The “Nightmare of History” in James Joyce’s Ulysses

  • Roby Evan Record Jehl Vanderbilt University


The majority of readers of James Joyce’s Ulysses tend to associate its most famous line, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake,” with Stephen Dedalus’s intention in The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to overcome his past of rigid national and religious tradition. While this meaning is immediately present in the quote, a closer reading of the text suggests a far more ambitious–and perhaps even vain–impetus behind the identification of history as a nightmare. Additionally, just as the most popular reading has an autobiographical dimension–in which Joyce himself seeks to transcend his own tutelage–so does the alternate reading I present in this essay have implications for both Dedalus and Joyce.

Author Biography

Roby Evan Record Jehl, Vanderbilt University
I am currently an undergraduate student in the College of Arts & Science at Vanderbilt University majoring in Philosophy. My expected graduation year is 2014. I regularly contribute columns, book reviews, and essays to various publications on campus, including AmeriQuests, ORBIS, and the Neon Manifesto.
How to Cite
RECORD JEHL, Roby Evan. The “Nightmare of History” in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Vanderbilt Undergraduate Research Journal, [S.l.], v. 9, aug. 2013. ISSN 1555-788X. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 20 aug. 2019. doi:
Humanities and Social Sciences


Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus, James Joyce