At several points in the novel, men reach out to Stephen in efforts to guide him—often literally, with a physical touch. In his obvious brilliance and obvious lostness Stephen attracts paternal feelings, and in this epic of the human body that need for human connection often registers in touch, just as it does in Stephen's need for a heterosexual relationship. But not all of these overtures are welcome.
In Proteus, Stephen imagines meeting a woman who can rescue him from his loneliness: "Touch me. Soft eyes. Soft soft soft hand. I am lonely here. O, touch me soon, now. What is that word known to all men? I am quiet here alone. Sad too. Touch, touch me." When Nora Barnacle rescued James Joyce on the same Sandymount Strand, she touched him. Several men indulge that impulse, although not sexually.
Mulligan purports to offer Stephen intimate friendship, an intention which is borne out by his locking arms with Stephen in Telemachus and holding on to him for a prolonged time. We hear that "Buck Mulligan suddenly linked his arm in Stephen's and walked with him round the tower." Fully a page later (after twelve paragraphs), "Stephen freed his arm quietly." The verb "freed," and Stephen's memory of Cranly while Mulligan is holding his arm—"Cranly's arm. His arm"—suggest an aversive response. Stephen's reasons for recoiling from the touch are many. He distrusts Mulligan's efforts to become a mentor: "I'm the only one that knows what you are. Why don't you trust me more?" He also seems to feel that Mulligan's impulse to take charge of his life conceals a predatory sexuality. In Scylla and Charybdis, after Mulligan rhapsodizes about "the charge of pederasty brought against the bard," he thinks, "Catamite."
In Nestor the old headmaster Mr. Deasy never touches his employee (although he does come running after him down the front path), but he brims with presumptuous advice that Stephen clearly has no intention of following. The pattern is repeated in Aeolus when the newspaper editor Myles Crawford lays “a nervous hand on Stephen’s shoulder”—nervous because he wants to recruit him to write for the paper. Like Mulligan, Crawford presumes to understand the reserved young writer: “You can do it. I see it in your face.” But his presumption prompts a hostile response from Stephen, who links Crawford with Father Dolan, the demented Jesuit disciplinarian who punished him unjustly in A Portrait: “See it in your face. See it in your eye. Lazy idle little schemer.”
By contrast, two men’s touches do not provoke Stephen’s hostility. One comes from Almidano Artifoni, his Italian teacher, in Wandering Rocks. Artifoni, like Mulligan and Crawford, presumes to understand Stephen in this scene: he is wasting his singing talent, he says, when he could be earning some money from it. Stephen listens sympathetically to his advice, and is rewarded with a handshake: "His heavy hand took Stephen's firmly. Human eyes. They gazed curiously an instant and turned quickly towards a Dalkey tram."
In Eumaeus, Leopold Bloom, who has the same advice to offer about Stephen's talent as a singer, invites the battered young man to lean on him during their walk to Bloom's house. “— Yes, Stephen said uncertainly, because he thought he felt a strange kind of flesh of a different man approach him, sinewless and wobbly and all that."