Crouched in flight
Crouched in flight
For a person who did not much like dogs, Joyce represented
them skillfully in his novel. The three paragraphs describing
the cocklepickers' dog in Proteus display masterfully
close observation, undiminished by Stephen's frequent
metaphysical intrusions and the narrative's even more frequent
evocations of other animal
forms (hare, buck, bear, wolf, calf, fox, pard, panther,
vulture). Most of the actions in these paragraphs make
immediate visual sense, but one of them, "crouched in
flight," is odd enough to give a reader pause.
In an article titled "James Joyce's Bloom: The Mongrel
Imagery," in American Imago 42.1:39-43 (1985), Joanne
Rey writes of how the dog responds to its master's "blunt
bootless kick": "The kick is brutal; the dog's cowardice is
reflected in the intransitives 'sulk' and 'slink'. 'Flight'
instead of 'fright' is also appropriate in this context.
Although the animal is not physically harmed, the animal fears
potential harm from its master" (39). The effect would be less
startling if Joyce had written "crouched in fright"—that
combination of words is almost a cliché—but how, one may ask,
is it appropriate to describe the dog "crouched in flight"?
A perfectly sensible answer is implied by the colloquial
image of an animal retreating "with its tail between its
legs." From fear of injury, and also probably to display
submission, a dog that has been physically intimidated will
lower its head and ears, curve its spine so as to draw its
rear legs close to the front ones, and tuck its tail down far
between its legs. This flight posture could well be described
as a "crouch."
Appropriately for someone who is terrified of dogs (he
carries an ashplant to ward
them off) and who also identifies with them (the dog on the
beach makes him think that Mulligan has called him a dogsbody, and his fear is
followed by a determination to "Respect his liberty. You will
not be master of others or
their slave"), Stephen has the same word applied to him
in Oxen of the Sun when the thunderclap overawes him:
"But the braggart boaster cried that an old Nobodaddy was in
his cups it was muchwhat indifferent and he would not lag
behind his lead. But this was only to dye his desperation as
cowed he crouched in Horne’s hall."