Important Themes of Episode 1
- The Artist’s Isolation: Stephen divorced himself from Church and State. He has already expatriated from Ireland, only returning when notified of his mother’s impending death. Rejecting both British imperialism and Irish patriotism, he refers to Yeats’ elitist theme “The Celtic Twilight” as the cultic toilette. Stephen abandoned religion before his mother’s death. A recurring source of pain is that he refused to kneel and pray at his mother’s bedside as she asked. Stephen has chosen a life without any of the traditional supports of society. This novel is his search for a spiritual, artistic, and humanistic father to fill the emptiness. [Note- Joyce’s brother Stannie tells that biographically their uncle told Joyce to kneel and pray at May Joyce’s bedside. Joyce ignored the request (Ellmann)]. While Stephen continues to have relationships with his siblings, his mother is dead, and he distances himself from his father. He has never known a healthy sexual relationship. Finally, he is even shut himself off from the community’s economic life, he is soon to be jobless and without prospects.
- A Unique Rejection of Church and State: Although he abandons Catholicism and Ireland, Joyce was the most Catholic and the most Irish creature in his exile. He roundly rejected the hierarchical clergy, denying a vocation to the clergy and invitation to join the Jesuit order. However, he embraced the logic and even the theologies of Thomas Aquinas and others. This rejection tortures Joyce because, as Frank Budgen says, ” He has a theologian’s logic and a churchman’s conscience.” Joyce is so devoted to the place of his upbringing that he vows to describe Dublin in such detail that were it destroyed, it could rebuild using his book.
- Stephen’s Credo: “I will not serve” (explained in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). Stephen’s established his strategy in the succinct motto-“silence, exile, cunning.” Stuart Gilbert describes the Stephen of the first three chapters of the book as soft-spoken and deferential. You might also think him passive-aggressive. Mulligan’s name for Dedalus is “Toothless Kinch,” a defenseless child. Stephen’s cunning is at work. He is still deferential but has begun his rebellion against Mulligan.