses into their dealings with persons in the world. But what happens instead is that the singularly unconventional narrative structure of Ulysses keeps reminding them that the story they are being told about any of the characters is the same kind of story they tell themselves whenever they think about a person. It reminds them that every person needs to be responded to justly and that the justice of their response to any person depends on how justly they characterize that person in their thoughts. McMichael insists that it is justice that Joyce himself most wants. Distinguishing Joyce not only from the immature Stephen Dedalus but also from Ulysses' perfectly unresponsive narrator, this study describes Joyce's tacit but discomforting plea that Ulysses be judged not so much for its literary mastery as for the degree to which it is a just response to persons in need.
Originally published in 1991.
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