ERIC Number: ED336760
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1991-Apr
Reference Count: N/A
Half Sinful Words: Disguised Grief in "Ulysses."
As a shrewd technician of the language, A. L. Tennyson rightly understood that words are not controllable; they do not always obey rules. As Tennyson said, words "half reveal and half conceal the soul within." In "Ulysses," the title character's speech to his fellow mariners--where he attempts to explain why he has decided to abandon domestic life and why they should accompany him on a last heroic quest--forms an extended demonstration of Tennyson's concern with the disobedient nature of words. It is Ulysses' unwillingness to acknowledge the end of his heroic self that shapes the "large grief" which he attempts to disguise beneath the words to his mariners. Ulysses uses words to comfort and lull not only his mariners but himself as well, to ease all minds about the hard decision he has made and to persuade all that his choice to leave is correct. But regardless of their lulling effect, his words are uncooperative; they only half obey Ulysses' wishes. He struggles with words, self knowledge, and his knowledge of the world, attributing a boundlessness to all knowledge, and thus complicating the mosaic-like structure of his self-understanding. Although Ulysses claims that humankind must move through an arch of experience to reach towards the light of knowledge, suggesting that the direction to move is out to sea, the proper direction for him might actually be toward Ithaca and domestic life. In "Ulysses" Tennyson shows how an individual braves the struggle of life. And the protagonist's words of revelation-concealment draw reader and student toward the discovery which is the main quest of the poem. (PRA)
Publication Type: Opinion Papers; Speeches/Meeting Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers: Tennyson (Alfred); Ulysses (Tennyson); Words
Note: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the College English Association (San Antonio, TX, April 18-20, 1991).