Ulysses

by: James Joyce

Episode Three: “Proteus”

Summary Episode Three: “Proteus”

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.

Analysis

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.