The Hat Trick: The Fluid Symbol of the Hat in James Joyce's Ulysses

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Faison, Elisa
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Scholarship Sewanee 2011 , University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee , Undergraduate research , Hats in literature , James Joyce , Ulysses
The Trade paperback edition of Ulysses, published by Vintage Books in 1990, features no cover illustration except for a large black hat and pair of glasses, which seem to be worn by the word “Ulysses” itself. Though Joyce did not intend his book to be capped in such a way, we must nevertheless wonder what is so important about the hat that makes it worthy of a cover. We do not see Dublin, or the high seas which bore Ulysses home, or even the shadowy representations of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus; we see a hat and some eyewear. This cover, as it turns out, is entirely appropriate. Joyce focuses much of his characterization on describing the hats of various characters. Unlike other articles of clothing, hats are not socially necessary; Joyce thus makes a deliberate choice to connect his characters to their hats, sometimes even metonymically reducing them to their hats. By its very nature, the hat is a barrier between the mind and the outside world; it can both hide a face and accentuate a face. As such, it becomes Joyce’s symbol for psychic fragmentation, the major problem of Ulysses. Sheldon R. Brivic notes that “Stephen is aware that language itself … can stand for material things” (Brivic, “Time” 36). Joyce himself is aware material things can also stand for language, as in Stephen’s thought: “These heavy sands are language” (Ulysses 3.288). In the image of the hat, Joyce creates a new form of language or art, a new way to reveal the self.