Ulysses – 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
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.