Crouched in flight

Crouched in flight

In Brief

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.

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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."

JH 2021
Coyote being chased away by an otter. Source:
Domestic dog fleeing in fear. Source:
Subordinate wolf retreating from a dominant pack member. Source: