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Would you have guessed that the episode would end with a talking seal?
Professor Gifford is kind enough to remind us that in the Odyssey, seals are connected to the sea-god Proteus–they’re his informants. And Proteus is the title of an upcoming episode–not the next one, but the one after.
So you could say that the seal is telling Stephen that Mulligan is a usurper, or that when Stephen hears the seal’s barking, he imagines that it’s telling him that. Or maybe the seal has nothing to do with it.
A number of the episodes of Ulysses end on equivocal moments like this, where there’s a final word, a closing point, that seems to close the chapter like a well-made box (to paraphrase Yeats), but that leads off in a number of possible interpretive directions. You could even say the final episode, with its famous concluding “Yes,” is the ultimate example of this.
In any event, we’re left with this cinematic image of Stephen heading out into the world, without a home, without a clear path. What would it mean for him to have a homecoming? What kind of father would he seem to be looking for, if any? What exactly does he want, anyway?