So this week, I used the Voyant tools to dissect my favorite novel, Ulysses, by James Joyce and see what interesting trends lie under its weird hood. I did not know what to expect once I put the novel into Voyant and the word bubble appeared on the screen. But in examining the most frequent words, I couldn’t help but giggle at the most used word—said. This is kind of funny since Ulysses, as an experimental novel, really engages with a sense of interior cognition that was and still is pretty ground breaking for the reader. Each moment of engagement given to the reader, we are placed right within the mind of the main characters, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, and the reader is often left confused and asking, WHO SAID THAT?
And with that being said, it is really fascinating that the word, said, is actually the most occurring word. While the novel isn’t written in the first person, the reader forgets ever encountering the word, even when it occurs a whopping 1208 times. That is ridiculous compared to the frequency of the main characters names. Bloom is mentioned 934 times and Stephen is mentioned 504 times. I suppose the reader is just so accustomed to the word and likewise blown away by everything else going on in the novel that said is never even recognized.
I also think the location of the word throughout the novel is just as interesting as how often the word appears. Said is pretty frequent in the beginning of the novel, which is arguably the most concrete and solidified portion of the book. However, as you can see in the graph below, there is a dramatic drop in its usage at segment 5.
The fifth segment represents the novel from chapter 12 and onward, which is interesting because chapter 12 is where multiple narrators begin to overlap and interrupt the narration with their own personal musings. This probably corresponds with the evolving internal narrative that James Joyce explores beautifully throughout the novel. And even by the seventh and ninth sections. The seventh section marks the beginning of the most notorious chapter 15, which is a proto-magical realist script depicting events not possible the expected reality of the novel (but probably possible in an immersive VR space to be honest). Likewise, the ninth section represents the beginning of the novel’s third section where reality begins to solidify along with the loose nature of cognition where the narrative is itself loosely held together by punctuation and personhood is merely indicated by a word like said. Now I will never underestimate the value of that word’s flexibility and utility.