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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER TWO

The five scenes of this chapter span some five or six years. Stephen was nine at the end of Chapter One and will be about fourteen at the end of Chapter Two. Joyce leaves it to you to figure out the time gaps between scenes.

The victorious little boy of the last chapter has new troubles. As his family slides down the social scale because of money problems, Stephen makes a painful transition from childhood to adolescence. Joyce selects incidents that contrast Stephen's outward conformity with his inner turmoil. Stephen lives in romantic daydreams that mask sexual urges he barely understands. By the end of the chapter, he has come to terms with his physical self; he has found sexual release. You may see this as a new victory, as Stephen does. Or will the new freedom lead to his downfall?

BLACKROCK

The Dedalus family has moved to Blackrock, a suburb some eight miles from Dublin. There, Stephen spends much of the summer with his great uncle Charles. Every Sunday he walks with Charles and his father, who talk of Irish politics, sports, and family lore. On week days, Uncle Charles and his old friend, Mike Flynn, a former track coach, supervise Stephen's running practice. Stephen also spends time riding in a milk truck and roaming the Irish countryside with a gang of boys.

This is the leisurely old Ireland that will try-unsuccessfully-to claim Stephen. Eventually he will reject it completely as stagnant and stifling. But for now his attitude is more confused. On the one hand, he enjoys running errands with Uncle Charles. On the other hand, Mike Flynn with his lusterless blue eyes is an object of pity. Soon Flynn will be hospitalized, and Uncle Charles will slip into senility-symbols of old Ireland's decline.


In the same way, Stephen has mixed feelings about his peers. With the gang of boys he's joined he enjoys typical boyish pleasures-sneaking into gardens, fighting mock battles. But if on the surface Stephen seems much like the other boys, underneath he feels separated from them. He longs to be part of the real world around him but doesn't quite know how to do this. Often he retreats into fantasies that are nourished by Alexandre Dumas' romantic tale, The Count of Monte Cristo. Its heroine, Mercedes, is now the focus of his idealized and suppressed sexuality, just as Eileen Vance was earlier. He imagines Mercedes in a white house, bright with rosebushes. As with Eileen and the Virgin, the color white indicates the spiritual side of these fantasies. And the roses are a recurrent reminder of beauty and romance.

As autumn approaches, life, like nature, takes on a darker hue. Stephen will not return to Clongowes. His father can't afford the school: the hints you've seen earlier about Simon Dedalus' precarious finances are being proved accurate. As Stephen observes the countryside, the pastoral scenes that only a few weeks before delighted him now seem oppressive. Notice how Joyce employs cows (which, you'll remember from the "moocows" in the book's opening, are a symbol of Ireland) to show Stephen's growing discontent. In the summer, the cows in their pasture had seemed beautiful to him. Now it's autumn, and they've been brought back to a filthy cowyard that with its "foul green puddles and clots of liquid dung" sickens Stephen's heart. It's a clear sign that Stephen's affection for his native land is waning.

Stephen's vague unrest deepens as he broods over the fictional Mercedes and longs to find a real girl just like her. Like many an adolescent, he dreams of a magic moment of "supreme tenderness" in which he will shed his timidity and turn into a strong, fearless man. To relieve his restlessness, he wanders alone. The motif of solitary walking to work out troubling problems will be repeated many times.

Joyce is accused of writing "purple" prose-over-emotional writing-in passages like those that describe Stephen's adolescent longings. Do you think they are overdone, or are they true to the way a youth imbued with romantic literature would express his feelings? Do you think Joyce is making fun of this side of Stephen? Many find in this scene an example of the irony that the narrator employs to distance himself from Stephen and be critical of him.

MOVE TO DUBLIN

Large yellow vans move Stephen's family one morning to a cheerless house right in Dublin. His mother weeps, and his father blames nameless "enemies" for his financial problems. But the boy senses that the forced move is his father's fault. He is losing faith in him.

NOTE:

The color yellow is often used by Joyce to denote ugliness, disgust, and depression. Watch for mention of "thick yellow scum," "yellow dripping," yellow lamps, and other yellows in this chapter and later ones.

Stephen finds Dublin gloomy, foggy, and squalid. He feels embittered. It's increasingly hard for him to relate to other people or to accept affection. If you, like many readers, believe that Stephen is at least in part a self-centered young egotist, you can see that side of him developing here, as he grows "angry... with the change of fortune which was reshaping the world about him into a vision of squalor and insincerity."

During a visit, an aged relative mistakes Stephen for a girl, "Josephine." It's an incident that may imply that along with his other problems Stephen is suffering adolescent doubts about his sexuality. It echoes the smugging episode in the first chapter. There will be similar echoes in the next scene.

At a party where Stephen feels more than ever an outsider, the come-hither glance of a young girl attracts him. The pair take the last tram (streetcar) home together. Stephen feels that the girl, referred to as E. C., is inviting a kiss, but he lets the opportunity pass. Later, devoured by regret, he tries to pour out his feelings in a poem where he does kiss her. The budding poet finds it easier to write than to act; you'll see the same pattern in Chapter Five, when Stephen writes another poem, a villanelle. (Notice, too, that he's already made one attempt at writing a poem, in praise of Parnell. Now you know whom he supported in the argument at Christmas dinner.)

NOTE: STEPHEN'S WOMEN

The girl Stephen rides with on the streetcar is a dimly seen figure whom Joyce describes only by the expression in her eyes. In Stephen Hero, she was more fully drawn. There she was called Emma Clery. Here she is merely called Emma or E. C.

Emma may have been inspired in part by Joyce's intense feelings for Mary Sheehy, one of the six children of the Sheehy family whom he visited every Sunday during his last two years at Belvedere College, the school he attended after Clongowes.

Whether he calls the girl Eileen, Emma, or Mercedes, Stephen is evoking the eternal, desired-and often virginal-female. He links her with sexually inaccessible figures like the Virgin and his own mother.

Stephen hasn't been going to school. Simon Dedalus can no longer afford Clongowes; the alternative he can afford, the Christian Brothers' school, he condemns as being only good enough for "Paddy Stink and Mickey Mud"- his disparaging terms for the lower middle-class Irish. Only the Jesuits-rich, well-fed, and able to land Stephen a good job after graduation-will do. What does this discussion of schools tell you, and Stephen, about Simon Dedalus?

Simon chances to meet Father Conmee, the former rector of Clongowes, who has left the school to take a higher post in the Jesuit order. Conmee makes it possible for Stephen and his brother Maurice to attend Belvedere College as "free boys," scholarship students.

NOTE:

Joyce himself did attend the scorned Christian Brothers' school for some months. Then he and his brother Stanislaus (Maurice in Portrait of the Artist) transferred to Belvedere College, a Jesuit day school for middle-class Dublin boys who couldn't afford boarding school. It was less fashionable than Clongowes, but it provided a thorough education.

The encounter with Father Conmee has great impact on Stephen in an unexpected way. Simon reports untactfully at the dinner table that Conmee and Father Dolan had "a great laugh" over Stephen's complaint about the pandying. He also praises Dolan's diplomacy in receiving the boy's protest with humor. In retelling this incident, Stephen's father shatters his son's illusions about his moment of triumph. Joyce only reports the scene; he doesn't take you inside Stephen's mind to analyze it. But how do you think Stephen now feels about himself? the priests? his father? Should Simon Dedalus have repeated the conversation to Stephen? Do you think he takes pleasure in cutting down his young son?

This brief episode is another example of an epiphany, a moment of revelation that, like a beam of light, illuminates a hidden truth.

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