Summary and Analysis
The chapter opens with Stephen at home; he is spending the summer with his family, who have moved from Bray to Blackrock, about five miles southeast of Dublin. Stephen enjoys being with his father and his great-uncle, Uncle Charles. He begins each day observing Uncle Charles as the old man in his tall hat, humming Irish tunes, leaves the house, smoking his foul-smelling "black twist" of tobacco and making ready to perform his morning defecation ritual in the "arbour" (the outhouse).
After the ritual, Uncle Charles and Stephen take their usual daily walk through the town marketplace; their next stop is the park, where they meet, as usual, Mike Flynn, an old friend of Stephen's father's; Mike is training Stephen to be a runner. Flynn, according to Stephen's father, has put "some of the best runners of modern times through his hands." Stephen has noticed Mike's "flabby stubblecovered face . . . and long stained fingers through which he roll[ed] his cigarette"; he doubts his father's exaggerated endorsement of Mike's qualifications.
Returning from his workout, Stephen accompanies Uncle Charles to the chapel, where the old man prays. Stephen doesn't understand his uncle's serious piety and wonders why his uncle is praying so fervently.
On weekends, Stephen takes long walks with his father and Uncle Charles, listening patiently to family stories and their conversations about Irish politics. Although Stephen fails to understand the meanings of some of their grown-up words, he has begun to find pleasure in the adventurous and romantic language of The Count of Monte Cristo. Reading the novel, he is transformed into the dark and dashing lover of the beautiful and modest Mercedes; with his friend Aubrey Mills, Stephen reenacts numerous battles and deeds of daring which help satisfy his boyhood appetite for a life of romance and adventure.
At the close of summer, Stephen learns that he will not be returning to Clongowes Wood College because of his father's mounting debts. Shortly thereafter, Stephen and his family move to a "cheerless house" in Dublin; there, Stephen realizes that his father is a financial failure. He becomes self-conscious and bitter, embarrassed by the squalid "change of fortune" which painfully affects his life.
In order to escape his unhappiness, Stephen immerses himself in fantasies of love and romance. Thoughts of the beautiful Mercedes merge with his loving memories of a certain girl; he attempts to calm his young storm of emotions by writing a poem to his beloved, "To E — C — ." In an artistic re-creation of a meeting with this girl, Stephen composes a poem to her in romantic, Byronesque language. Afterward, he yearns even more for the girl, puzzling over his undefined ache for satisfying physical love — which, of course, he has not yet experienced.
When Stephen learns that his father has arranged for him to attend Belvedere College, a prestigious Jesuit day school, he is humiliated to learn that his father discussed the Clongowes pandying incident with Father Conmee and with Father Dolan. To Stephen's shame and dismay, they all "had a hearty laugh together" over Stephen's anguished confrontation with Father Conmee.
The next scene opens about two and a half years later. Stephen is probably fourteen years old, a confident young man at Belvedere, preparing to go onstage in the school play. During his years at Belvedere, Stephen has distinguished himself as an accomplished essay writer, actor, and model student.
Listening for his cue, Stephen waits outside the theater and is confronted by two classmates, Heron and Wallis, who propose a schoolboy prank. They mock Stephen's seriousness as a "model youth" and tease him about a girl who has shown interest in Stephen's upcoming performance in the play. Stephen answers their taunts irreverently; he rotely recites the Confiteor (the Roman Catholic prayer said during Mass for the confession of sin), and he recalls an earlier incident when Heron taunted him and initiated a similar response.
Stephen remembers his first year at Belvedere; it was a time when he felt terribly insecure about his home life and his future. He had begun to take pride in the success of his essay writing when Mr. Tate, the English teacher, discussed one of Stephen's essays, saying that it contained heresy. Strangely, Stephen felt a "vague . . . malignant joy" at being singled out by Mr. Tate. Afterward, Heron and two other troublesome classmates, apparently jealous of Stephen, confronted him and instigated a fight; during the incident, Stephen was forced to identify Cardinal Newman as his favorite prose writer and Byron as his favorite poet. The bullies — Heron, Boland, and Nash — all preferred Tennyson to the "heretical and immoral" Byron, and they attempted to force Stephen to "admit that Byron was no good" by beating Stephen until he finally freed himself. In spite of everything, though, Stephen remembers following after them, half-blinded by tears.
The memory is still vivid, but Stephen no longer bears the boys any malice; Stephen's former anger has been erased by his adolescent love for the young girl who has come to see him in the play. Her admiration for him far outweighs the boys' taunts.
Stephen's role in the play is that of a "farcical pedagogue," and he is somewhat embarrassed when he thinks about the girl viewing his schoolboy performance; as a result, after he finishes his lines, he rushes off the stage, past the audience and his family. He is confused, floundering in a sea of "wounded pride . . . fallen hope . . . and baffled desire."
We next see Stephen traveling with his father on a train toward Cork, where Simon plans to sell the remainder of his property at auction. Bored and disinterested during the train ride, Stephen observes his father — drinking from a flask and crying, on occasion, as he reminisces; he broodingly tells Stephen about old times and lost friends. Arriving at Simon's alma mater, Queen's College, Stephen watches as a porter humors his father, who continues his tiresome, endless tales about times past.
When at last they arrive at the anatomy theater, where Simon once studied as a medical student, Simon and the porter search for Simon's desk. Stephen lingers behind momentarily and is stunned to look down and see the word Foetus carved deeply into a desktop. Simon is describing his college days, but Stephen hears only words. Phantoms stand around him, laughing bawdily. Suddenly, he realizes that those young men long ago shared the "brutish . . . malady" of dark thoughts about sex that trouble Stephen. Until now, Stephen has believed that his preoccupation with sex is unique; now, these young men who carved the word Foetus into a desk during an anatomy lesson are linked with Stephen. He is not alone in imagining all sorts of dark fantasies.
Meanwhile, Simon is unaware of his son's anguish; he continues talking about old friends and gives Stephen scrap ends of advice. For example, he tells Stephen to always behave like a gentleman and to associate with students who have gentlemanly ways — the ability to sing songs, tell stories, and excel in athletics. The shallowness of Simon's advice and his admission that he doesn't really know how to be a father leaves Stephen feeling isolated, angry, and unsympathetic to his father's melodramatic and sentimental murmurings.
Stephen tries to escape from his feelings of alienation, but he can recall only memories of childhood experiences when he felt alienated, lonely, and restless, as he does now. Meanwhile, Simon is still unaware of his son's sensitive turmoil, and he humiliates him when he and Stephen make a round of the local pubs.
Stephen's mind whirls, and his emotions intensify as he hears about his father's (and even his grandfather's) youthful flirtations and drunken revelries. Slowly, Stephen begins to emotionally detach himself from the pub crowd and resign himself to the fact that "his childhood was dead or lost and with it his soul."
The next scene finds Stephen and his family waiting to claim the prize money for Stephen's winning essay. Excited at having so much money so suddenly, Stephen embarks on a lavish spending spree which includes dinners, gifts, and some redecoration of the Dedalus home. His elation in spending the prize money is surpassed only by his later feelings of shame as he realizes his foolishness in trying to "build a breakwater of order and elegance against the sordid tide of life."
Frustrated and disillusioned, Stephen dissociates himself from his family each evening. No longer a boy, Stephen wanders through the "dark slimy streets" of Dublin, trying to "appease the fierce longings of his heart," and, one night, feeling like a "baffled prowling beast," he arrives at the heart of Dublin's brothel district. Standing in a darkened doorway is a young, pink-gowned prostitute who invites Stephen to her room. It is here that Stephen is seduced into his first sexual experience; he "surrender[s] himself to her, body and mind . . ."
Chapter II focuses on the end of Stephen's childhood and the beginning of his development as a young man. After his victory with the rector at Clongowes, Stephen begins to enjoy a relatively carefree summer with his family and friends at Blackrock. His happiness is soon shattered, however, by his family's financial ruin and the emotional confusion of early adolescence. Early in the chapter, we see that he still enjoys childhood's physical activities — playing, running, and enacting "adventures"; by the end of the chapter, he will have grown increasingly sullen as he learns more about the problems of the adult world. And he will have experienced sex with a prostitute.
This chapter, recording Stephen's emotions and thoughts from approximately eleven through fourteen, captures in detail the oscillating mood swings of an adolescent. Although this stage of development is difficult for any young person, Stephen's problems seem more intense — at least to him — because of his exaggerated sense of isolation, his romantic idealism, and his instinctive curiosity about all aspects of life.
On the verge of maturity, Stephen seeks an answer to the matter of manhood: what defines a man? His only role model is his pathetic father, Simon Dedalus. Simon tries to appear capable of caring for his family, but Stephen realizes that his father is a careless wastrel, responsible only for his family's increasing poverty.
The family's move to a cheerless, foggy section of Dublin causes Stephen painful disappointment and humiliation. Joyce understands the misery which Stephen suffers. He graphically describes Stephen's first night in the Dedaluses' new home, where "the parlor fire would not draw" and the "half furnished uncarpeted room" was bathed in a "weak light over the boarded floor." Both the "gloomy foggy city" and the "bare cheerless house" make Stephen's "heart heavy" with the "intuition and foreknowledge" that it is his father who is responsible for the decline. To Stephen, the future seems hopeless. He knows that he is a bright young man and that he is possibly talented, but how does one rise above a future destined for the poor house?
Stephen's only escape from these harsh new surroundings is in wandering Dublin's streets and immersing himself in romantic reveries and fantasies. He is fascinated by his new freedom and the strange wildness of the city, but he is confused by his new and sudden arousals of sexual desire. The surging of sexual lust disturbs him because it seemingly conflicts with his chaste ideal of romantic love. He attempts to re-create a satisfactory solution in his verse-inspired daydream of the elusive E — C — , but fails. Stephen is a sexually maturing adolescent — confused, unhappy, and torn with strong feeling of restless alienation.
In addition to developing the theme of a young artist's feelings of alienation, Joyce also stresses the theme of betrayal — particularly in Stephen's relationship with his father. Simon Dedalus, although he fails to meet his family's financial needs, is extremely concerned with providing a quality education for his children. Stephen's father disappoints Stephen, however, because Simon and the other men laugh about Stephen's confrontation with Father Conmee — a triumphant moment in Stephen's young life, not something to have a "hearty laugh" about. Stephen feels dishonored and patronized by his elders. He particularly takes his father's betrayal to heart, and, years later, he will discover that he cannot forgive his father when Simon needs his son's sympathy and emotional support.
Although Joyce reveals only a few details about Stephen's first two years at Belvedere, we can assume that Stephen devoted much of his time to overcompensating academically in order to hide his embarrassment about his family's poverty. We know that at Belvedere, Stephen was praised for his writing ability and that he took secret pride in shocking his readers. We also know that he was a school leader and earned an important role in the school play. Nevertheless, in spite of all his accomplishments, Stephen remains tormented by his "soul's incurable loneliness," and he becomes increasingly desperate to find an outlet for his deeply troubling, restless emotions.
In the midst of his turmoil, Stephen accompanies his father when Simon must oversee the distasteful task of liquidating the remainder of the family estate. When Stephen and Simon visit Queen's College, Simon attempts to impress his son with old memories of his Alma Mater, but Stephen is unable to share any kind of emotional empathy. When he sees the word Foetus carved deeply on a desk top, he realizes, with shocked revulsion, that students of another generation experienced the same kind of dark thoughts that trouble him today.
Later, Stephen is repulsed by his father's behavior in one of the neighborhood bars. Simon is determined to make a vulgar display of his long-gone, swashbuckling virility. Stephen wonders if he himself will inherit his father's depravity; he fears that the only hope for any normalcy in his life lies in the possibility of foster parentage. This pathos of a father-son relationship during the visit to Cork initiates Stephen's comment that paternity is little more than a "legal fiction."
The visit to Cork also reveals the irony in Joyce's use of the Daedalus myth. The mythical Daedalus, unlike Simon, was a capable, devoted father to his son, Icarus, and was genuinely concerned about the boy's future. In contrast, Simon has always rebelled against most of his paternal responsibilities, and, as a result, he has remained superficial and ineffectual in his fatherly role. Daedalus ultimately attempted to impart valuable advice regarding the ways of the world to his son, but Simon has failed to do this. His selfish sentimentality has driven Stephen further into his own moral and emotional morass.
The chapter concludes as Stephen, having failed to form a bond with his father, succumbs to sex: he will find warmth and comfort by giving himself over to the sexual emotions which have been consuming him. Although he longs to escape the filth and poverty of Dublin and launch out into a pursuit of pure truth, beauty, and love, his quest takes a detour in a short-lived moment of physical gratification in the welcoming, seductive arms of a young Dublin prostitute.
This pink-clad young woman provides Stephen with his first sexual experience, and she also symbolically resolves several of Stephen's emotional conflicts in regard to women. Thus far, women have been either saints, martyrs, or sinners to Stephen. Repeatedly Stephen has had to "apologise . . . admit . . . [and] confess" that he is attracted to women; these words imply that there is something wrong with his being attracted to women. In his early relationships with women, he has always felt suffocated with unresolved guilt, and, as a result, he has developed an iron-like repression of his natural sexual impulses. This guilt about his feeling attracted to women has been compounded by his personal feelings about his mother, Dante, the Blessed Virgin, and Eileen. The Dublin prostitute embodies characteristics of all these women: she is youthful in appearance (she wears a pink dress and has a doll by the bed), yet she is confident and maternal (she nurtures him firmly and calms his fears by calling him a "little rascal"), and, as a result, Stephen, the young artist, worships her physically and spiritually during his immersion in sex, an act which is considered by some people to be the ultimate act of creation.
black twist coarse, black tobacco leaves twisted together.
outhouse outdoor toilet.
did messages delivered messages.
grandnephew great-nephew; Uncle Charles is Stephen's great-uncle.
took their constitutional They regularly took a walk for health's sake.
Munster Simon Dedalus' family home is in Cork, county of Munster, which was traditionally a political hotbed of deep national pride.
The Count of Monte Cristo a nineteenth-century novel about a handsome hero, Edmond Dantes, who is about to be married to his beautiful and beloved Mercedes when he is falsely accused of treason and imprisoned for fourteen years. He arranges a highly unlikely but melodramatically thrilling escape; then he unearths a treasure which finances several ingenious schemes of revenge on the men responsible for his imprisonment. The multiple allusions to Mercedes, Marseilles, sunny trellises, and moonlit gardens all refer to this novel.
Madam, I never eat muscatel grapes. Dantes (the Count of Monte Cristo) makes this statement to Mercedes; her son remarks that Dantes seems to have an Oriental code of honor — that is, he cannot eat or drink whatever is offered to him in his enemy's house. Because Mercedes married Dantes' rival, Fernand Mondego (alias Count de Morcerf), her house is technically the house of an enemy.
seawrack seaweed that has been cast up on shore.
railway carriage railway car.
quays piers lying alongside or projecting into the water for loading or unloading ships.
in search of Mercedes The reference is to Edmond Dantes' beloved, the heroine of The Count of Monte Cristo.
his stone of coal Irish unit of weight; 14 lbs.
the last tram Trams were horse-drawn streetcars.
a new emerald exercise The reference is to unlined notebooks, similar to today's bluebooks.
A.M.D.G. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (To the Greater Glory of God), the motto of the Jesuit order; Stephen and his fellow students were instructed to place the initials A.M.D.G. at the tops of all their school exercises and essays.
his father's second moiety notices second half of the notices sent out in bankruptcy proceedings.
L.D.S. Laus Deo Semper (Praise to God Always), another motto of the Jesuits; often placed at the top of the first page of a school exercise.
provincial of the order head of a religious order in a province.
the christian brothers The reference is to Dublin's Christian Brothers' School, an inexpensive day school for boys.
gamecocks birds bred and especially fed for cock fighting.
Maurice Stephen's brother.
the Whitsuntide play refers to a play that is part of a ceremony commemorating Pentecost (the seventh Sunday after Easter).
the Blessed Sacrament the consecrated bread, or wafer.
Indian clubs bottle-shaped clubs used in gymnastics.
Heron salaamed Heron bent forward, in a low bow, his right palm on his forehead; this is an Arabic and Indian gesture of respect.
doesn't go to bazaars Stephen doesn't go to large shops or flea markets selling unusually colorful and cheap, exotic items.
She's ripping, isn't she? She's first-rate, splendid.
. . . that's one sure five That's for sure; a top mark in billiards, using only one stroke.
the Confiteor I confess; a formalized prayer said at the beginning of the Roman Catholic Mass.
had not forgotten a whit He hadn't forgotten the tiniest detail about the incident.
in a great bake another way of saying that someone is angry, or "hot under the collar."
his bally old play "bally" is a euphemism for "bloody," which has no equivalent in American English; a "bloody shame" could roughly be translated as a "damned shame."
They drove in a jingle. A jingle is a covered, two-wheeled Irish vehicle.
the boy who could sing a come-all-you The boy could sing popular pub songs.
drisheens a traditional Irish dish made of 1 pt. sheep's blood, 1 pt. milk, 1/2 pt. water, 1/2 pt. chopped mutton suet, 1 C. bread crumbs, salt, pepper, pinch of tansy, thyme leaves. The mixture is formed into a thick roll, tied tightly, and steamed for an hour. Good hot or chilled.
the anatomy theatre the room where anatomy was taught; usually a large room with seats in tiers.
legend Here, the word means a carved inscription or caption.
Ay bedad! Irish for "by God!"
some maneens like myself "maneens" is a Irish diminutive of men; Simon is being overly humble, a bit self-deprecating here in order to be well-liked.
slim jim long strips of candy.
the rector in a black and gold cope A "cope" is a form of "cloak"; it is long and is worn in processions.
beggars who importuned him for a lob beggars asking for only a small coin.
he was only a Dublin jakeen a snooty, lower-class Dubliner.
Tempora mutantur nos et mutamur in illis . . . Tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis. The times change us and we change in them . . . the times change and we change in them.
a fierce old fireeater A "fireeater" is a person who likes to argue and fight.
the quarter of the jews This is a misleading phrase. Stephen has actually wandered into the brothel district of Dublin.