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How does Tennyson create a memorable character in Ulysses?

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Introduction

How does Tennyson create a memorable character in Ulysses? This poem is a dramatic monologue spoken by Ulysses, the King of Ithaca. He has just returned to his kingdom after fighting in the Trojan War, but once caught up in his daily routine, he expresses his unhappiness with his life and indifference towards his family and people. Ulysses compares his heroic past to his current state of boredom, and emphasises his desire to revisit his past. Tennyson creates a memorable character in Ulysses, by giving him two sides - a heroic one, and a cowardly one. His desire to flee from Ithaca can be seen as selfish, as he is running away from his family and people, leaving his inexperienced son to take over his role. However, it can also be seen as admirable, as he is following his life long dream and wants to explore the world. Ulysses heroic desire to discover new worlds and to fight life to the end makes him a memorable character. ...read more.

Middle

Ulysses reluctance to accept his domestic responsibilities suggests that he is lazy, and would rather be in a place of leisure and pleasure rather than of struggle and study. The 'barren crags' of Ithaca are an image of infertility, and the 'still hearth' indicates lack of movement. Both of these images are associated with femininity and domesticity. This suggests that Penelope is boring him, especially since Ulysses says 'matched with an aged wife'. This makes it sound like he had no choice to be with her and was forced to. In addition, Ulysses never directly addresses Penelope, and is rude about her even though she has waited for him for twenty years, just to be abandoned again. The phrase 'hungry heart' can be seen as a euphemism for Ulysses' sexual desires. Ulysses makes himself seem inactive and motionless, and the image of a rusty sword may symbolise his ageing fertility and wasted sexuality. Ulysses attitude to his people is also negative, and he sees them as docile and unsophisticated. ...read more.

Conclusion

The use of juxtaposition, for example 'Greatly, have suffer'd greatly' emphasises Ulysses loneliness and makes us almost feel sorry for him. The poem is very dramatic, making Ulysses, the narrator, extremely memorable. There are signs of dramatic performance, including deictic utterances such as 'this', 'there' and 'these', which almost act as stage directions. The poem is also very macho-masculine. There is disdain for his home and family, a desire to be sailing again with the mariners and constant sexual frustration. Tennyson creates a memorable character in Ulysses by making us feel mixed feelings towards him. We are made to pity him, as he is a lonely character who wants to escape from his boring life and follow his dreams. However, we also picture him as a selfish, old man, reluctant to accept his responsibilities. Ulysses attitude to his people and family is very ignorant, especially since they have been faithfully waiting for him. His decision to run away from his life and abandon his loved ones, make him seem cowardly and un-heroic. The intimacy of the dramatic monologue brings us closer to both Ulysses and Tennyson. ...read more.

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Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

3 star(s)

There are good efforts to focus on the question and to supply a reasoned answer, although the essay would benefit from a more careful and precise reading of the poem.
There is a good grasp of technical terms here though more extensive quotation accompanied by line references would be helpful.

Marked by teacher Val Shore 30/11/2013

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