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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
This chapter concerns Stephen's return to piety and his renewed doubts about religion. It ends with the climactic revelation of his true calling.
The Stephen you now see is not the lustful lad who craved mutton stew at the beginning of Chapter Three. The devout new Stephen dedicates his waking hours to prayers and religious ritual. He punishes his senses by fasting, by walking with his eyes downcast, and by sitting in uncomfortable positions, in the cold. (Notice, though, that he has trouble mortifying his sense of smell. For both Stephen and Joyce, all smells are associated with life, and if you value life you can't find them unpleasant.) The trials he imposes on himself make him feel he is sharing the suffering of the saints, like his namesake, the martyred Stephen.
However, despite all his efforts at self-abasement and obedience, Stephen's flawed individuality asserts itself in the form of doubt, irritability, and stand-offishness. He becomes angry at his mother's sneezing; he feels unable to humbly "merge his life in the common tide of other lives;" he is again beset by "voices of the flesh." His attempts to understand spiritual love, which he seeks in a certain work by Saint Alphonsus Liguori, ends in sensual desire.
Saint Alphonsus was a noted eighteenth-century missionary. His book, Visits to the Most Blessed Sacrament, contains quotations from the Canticle of Canticles, which in the King James version of the Old Testament is called the Song of Solomon. The sensual language and imagery of the Canticle is given a spiritual interpretation by Catholicism and other Christian denominations.
Stephen ends up doubting the sincerity of his own repentance, since it may have been only a response to the fear of doom Father Arnall's sermons had inspired.
DOUBTS ABOUT THE PRIESTHOOD
Subtle temptation comes to Stephen in a dramatic scene with the director of studies at Belvedere. The director is so impressed by Stephen's piety that he feels the youth should think of becoming a member of the Jesuit order-considered a great privilege. It's a friendly talk. Yet there seems to be something ominous about it. Why does the director dangle and loop the cord of the window blind? Is it meant to suggest a noose? Is it a symbolic warning that the priesthood is suffocating, a form of death? What other details do you notice in this scene that add to the feeling of gloom?
Stephen is also put off by the director's small talk about the Capuchins' robes, called in Belgium "jupes" (French for skirts). He seems to be calling the Capuchins effeminate. To Stephen, the director's rivalry with another order is mean and unbecoming, especially because it was a Capuchin confessor who showed Stephen kindness in the last chapter.
Stephen is flattered by the director's offer. He is also tempted by the thought of the priesthood's power and protection from sin. Stephen is well aware of his pride, as he is of his lack of love for others. The word "proud" is used repeatedly in this chapter. He imagines himself learning great secrets and small ones. Hearing confession, the sins of others will be revealed while he as a priest stands apart, uncontaminated. As a natural outsider with a sense of his own superior intellectual gifts, Stephen seems well suited to the Jesuit order.
But Stephen also sees another side of the priesthood. As he takes his leave of the director, he sees the priest's face as "a mirthless mask reflecting a sunken day." This evokes for him the grave, chilly life he would lead as a priest. In contrast, some young men passing by are stepping lightly to a musical tune. What is Joyce suggesting by this contrast?
As he walks along, he tries to sort out his emotions. Passing by the house where the Jesuits live, he remembers his days at Clongowes and he realizes, in a sudden moment of revelation (epiphany), that order and obedience are not his destiny. He will bypass the temptations of the Church. He foresees that he will yield to sin again. Like Lucifer, he will fall, but the fall will make him a part of the real world.
Back home, Stephen finds that his family is being evicted again. The kitchen gardens stink of rotten cabbages. But the odor pleases him. (Once again you see that to Stephen and to Joyce, smells are almost always positive symbols of earthy human life.)
The kitchen itself is littered with scraps of bread, and jars used as teacups, indications of the family's deepening poverty. It's a bleak setting. But Stephen smiles. He finds new beauty in this setting; it is the real world. He realizes he prefers the "disorder, the misrule and confusion of his father's house" to the austere order of the priesthood. His smile as he sings along with his brothers and sisters is a contrast to the Jesuit's "mirthless mask." The children's music is the music of earth and of real life-like the rotting cabbages.
Now that Stephen has rejected the life of a priest, he plans to go to University College in Dublin against his mother's wishes. Stephen is also in the process of freeing himself from his mother, whose religious orientation leads her to fear the free, intellectual life that the university represents. She knows it will pull him away from her and the Church.
Again, Stephen walks restlessly. This time he goes toward the Bull, a seawall, or breakwater, that extends into Dublin Bay. As he walks, he hears the music of an "elfin prelude," wild and fast, and the sound of hoofs racing on the grass.
The elfin prelude suggests the music of Claude Debussy, the late nineteenth-century French composer. He was linked artistically with Stephane Mallarme and other poets of the Symbolist literary movement that Joyce admired. This prelude may refer to Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun," based on a Mallarme poem.
A group of Christian Brothers pass him on a wooden bridge. He feels scorn for their uncouth, weatherbeaten faces and their plain names. They are a symbol of prosaic, dull Dublin-and therefore of Ireland. He is ashamed of his intolerance. But they seem like low, earthbound creatures, and he is ready to leave their world.
As he walks on the seawall called the Bull, Stephen watches the swift-moving clouds. He remembers a favorite poetic phrase-"a day of dappled seaborne clouds"- which makes him aware of his joy in words. The drifting clouds are moving beyond Ireland to the mainland of Europe, just as Stephen will set out to do later.
Stephen's musings about words are significant. They tell you what he feels is the writer's art. Language has power-and Stephen covets this power. Words can do more than depict the surface color of life. They are the tools for revealing the deeper, elusive "inner world of individual emotions."
A group of boys Stephen knows, who have been swimming off the Bull, playfully call to him. "Come along, Dedalus! Bous Stephanoumenos! Bous Stephaneforos!" As Stephen looks at their naked wet bodies, they seem cold and characterless. But the names they call out seem prophetic.