Episode Three: “Proteus”
Stephen walks on the beach, contemplating the difference between the material world as it exists and as it is registered by his eyes. Stephen closes his eyes and lets his hearing take over—rhythms emerge.
Opening his eyes, Stephen notices two midwives, Mrs. Florence MacCabe and another woman. Stephen imagines that one has a miscarried fetus in her bag. He imagines an umbilical cord as a telephone line running back through history through which he could place a call to “Edenville.” Stephen pictures Eve’s navel-less stomach. He considers woman’s original sin, and then his own conception. Stephen contrasts his own conception with that of Christ. According to the Nicene Creed, a part of the Catholic mass, Christ was “begotten, not made,” meaning that he is part of the same essence as God the Father and was not made by God the Father out of nothing. Stephen, in contrast, was “made not begotten,” in that though he has biological parents, his soul was created out of nothing and bears no relation to his father’s. Stephen would like to argue the specifics of divine conception (are the Father and the Son the same being or not?) with heretic-scholars of the past.
The sea air blows upon him, and Stephen remembers that he must take Deasy’s letter to the newspaper, then meet Buck at The Ship pub at 12:30. He considers turning off the beach to visit his aunt Sara. He imagines his father’s mocking reaction to such a visit (his father is disgusted by his brother-in-law, Richie, who is Sara’s husband). Stephen imagines the scene if he were to visit: Richie’s son Walter would let him in and uncle Richie, who has back trouble, would greet Stephen from bed.
Coming out of his reverie, Stephen remembers feeling ashamed of his family when he was a child. This disgust for his family brings Jonathan Swift to mind—Swift’s disgust for the masses is evidenced in his novel Gulliver’s Travels by the noble Houyhnhnm horses and beastly Yahoo men. He thinks of Swift, with a priestly tonsured head, climbing a pole to escape the masses. Stephen thinks of priests all around the city and of the piety and intellectual pretensions of his youth.
Stephen notices he has passed the turnoff for Sara’s. Heading toward the Pigeonhouse, Stephen thinks about pigeons: specifically, the Virgin Mary’s insistence that her pregnancy was caused by a pigeon (as recorded in Léo Taxil’s La Vie de Jesus). He thinks of Patrice Egan, the son of Kevin Egan, a “wild goose” (Irish nationalist in exile) whom Stephen knew in Paris. He remembers himself in Paris as a medical student with little money. He remembers arriving once at the post office too late to cash a money order from his mother. Stephen’s ambitions for his life in Paris were suddenly halted by a telegram from his father, calling Stephen home to his mother’s deathbed. He thinks back to Buck’s aunt’s insistence that Stephen killed his mother by refusing to pray at her deathbed.
Stephen remembers the sights and sounds of Paris, and of Kevin Egan’s conversations about nationalism, strange French customs, and his Irish youth. Stephen walks to the edge of the sea and back, scanning the horizon for the Martello tower. He again vows not to sleep there tonight with Buck and Haines. He sits on a rock and notices the carcass of a dog. A live dog runs across the beach, back to two people. Stephen imagines the beach scene when the first Danish Vikings invaded Dublin.
The barking dog runs toward Stephen, and Stephen contemplates his fear of the dog. Considering various “Pretenders” to crowns in history, Stephen wonders if he, too, is a pretender. He notices that the two figures with the dog are a man and a woman, cocklepickers. He watches as the dog sniffs at the carcass and is scolded by his master. The dog pisses, then digs in the sand. Stephen remembers his morning riddle about the fox who buried his own grandmother.
Stephen tries to remember the dream he was having last night: a man holding a melon was leading Stephen on a red carpet. Watching the woman cocklepicker, Stephen is reminded of a past sexual encounter in Fumbally’s lane. The couple pass Stephen, looking at his hat. Stephen constructs a poem in his head and jots it down on a scrap torn from Deasy’s letter. Stephen wonders who the “she” of his poem would be. He longs for affection. Stephen lies back and contemplates his borrowed boots and small feet that once fit into a woman’s shoes. He pisses. He thinks again of the drowned man’s body. Stephen gets up to leave, picks his nose, then looks over his shoulder to see if anyone has seen. He sees a ship approaching.
There is very little action in Episode Three and only one line of dialogue—the chapter consists almost entirely of Stephen’s thoughts. Joyce’s scant use of punctuation makes it somewhat difficult in Episodes One and Two to distinguish between third-person narrative, interior monologue, and dialogue. In Episode Three, the problem becomes not how to distinguish Stephen’s interior monologue from all else, but how to follow the twists and turns of that monologue itself. Stephen is an extremely educated young man—his thoughts therefore flit over a host of scholarly texts and several different languages. Episode Three also offers a compendium of the symbols we have seen thus far, as Stephen’s mind works in the language of symbols from earlier in the morning. Thus Deasy’s shell collection, the sea as mother from Episode One, and drowned male bodies recur in Episode Three and become motifs.
Thus far this morning, we have seen Stephen in his social and professional guises, with smatterings of his private thoughts. The more personal nature of Episode Three allows us to sense an undertone of suffering (expressed through the recurring themes of death, drowning, and decay) in Stephen’s thoughts. The Stephen Dedalus from the end of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was isolated and full of pride. He had ceased to communicate with those around him, and was cer-ebrally focused on his artistic coming-of-age and Parisian exile. The Stephen of Ulysses is chastened by his untriumphant return to Ireland, and has begun to learn the error of his ways—he must acknowledge and interact with the world around him if he ever wishes to mature as an artist. The beginnings of Stephen’s maturation can be seen here in his willingness to be critical of his younger self.
At the beginning of the episode, Stephen briefly considers philo-sophical solipsism—the idea that the world only exists in our indi-vidual perceptions of it. He rehearses the refutation of this theory—knocking his walking-stick against a rock. Despite his practical refutation of solipsism, however, Stephen’s attention in the first part of the episode is focused not on his surroundings, but on his thoughts and on his imaginative recreations of his surroundings. As the episode goes on, though, Stephen begins apprehending more and more of his physical surroundings—by the end of the chapter we finally have a sense, for the first time, of the presence of Stephen’s body, as he urinates, touches his rotten teeth, picks his nose, and looks over his shoulder. His attentiveness to his own physical presence within his surroundings leads him to produce art. He uses the cocklepicker as concrete inspiration for a poem involving a female figure. Stephen’s artistic maturation will not be accomplished today, June 16, 1904, but the direction in which Stephen must continue is laid out for us in Episode Three. Leopold Bloom, appearing finally in Episode Four, also serves as a model of outward attentiveness in opposition to the cerebral Stephen.
Episode Three is associated with Proteus, the shape-shifting god. Accordingly, the episode is full of transformations of all sorts—reincarnation, reproduction, mystical morphing, and material change. Stephen sees figures and landscapes around him and shape-shifts them in his poetic consciousness—for example, he associates the running dog with a bear, a fawn, a wolf, a calf, a panther, and a vulture. Transformation, in which one element translates into a new context (for example, a soul into a new body), also characterizes the movement of Stephen’s thought. His associations and topic-jumps are not always logic-based. They often rely on one word or even the sound of a word to introduce an entirely new thought into his mind. For example, the dog’s morphing into a panther brings to mind Haines’s dream about a panther, which then causes Stephen to try to remember what he himself had been dreaming about when Haines’s moaning woke him.
Thus far in Ulysses, we have seen Stephen to be concerned with mothers—for example, his own mother’s death, the concept of maternal love, and Eve as the original mother. In Episode Three, we get Stephen’s first thoughts about fathers, his own father specifically, from whom Stephen pointedly distances himself here. Kevin Egan, the exiled Irish nationalist, functions as a sort of father figure in Episode Three as well. To the extent that he is paternal, Egan represents the restrictive pull of fidelity to country and to God and to an idealized past—restrictions that Stephen would prefer to avoid. Stephen’s actual lack of his mother and his willed lack of a father underlies the movement toward an expected climax in which Stephen might find surrogate parents in Leopold and Molly Bloom.
by mdd07c, September 16, 2012
This book needs a No Fear for it! But if there were a No Fear made, it should be made in a different way from the others; some lines just need to be put into context. For example, I can't tell if one character is thinking or talking.
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