Important Themes of Episode 3
- Transformation and Shape-Changing: Menelaus in the Odyssey recounts that he, marooned on leaving Troy, wrestled the shape-changing Egyptian or Cretan god Proteus to escape the island. The Celtic sea-god and shape changer Manannan MacLir and Proteus are similar in that they are nautical deities and are see with horses symbolic of the waves. The sea itself is changeable in shape and temperament and alters everything it touches, carries, or crashes against. In his battle with Proteus, Menaleus changes into, lion, bear, snake, leopard, boar, running water, and tree (Gilbert). Joyce recreates Shape-shifting in his description of the dog on the beach. Budgen points out that the natural setting for contemplation of transformation is the shore altered by the shift from low water mark to high tide. “Tides ebb and flow, cheating the clock every day, lagging behind. The volume of water changes, spring to neap and neap to spring again. Cold water flows over hot sand….the sea makes and unmakes the land.” The drowned man is another symbol of transformation. To achieve artistic consciousness, Stephen drowns his old ego adopting what Schopenhauer calls “shared suffering.” He surrenders himself to something greater.
- The reliability and malleability of sensation: Observation of the world is unavoidable. Aristotle says vision is unalterable, but the observer can sometimes change other senses. Aristotle’s optics may leave something unexplored. The visual is not constant to all observers. Color is a function of the effect of wavelength on the observer. Some observers are color blind. Monet’s impressionistic flights resulted in part from deteriorating vision. An opposing opinion on the permanence of data from the senses came from Anglican Bishop Berkeley. Fearful of John Locke’s reliance on reasoning as a threat to Faith (yes, capital F), Berkeley claimed that the entire material world was an illusion. Stephen, who fears losing his sight, shuts his eyes to the ineluctable. This theme also questions whether the artist’s processing of sensation changes the stimulus and the sensation that results.
- “almosting”: Stephen struggles to bring up the dream memory of the man who offers melon. The adverb transforms into a verb. The change reflects the theme of metamorphosis. The critical idea is that Stephen is still immature as an artist. He is the Young Man of A Portrait. Tindall points out that Dedalus performs three actions in this mostly thinking episode. He urinates. He wipes snot on a seaside rock (as he must since Mulligan defiled his handkerchief). He writes a fragment of a poem about fertility on an unused sheet from Deasy’s writing. None of these products is artistic. Dedalus is not an artist but is almosting in that direction. For the first time in the novel alone, he can exercise demiurgos, the godlike impulse to create.