A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis
by James Joyce

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Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Ennis: a classmate of Stephen’s at Belvedere

Old Woman: in the street, who directs Stephen to the chapel

Priest: at the Church Street chapel where Stephen confesses

Stephen has now made a habit of visiting brothels. In school, he is bored and uninspired, and the narrative details the wanderings of his mind while he sits in class. He is not plagued by guilt for his sins, but rather feels a “cold lucid indifference.” He feels that he is beyond salvation, and can do nothing to control his lust. He has begun to despise his fellow students, in part because of what he sees as an empty and hypocritical piety on their part. He serves as prefecture of the sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary—a highly esteemed religious organization at Belvedere—but feels no guilt at the “falsehood of his position.” He sometimes considers confessing to the members of the sodality, but feels such contempt for them that he does not.

After the math class is over, the other students urge Stephen to try and stall the teacher of the next class by asking difficult questions about the catechism. Before the religion class, Stephen enjoys contemplating the theological dilemmas. When the rector comes in, he announces that a religious retreat in honor of St. Francis Xavier will begin on Wednesday afternoon. He tells the class about Francis Xavier’s life—he was one of the first followers of Ignatius, the Founder of the Jesuit order. He spends his career converting pagans in the Indies, Africa and Asia, and is known for the great number of converts he amassed. Stephen anticipates the coming retreat with anxiety and fear.

In the next section, Stephen is at the retreat. Father Arnall is giving an introductory sermon, which causes Stephen to remember his days at Clongowes. Father Arnall welcomes the boys, and speaks of the tradition of this retreat. He talks of the boys who have done it in years past, and wonders where they are now. He explains the significance and importance of a periodic retreat from ordinary life, and says that during the retreat they will be taught about the “four last things”: death, judgment, hell, and heaven. He encourages them to clear their minds of worldly thoughts, and to attend to their souls. Father Arnall claims that this retreat will have a profound impact on their lives.

After dinner, it is clear that the promise of the next four days has already had an effect on Stephen—he perceives himself as a “beast,” and begins to feel fear.

This fear becomes “a terror of spirit” as the sermon makes Stephen think of his own death and judgment in morbid detail. This leads him to consider Doomsday, the final judgment. The sermon affects Stephen deeply and personally, and he feels how his “soul was festering in sin.”

Walking home, he hears a girl laughing, which causes him intense shame. He thinks of Emma, and is ashamed as he imagines how she would react to his lifestyle. He imagines repenting, and her forgiving him, and he imagines the Virgin Mary simultaneously marrying and forgiving the both of them. It is raining, and Stephen thinks of the biblical flood.

Next, we hear a sermon which solidifies Stephen’s conviction that he must repent. Beginning with Creation and Original Sin, the sermon reaches the story of Jesus and the importance of repentance and God’s forgiveness. Then follows a lengthy and detailed description of the torments of hell and damnation—it is a physical and geographical account of hell, and a graphic depiction of the bodily and psychological torments hell inflicts on the damned.

As he leaves the chapel, Stephen is greatly upset by the sermon. He fears hell and death, and decides that there is still time to change his life. In class, Stephen’s thoughts are saturated with the language of the sermon. When confessions are being heard, Stephen feels that he must confess, but wonders if he can. He decides that he cannot confess in the college chapel, but must go elsewhere.


(The entire section is 4,813 words.)