Rhetoric, Oratory, and a Crux or two

The seventh episode, “Aeolus,” is where the fun really begins. Up until now we’ve had a fairly naturalistic novel, experimental in narrative technique but hewing close to a few modes: exposition, internal monologue, etc. When episode seven opens, we right away know something’s up: what are these headings doing here? This is the chapter where the true star of the book emerges, what David Hayman dubbed “the Arranger”: a narrative persona beyond simple first or third person, a kind of Artist-God behind the book, playing games with the reader. We’ll see a lot more of him in the second half.

The game in this chapter is rhetoric, and littered throughout the chapter are dozens of rhetorical devices, giving the chapter a linguistic verve surpassing that of the early chapters. You can have fun hunting for them, or, if you’re like me and you wouldn’t recognize a polyptoton if it came up and spit in your face, you can refer to Gilbert and/or Gifford, both of whom provide lists. Also central to the episode are the three speeches cited by various characters, illustrating various styles of oratory. The last of these was actually recorded by Joyce himself, the only known recording of him reading from this book (there’s also an excellent recording, well-worth checking out, of him doing a passage from the Wake):

And then there’s this passage, as J.J. O’Molloy is discussing the second example of oratory: 

–He spoke on the law of evidence, J.J. O’Molloy said, of Roman justice as contrasted with the earlier Mosaic code, the lex talionis. And he cited the Moses of Michelangelo in the vatican.


–A few wellchosen words, Lenehan prefaced. Silence!

Pause. J.J. O’Molloy took out his cigarettecase.

False lull. Something quite ordinary.

Messenger took out his matchbox thoughtfully and lit his cigar.

I have often thought since on looking back over that strange time that it was that small act, trivial in itself, that striking of that match, that determined the whole aftercourse of both our lives. (7.755-65)

What is happening in that last line? Who is speaking? Who are the two who “both” are having the course of their lives determined? For that matter, who is “Messenger”? It seems reasonable to say that it is either J.J. O’Molloy or Lenehan, the two who are speaking here, but why do we suddenly have this drastic change of tone? I’m sure many critics have puzzled over it: I rather thought it might be an example of a rhetorical device, but neither Gifford nor Gilbert seems to mention it. Thoughts?

And while I’m putting questions out there: what do people think of Stephen’s Parable of the Plums? That’s something the critics almost always address, usually chalking it up to political allegory (see, for example, Richard Ellmann’s guide Ulysses on the Liffey, which I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet). But every time I read it I’m still puzzled by it. What do you guys make of it?