His legs

His legs

In Brief

Early in Proteus, Stephen thinks of his feet as being "in his boots" at "the ends of his legs." Near the end of the episode, he looks down at "a buck's castoffs" and thinks of "hismy sandal shoon." His lower body is covered in Mulligan's hand-me-down pants and shoes: Mulligan has asked Stephen in Telemachus, "How are the secondhand breeks?" (Scots dialect for trousers), and in Nestor Stephen has recalled that he also owes Mulligan "one pair brogues." His body is not entirely his own. It is a protean assemblage of parts connected to other people, and this fact bespeaks trust in human connection as much as alienation.

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The fact that Stephen can see nothing of his lower moiety but someone else's belongings, together with his chronic alienation from his own body, may explain the strangely distancing way in which Proteus repeatedly focuses on "his legs," "his feet," "his boots," "his treading soles"—as if "he" and "his" are not quite on speaking terms. This intimate non-dialogue between brain and feet becomes entertainingly visible when Stephen realizes that he has decided not to visit his aunt and uncle-in-law: "He halted. I have passed the way to aunt Sara's. Am I not going there? Seems not." In this ready acquiescence to what his legs have done, one can perhaps hear some nascent trust in the unconscious body, some reassuring indication of Stephen's ability to journey out of his own mind into the mysterious world of the flesh.

[2015] Despite his hyper-intellectual distance from his body, the novel often shows Stephen sanely aware of his physical connectedness to other people—as when his blood rises in response to Mulligan's cavalier remark about his mother, or when he wishes for a woman to "Touch me." In Proteus, having recalled his experiences with Kevin Egan in Paris, he lies back against the rocks to take a nap, tips his hat down over his eyes, and realizes that he has unconsciously adopted one of Egan's physical habits: "That is Kevin Egan's movement I made, nodding for his nap, sabbath sleep." Whatever Egan has or has not meant to him as an exile, or a believer, or a sexual being, or a bohemian drinker, Stephen has incorporated part of him into his own physical nature. His recollection of Egan's friendly greeting and his realization that he has taken some of Egan into himself join with other details at the end of Proteus—his yearning for a woman's touch, his expectation that "Evening will find itself" in his day's wanderingsto suggest that Stephen's mood is arcing toward trust.

JH 2013
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