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CHAPTER THREE (continued)


Father Arnall's sermons increase in power and eloquence. He recounts the fall of the angel Lucifer (Satan), and then of Adam and Eve.

The priest describes graphically the horrors and physical torments of hell. In the eternal darkness, the sinners' senses will suffer and worms will gnaw at their eyes (a harkening back to the threat of blindness in the prelude). Stephen suffers mentally all the torments that Arnall describes so vividly.


In this version of creation, Lucifer and his rebellious angels were hurled down to hell, because they defied God. Lucifer, the fallen angel of light, was another name for Satan, or the devil. John Milton (1608-74) used this myth in his epic poem Paradise Lost. Later on, Stephen will use the Latin form of Lucifer's words, "Non serviam" ("I will not serve"), as his own defiant motto. Some therefore see Stephen as taking on the identity of Lucifer. Like him, Stephen will be a fallen angel renouncing God as well as country and family.

In another sermon on hell, the relentless Arnall continues to fuel Stephen's anguish with threats of the everlasting spiritual torments of eternal punishment. Arnall ends with a ringing call for repentance.


Arnall's sermons and language are largely derived from the tracts (religious pamphlets) of a seventeenth-century Jesuit, Giovanni Pinamonti, that were translated in the nineteenth century. Joyce rewrote and tailored Pinamonti's text to suit his needs.

Arnall's sermons are meant to put the fear of damnation into his audience by painting frightening scenes and using grossly graphic, unpleasant physical details. This technique is, as he says, called "composition of place" and is taken from the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola. Some Catholic observers have objected to Arnall's sermons as not wholly in keeping with Church dogma. Scholars have pointed out inaccuracies. But other readers consider the sermons samples of Joyce's most effective writing, writing that inspires terror but also makes you wonder about the kind of narrow, rigid mind that would seek to inspire such terror.

The two sermons on hell, its physical torments and its spiritual torments, form the climax of the retreat. They also form the moral center of the novel. They provide the vision of the world, of God, and of the universe, which Stephen must accept or reject. Stephen believes that if he accepts and repents his sins, he will be a good Catholic, a good Irishman, a good son-but never, perhaps, an artist. If he rejects the sermon, he may gain his artistic freedom-but at the risk of losing his soul. For now, guilt is winning out over defiance.


Back in his room, the remorseful Stephen suffers a frightening vision of his own hell crowded with lecherous, goatlike fiends prowling among stinking weeds reeking with odors of dung. (Like Father Arnall's, this hell, too, involves the punishment of all the senses.) The horror of the vision is so real that a spasm of vomiting overcomes Stephen.

"Repent!" and "Confess!" are now added to the "Apologise!" and "Admit!" of earlier chapters. Stephen may have his spells of independence, but he is still not free of religion-and guilt.

Stephen stumbles out into the evening, determined to go to confession before he returns home for supper. As he did at the end of the last chapter, Stephen walks about at random until he finds a church in a poor neighborhood, where he is unknown. In an agony of shame, he finally confesses to a gentle Capuchin monk-a contrast to the threatening Arnall. His "prideful and lustful" rebellion is over-for the moment.


Capuchins, a branch of Franciscan monks, were named for the Italian word for the cowl (cappuchio) of their robes. They were known in Dublin as strict but kindly confessors, and here they provide a glimpse of a Catholic Church that is simpler but more humane than the Jesuit-dominated church you've seen up to now.

Stephen now feels his soul is purified. He strides home, elated. Even the muddy streets seem cheerful to him. He comes back to a peaceful kitchen scene, the symbol of his return to a conventional life. In school the next day, he kneels with a clear conscience at the altar. Reborn to a life of virtue, he is now able to take Communion with them without committing sacrilege. Again, the chapter ends with Stephen's feeling victorious. Virtue has apparently triumphed over sin.


White is the symbol of Stephen's new purity of mind. The meal he comes back to is white: white pudding and white eggs. The flowers on the altar are white, "clear and silent as his own soul." Do you think Joyce's use of "white" here and earlier is meant to symbolize virtue? Or is it a comment on how pale and neutral Stephen's life might be now?

Do you think Stephen will remain virtuous? If he did, this return to grace would be the climax of his adolescent life. But you'll see that it merely follows the pattern of earlier chapters. Conflicts end in apparent victories, but so far these have only been temporary.

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