Molly And Gertys Attitude Towards Sex English Literature Essay
In James Joyce’s Ulysses, we see how the characters of Molly Bloom and Gerty MacDowell are portrayed quite similarly in the text. This is evident from the sexual and physical descriptions they are given. While their actions and dialogue in the text are mostly of a sensual nature, both their behaviours in this line of thought are different. I think, Molly being the older of these two female characters, she is much more imprudent about sex and bodily functions than her younger counterpart, Gerty MacDowell. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Gerty is innocent, because from her thoughts in "Ithaca", we see she is not unadulterated. However, she doesn’t act on these thoughts like Molly does with her infidelities.
From Gerty Mac Dowell’s behaviour on Sandy mount strand, we can see how she appears innocent, but in fact, is a seductress. She is described as a ‘specimen of winsome Irish girlhood’ (314), and tries to live up to this title. She seems to be a model girl in the eyes of the people around her, but her thoughts tell a relatively different tale. Gerty puts a lot of effort into the way she looks, in the hope of catching Reggie Wylie’s eye. When the narrator describes her ‘neat blouse of electric blue, self tinted by dolly dyes’ (316), we see how important her appearance is to her. In this way, she is similar to Molly Bloom, who is also much concerned with her looks. Molly is also concerned with her beauty for the same reasons as Gerty, to attract the opposite sex. Molly applies her creams, and new stockings for the benefit of Blazes Boylan. The only reason she thinks about getting out of bed to ‘go over to the markets to see all the vegetables’ (679) is only in the hope of meeting a man ‘out looking for it’ (680). In this way, it is evident that both women are concerned with their physical appearances and for the same reasons; for the attention of men.
While the two of them are similar in the previous aspects, they are quite dissimilar in their behaviour. While Molly pursues men, like Blazes Boylan, and even Leopold Bloom to an extent, Gerty is more inactive, as she thinks about men and sexual relations, but would never act upon these thoughts as they would be too ‘unladylike’ (). When Molly recalls ‘I went there for tea two days after in the hope’ (647), we see that she went back in search of him, in the hope of having an affair with him. As well, she often hopes to ‘pick up a sailor off the sea that’d be hot on for it’ (677), so it’s clear to the reader that Molly, is definitely not afraid to be sexually expressive. On the other hand, Gerty, who is younger and I think more naive than Molly, spends her time thinking about her sexual desires, about love and marriage, but doesn’t ever consider taking them into her own hands and pursuing these desires. Her ideas of love and marriage are traditional and simplistic, quite childish in fact, but her thoughts aren’t as innocent as people would expect. When she sees Bloom on the beach, she immediately ‘wanted him...she wanted him...her dreamhusband’ (323). The idea that she thinks of Bloom as possibly her future husband or how his ‘haunting sorrow’ (323), appealed her is very immature, and just shows how Gerty plays out her desires in her mind rather than in real life.
This need to imagine and pursue their desires shows that the two most prominent female characters of Ulysses are both sexually unfulfilled. Even Boylan who would ‘make you feel full up’ (644) couldn’t satisfy Molly. Molly, being a sexually autonomous character in the novel, cannot be pleased by her fellow male characters, possibly because her own marriage is so full of problems. Equally, I don’t think Gertrude will ever be satisfied with her interactions with men, because of her fantastical ideas of the way things will be with her ‘dreamhusband’ (323). It is hard to see her desires ensuing when her friends, talking about lewd things makes her, ‘crimsoned at the idea, ...flushing a deep rosy red’ (319). Feeling embarrassed just talking about sex, it is difficult for the reader to believe that Gerty would ever be able to participate in a sexual act like Molly. Gerty’s naivety is even more patent when she describes how herself and her husband ‘would be just good friends like a big brother and sister without all that other in spite of the conventions of Society’ (329). She clearly doesn’t know Bloom or how a real relationship would ever work. So despite their attempts at a sexually gratifying life, it’s apparent Joyce is determining that this is not going to happen for both women.
Another way both women are similar is in their ability and know-how to seduce men in the novel. They both use their appearances and bodies to get the attention of men in the text and they both know how to dress and act provocatively. When Marion first meets Bloom, and she reveals her bosom, ‘both full’ (11,) to him. Similarly in "Nausicaa", Gerty reveals ‘her graceful beautifully shaped legs’ (330) to Bloom, encouraging him in his hidden pleasure. Here, it is obvious that while Gerty’s actions may seem harmless, her thoughts are as pornographic as Molly’s. Molly and Gerty are continually portrayed throughout the text in this manor, with explicit images and thoughts of their sexuality. Yet they are doing what they think is right. Molly wonders ‘what else were given all those desires for’ (677), for if it is what she desires, why shouldn’t she pursue them? Likewise, because of Gerty’s childish sentiments, she is more inclined to submit to the Catholic teachings of the time, keeping her feelings under wraps.
Overall, I think that, looking at Molly and Gerty’s attitude towards sex, we see how Joyce constructs the idea of sex and love being unrelated. Through Molly’s infidelities, she is never fully satisfied, and never leaves Bloom for any of the men she has had sexual encounters with. As well, we can see how Gerty imagines having a husband and the perfect marriage, but shies away from the physical, intimate side of a relationship. Thus, establishing that she will also never be completely happy if she goes on thinking like this. Both women in the novel have sexual tendencies, whether it is being acted upon or simply thought about, but either way they are both unfulfilled.