Attempting to read Ulysses, or attempting to empathize with somebody who attempted to read Ulysses, is very dificult without some prior knowledge of how the book is written and structured.
The book is divided into eighteen chapters, each one structured differently from the rest and each one having a sort of obsessive theme with a color or scientific or artistic development. The chapters are divided into three parts; the Telemachus, the Odyssey, and the Nostos. Telemachus and Nostos both have three chapters, Odyssey has twelve. There’s a reason for this, there’s probably a dozen reasons, but none are apparent to me, as I’ve only read the book once; people do actually study these works for years. Books have been written about this book.
The name of the second part, Odyssey, is a good place for me to segue into the most prominent allusion of the book; each chapter is one hour of the day on June 16th, starting at eight or nine in the morning and ending past midnight the next day, and each one hour chapter parallels a chapter or scene from Homer’s Odyssey.
Several of Joyce’s friends had trouble understanding the book, so he put together a listing of certain themes. Two of these have been collected here and here. I wish I had found them before I started reading, but they were helpful none the less.