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This is the first page where we see Molly’s name uttered in Bloom’s interior monologue; it is also the first time in Joyce’s actual text. I think this is important for a couple of reasons. First, I think it’s significant that Bloom’s first mental “mention” of his wife’s name occurs during an exotic fantasy and in conjunction with her underwear. It makes her seem kind of mysterious and sexy (she goes out and buys herself new purple garters–ah, but for whom?). Joyce was kind of obsessed with his wife Nora Barnacle’s underwear, too. Nora is considered by some to be a model for Molly, and underwear shows up throughout Joyce’s letters. It is, frankly, a bit of a fetish. For example, during a difficult period in their relationship (Joyce–probably mistakenly–believed Nora had been unfaithful, an incident I believe was really critical for the writing of Ulysses), Joyce wrote from Ireland to Nora in Trieste that he wished she wouldn’t leave her underwear lying around for others to see, that he preferred that she keep her intimates intimate, for his eyes only.
There’s another female image here, too: Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated points out that Bloom’s thoughts about the girl playing the dulcimer, and the quote “In the track of the sun,” comes from a book called In the Track of the Sun: Diary of a Globe Trotter, published by Frederick Diodati Thompson in 1893. It is a travel narrative of the Near and Far East, and Bloom has it in his library. The dulcimer also echoes Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s fantastical poem “Kubla Khan”: “A damsel with a dulcimer/In a vision once I saw:/It was an Abyssinian maid,/And on her dulcimer she played,/Singing of Mount Abora.”
But by the bottom panel, Bloom has emerged from this world. His final comment is pretty ironic: he’s noting that there’s a rather big gap between the real world and what you get in books. Ultimately, Bloom has a clear-eyed view of the world, and he lives in a pretty mundane place.