Stephen Dedalus comes across as an overly confident boy. Toward the close of the book, when he decides that he will go to Paris and pursue the life of the artist, he offers two famous lines. The first line is: "Non serviam." In Latin, this means "I will not serve," and echoes Lucifer's statement to God in John Milton's Paradise Lost that it would be better to be a ruler in hell than to be a servant in heaven. The second is: "I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race." Both of these lines come back to bite Stephen at the start of Ulysses. What is so refreshing about the start of the book is that Stephen has learned a lot of humility and he has begun to mature.
The key thing that happens between the close of Portrait in late 1902 and the opening of Ulysses on the morning of June 16, 1904 is the death of Stephen's mother. Presumably, Stephen lived a bohemian lifestyle while he was in Paris, but he has failed to produce art, and thus has returned to Ireland as something of a failure. The most pressing reason for his return was that his mother was sick, and at her deathbed her last wish was for Stephen to pray over her. Stephen, who has cast off the Church and the end of Portrait, refuses to pray. And his mother dies with her son refusing to pray over her. Unsurprisingly, this leaves Stephen just a little moody at the start of Ulysses, and not too open to Buck Mulligan's joking about how he killed his mother.
Now there are two big thematic aspects of "Telemachus" that you want to be tuned into right from the start. The first one is the notion of Irish-ness: In 1904, Ireland is still under English rule though there is a strong nationalist movement within the country. At one point Buck Mulligan begins singing some lines from W.B. Yeats's "Who Goes with Fergus?" and Stephen remembers singing these lines to his mother before she... [continues]
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