Bloom is alone: gone are his familiar city and the exotic beauty of the East from earlier imaginings. The gray sky has been transformed into a night landscape littered with falling stars, brimstone descending to the empty plain, “a dead land.” The abundant sensuality and teasing possibility of the female has been replaced by the stark skull and flower reminiscent of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings. Like O’Keeffe’s work, this image explores the interplay between death and life and how each is embedded within the other: it’s a vision of a memento mori and of the natural life cycle. Bloom’s pretty deep understanding of this comes up again and again (in Calypso, it’s a big part of some later pages set in Bloom’s garden).
The Sea of Galilee, imagined by the Zionists of Agendath Netaim as a place of fruition and homecoming, has become a dead sea, vulcanic lake, poisonous waters. Both woman and home, for Bloom on this page, are as desiccated and doomed as Lot’s wife. In this episode, Bloom’s return will not necessarily resolve these feelings: there is still more wandering to be done.