A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Part 4 (pg. 159 -187)
Stephen hasn't taken his redemption lightly--he is devotional in the extreme now, praying all day and carrying rosary beads in his pockets. Despite his seriousness about holiness, there are a few hints that this isn't coming totally naturally to him. For instance, his devotions sometimes feel to him like hitting keys on a great cash register. He has trouble accepting the idea that God loves him unconditionally, mainly because he hasn't known the emotion of true love yet himself, and his denial is so complete that at moments he's not sure why he should go on living instead of just die and hurry off to heaven. The boy that was so responsive to sensual stimulation has now devised ways to "mortify" each sense. He walks the Dublin streets with his eyes on the ground so as to deny the pleasure of sight. He sits in awkward chairs so as not to feel too comfortable. There's a sense of imminent failure lingering behind all of this piety, however, especially in Stephen's obsession with the idea that one trip to the brothel could undo all of it. "It gave him an intense sense of power to know that he could by a single act of consent, in a moment of thought, undo all that he had done" (pg. 165). But Stephen stays pious, going to confession and even confessing some of his old sins again when his holiness has left him no new transgressions to report.
Though there is not much indication of how Stephen's manner has changed with his schoolmates, he must be exuding his saintliness at Belvedere, because one day the director of the school, a priest, calls him in for a serious talk. Stephen has a notion about why he's been summoned, and sure enough, soon the director comes out with it--perhaps Stephen has a call to do God's work, to become a priest. Stephen's thoughts turn to the goodness of the priests he's known, though this seems a bit of reinterpretation of the past, especially if we remember his anger at being unfairly whacked with the pandybat. The idea of being a priest initially fills Stephen with pride and wonder. But Stephen also has a sort of intellectual condescension to the priests. He thinks in particular about how some of their responses to literature seem more motivated by their opinion of the author's devoutness than the author's ability as a writer. The priest tells Stephen he will pray that God reveals his will about Stephen's calling by the next morning. He warns Stephen to think carefully--the salvation of his soul may depend upon his answer.
Stephen's gut response is evident pretty quickly. He thinks back on the "mirthless mask" of the priest's face and while he's not cocky or dismissive, Stephen does make it clear that the priestly order seems to him void of passion and life: "the chill and the order of the life repelled him" (pg. 174). Walking the streets, he thinks:
"His destiny was to be elusive of social or religious orders.... He was destined to learn his own wisdom apart from others or to learn the wisdom of others himself wandering among the snares of the world." Part 4, pg. 175
This certainty gains steam, and he goes on, imagining himself in a way that brings to mind Lucifer, the fallen angel. "The snares of the world were its ways of sin. He would fall. He had not yet fallen but he would fall silently, in an instant." Part 4, pg. 175
Nearing his home, Stephen smells the rotten cabbages from kitchen gardens and smiles with almost wicked delight to think that the confusion and stink of his father's world can include the order of the religious world. The narrative, which has been quiet and still, like Stephen's mind, picks up speed and raucous noise as Stephen breaks out in a laugh.
In his house, Stephen's senses are noticing all--the wet crusts of bread on the table and his little brothers and sisters, who tell Stephen that his parents are off looking at a house. Apparently, the ever-present money troubles are forcing the Dedalus family to constantly move. The weariness he detects in his siblings, a weariness born out of being poor, saddens him but also stirs up his own unwillingness to let weariness keep him from enjoying the beauty of life.
Stephen will go to the university rather than into the priesthood. Fitful joy fills him at the thought of this, a joy reflected in the description of mood--he's being uplifted as if by long, slow waves.
Stephen goes out walking along the seawall, where he passes a group of religious brothers that he can barely look at. As words fill his head, he begins to think about what it is he loves about words:
"Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and color? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing sensible world through the prism of a language manycolored and richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose?" Part 4, pg. 181
Still walking, Stephen passes some of his classmates who are splashing in the sea. Though their bare skin disgusts him and their play seems childish, the way they call out his name leads him to meditation on its mythical reference Dedalus. He thinks that perhaps art was a destiny written into his very name, and that he was destined to be an artist, creating out of base earthly materials the stuff that can make humans soar.
"Yes! Yes! Yes! He would create proudly out of the freedom and power of his soul, as the great artificer whose name he bore, a living thing, new and soaring and beautiful, impalpable, imperishable." Part 4, pg. 184
Stephen stands and looks out over the sea, feeling alone but empowered. It is now that he sees a girl standing in the shallow water, looking beautiful and birdlike, both woman and girl. All of Stephen's ambitions seem to coil around this bird girl, and though the two never share a word (she seems almost like she might be a figment of his imagination), she drives him to the epiphany that he will live a life devoted to art and beauty. Stephen falls asleep on the beach and when he wakes he is still joyous. The section ends with him looking out over the water, watching the sky and the water and the moon.