Lecture Four--Proteus on Sandymount Strand
(from "Joyce's Ulysses" by Professor James A.W. Hefferman of Dartmouth College)
This chapter is named “Proteus” after the legendary sea-god of
Homer’s epic. Though Homer’s Telemachus never meets Proteus
directly, he learns about the god from Menelaos, who tells him of
Proteus’s power to change his form. Hence, the theme of the
chapter is metamorphosis: transformation, shape-shifting, scene
changing. As Stephen walks along the beach at Sandymount
Strand, he watches a dog behaving like a succession of various
other animals, and he thinks about other shifts in form and place:
about his own doglike face, about the radical transformations we
undergo in passing from birth through life to death, about his
father’s gift for mimicry, about scenes (such as Paris) quite
different from the beach around him, and about the multiple
personalities ofthe sea--a mighty mother fully capable of
drowning her children.
I. ln spite of its difficulty, this chapter is well worth reading because of
what it reveals about the mind and imagination of Stephen.
A. The philosophical language ofthe opening paragraph is daunting.
B. But the chapter shows Stephen’s mind at work on all kind of
objects-living and dead, animate and inanimate-as he walks the
beach about ll o’clock after teaching his class at the Dalkey
C. The chapter reveals the mind of Stephen by means of interior
monologue.1. An interior monologue is an exact, verbatim transcript of what
a character is thinking-what is streaming through his or her
2. Joyce said that he took it from the work of a late nineteenth-
century French novelist named Edouard Dujardin.
II. Reformulating Homer’s story about Telemachus and Menelaos, Joyce3. In this chapter and for the most part elsewhere in Ulysses,
Joyce altemates between interior monologue and third-person
narration as he draws us into Stephen’s mind.
turns Stephen from Telemachus into Menelaos to dramatize the
struggle to perceive unity beneath multiplicity.
A. Telemachus, who is Stephen’s counterpart in Homer’s epic, has
left Ithaca to seek news of his father from his father’s old war
buddies. Having visited Nestor in Pylos, he goes to See Menglaos
in Sparta, who tells him of Proteus, the shape-shifting god of the
B. This chapter, called “Proteus,” exemplifies the way Joyce
reformulates Homer.1. Although Telemachus never meets Proteus directly, Stephen
encounters him in the world of the seashore.
2. By grappling intellectually with a series of transformations
and struggling to perceive unity beneath multiplicity, Stephen
becomes something like Menelaos.a. He sees a dog acting like a succession of other animals
and finally reverting to its own shape-“sniffling like a
dog”--when it finds a dead dog on the beach.
b. Stephen's thoughts on the “dogsbody” remind us that he
saw himself as a “dogsbody”--the anagrammatie
transformation of God’s body--in Mulligan’s cracked
III. Meditating on the sea, Stephen is hatmted by a fear of drowning.c. Qigging in the sand, the dog reminds Stephen of his
riddle about the fox burying his grandmother, which
recalls his own desire to bury the guilt-laden memory of
his mother-even as he keeps digging her up again
A. Recalling that Mulligan once saved a man from drowning, Stephen
remembers that he could not save his mother from a death marked
by the bitter waters of her own bile.
B. If Stephen’s mythic father is Dedalus, the legendary maker of
wings, he himself is something like Icarus, who fell into the sea
when he flew too high and the sum melted the wings from his
C. At the end ofthe chapter, he ruefully imagines the decomposed
body of a recently drowned man.1. The thought ofthe drowned man leads him mentally back to
Milton’s elegy for a drowned poet-an elegy from which one
of his students recited a few lines about the saving power of
Christ, who once walked on water.
IV. Nevertheless, Stephen’s thoughts on transformation include birth, as2. But Stephen sees death as the reverse of redemption, a process
of transformation leading only downward to “dead dust” and
well as death, “creation from nothing.”
A. The sight of midwives makes him think about his own birth.
B. Remembering his “squealing” infancy, Stephen prompts us to
think about the transformation of his voice from squealing to
C. The thought of his own birth leads him mentally to his parents
begetting him and, thereby, doing “the coupler’s will.”
V. As his walk along the beach makes him think of other places,
Stephen’s mind becomes what Hugh Kenner calls a “theater of
A. Passing the house of his Aunt Sara, he imagines a meeting with his
deadbeat Uncle Richie there.1. First he imagines the voice of his father contemptuously
mimicking the voices of Sara’s family, whom he despises.
2. Because Joyce’s own father was a gifted mimic, this episode
makes us realize that Joyce has inherited from him the gift of
mimicry, which manifests itself throughout his novel.
3. As an aspiring writer, Stephen himself is learning the art of
mimicry--the art of impersonation.
4. Hence, he can imagine what his Uncle Richie would say-B. The sight of a fort known as the Pigeonhouse leads him to recall
even though he never actually goes to see him.
his sojourn in Paris.1. The Pigeonhouse reminds him of an irreverent French book
about the life of Christ in which Mary is said to have been
impregnated by a pigeon. In tum, the book reminds him of
Mulligan’s mocking song about Christ as the son of “a bird.”
2. Thoughts of France lead him to remember his sojourn in Paris
and his meeting with Patrice Egan, based on a real-life Fenian
named Joseph Casey who fled from Ireland rather than live
there under English rule. Once a daring revolutionary, Egan is
now a bumed-out figure-like Goulding, who was once a
lawyer and is now a billing clerk.
VI. Meditating by the seashore, Stephen learns how to look at and listen to3. These two products of downward transformation-Egan and
Goulding-remind Stephen of his own failure to fultlll his
an ever-changing world that is nonetheless enduringly present.
A. He opens his eyes to everything around him.l. He interprets all that he sees, reading them as “signs”
2. He construes the sea as a source of both life and death.B. Closing his eyes, he listens to the sound of his walking boots.1. “Shut your eyes and see,” he says to himself.
2. While the eye can see two things juxtaposed in space,
nebeneinander, “next to one another,” sounds come in audible
succession, one thing after another, nacheinander.
3. By closing his eyes, Stephen discovers that the extemal world
is “there all the time” for the senses, waiting to be seen, heard,
and read-to be constuned by the senses and interpreted by
Kenner, Ulysses, pp. 38-41.
Morse, “Proteus,” in Hart and Hayman, pp. 29-49.
Questions to Consider:
1. Why is Stephen so fearful of drowning?
2. What does this chapter reveal about the relations between fathers and