“…and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down drew to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
Ulysses concludes with Molly Bloom recalling her husband’s marriage proposal in Gibraltar. The memory is recounted in an impassioned inner monologue brought on by a meditation on the natural world and creation. The central drama of the book is Molly’s adulterous affair with another man, but this monologue seems to negate that act and reaffirm her bond with Leopold. She is essentially accepting his proposal anew in her mind. It is the crowning event of the book—Blooms final vindication.
I bring this passage up here so that we might examine Joyce’s use of the term “yes” in these final lines of his masterpiece. This yes acts liminally as the answer to Leopold’s proposal of marriage, but it works more deeply as the concordant note that binds the two characters together. Leopold presents a view of the future (will you?) and Molly assents to it (I will) and so their future is shared. The word yes is the hinge upon which the future swings. And of course there is not one yes but a profusion of yeses. The passage is laced with them. Here I would draw attention to the way the yeses are used. The words yes and no are unique in language in that they do not belong to any one part of speech. Yes and no are not a nouns, nor are they adjectives, nor verbs, nor adverbs. Some identify it as a particle or interjection, but it cannot conclusively be called any of these. They appear to function outside of the usual parameters of grammar. Joyce exploits this ambiguity and employs yes as whatever part of speech he wishes it to be. In “I put my arms around him yes” it is an adverb. It is an adjective modifying breasts in “so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes”. In “He asked me would I yes to say yes” it is used as a verb and the predicate noun—it is the direct object of itself. The Penolope chapter, as it is called, contains no punctuation so there are no mechanical cues to indicate how these yeses must be read. They are left free to act however one wishes to read them. And so, just as Molly assents to Bloom’s proposal, and to Bloom, the passage complies with the reader’s reading. It acquiesces to us and becomes ours, a manifestation of our own thinking rather than the author’s.
If there is any word in modern language that could be thought of as magical, I think it would be yes. Yes conveys potentiality into the actual. Anything new introduced into the world was first met by an answer of yes. If anything happens, it is because it is allowed to happen, and yes is the incantation that grants that passage. It is an oath of affirmation.