Is the mouth south someway? Or the south a mouth? – Stephen Dedalus
This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a passage of Ulysses and break it down line by line.
The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 47-48 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “A side eye…” and ends “… the library counter.”
In “Proteus,” James Joyce associated the color green with creation. We find green, and by extension creativity, reflected in the seaweed strewn across the strand, in Stephen’s memory of Kevin Egan’s absinthe and, direct from Cock lake, in Stephen’s urine. Thus far on June the sixteenth, Stephen has struggled to exercise his artistic creativity, instead disrupted by the crass Buck Mulligan, the gormless Haines and the calcified Mr. Deasy. Left to his own devices on Sandymount Strand, Stephen is finally stirred to claim his birthright as an Artist:
A side eye at my Hamlet hat. If I were suddenly naked here as I sit? I am not.
As the cocklepickers pass Stephen by, he is first stirred by a different kind of “creative” inspiration. Previously he had let his imagination run wild, imagining the couple to be a pimp and a prostitute scamming the wealthy men of Dublin. Stephen speculates that his Parisian fashion statement has caught the woman’s eye. The Latin Quarter hat has transformed, in accordance with the protean nature of all things found on Sandymount Strand, into a Hamlet hat. “Latin Quarter hat” is a Mulligan-ism, a phrase used to mock Stephen’s attachment to the trappings of his previous faux-hemian surroundings. Here, Stephen is gaining a bit of agency, at the very least dictating the nickname of his hat. More importantly, he is naming his role in the “story” of his life. He is Hamlet, the aggrieved Prince of Denmark. Usurpers, beware.