Stephen Dedalus, a young man who is, like his creator, sensitive, proud, and highly intelligent, but often confused in his attempts to understand the Irish national temperament. He is bewildered and buffeted about in a world of political unrest, theological discord, and economic decline. In this environment, he attempts to resolve for himself the problems of faith, morality, and art. At the end, feeling himself cut off from nation, religion, and family, he decides to leave Ireland in order to seek his own fulfillment as an artist, the artificer that his name suggests.
Simon Dedalus, an easygoing, talkative, patriotic Irishman who reveres the memory of nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell. During his lifetime he has engaged in many activities, as a medical student, an actor, an investor, and a tax-gatherer, among others; but he has failed in everything he has tried. Stephen Dedalus’ realization that his father is self-deluded and shiftless contributes greatly to the boy’s growing disillusionment and unrest. Simon is almost the stereotyped, eloquent Irishman who drinks much more than is good for him.
Mrs. Dedalus, a worn, quiet woman who remains a shadowy background figure in the novel. She is a woman of deep faith; her son’s repudiation of religious belief becomes a source of anxiety and grief adding to her other cares.
Mrs. Dante Riordan
Mrs. Dante Riordan, Stephen Dedalus’ aunt. An energetic defender of anything Catholic, she despises anyone whose views are opposed to her own. Her special targets are certain Irish patriots, particularly Parnell, and all enemies of priests. Her violent arguments with Simon Dedalus on politics and religion make a profound impression on young Stephen.
Eileen Vance, Stephen Dedalus’ childhood love. He is not allowed to play with the little girl because she is a Protestant.
E——— C———, called Emma Clery in another manuscript but in this novel more the embodied image of Stephen Dedalus’ romantic fancies and fantasies than a real person. She is the girl to whom he addresses his love poems.
Davin, a student at University College and the friend of Stephen Dedalus. He is athletic, emotionally moved by ancient Irish myth, and obedient to the Church. To Stephen, he personifies country, religion, and the dead romantic past, the forces in the national life that Stephen is trying to escape.
Lynch, an intelligent but irreverent student at University College. During a walk in the rain, Stephen Dedalus tries to explain to Lynch his own views on art. Stephen’s explanation of lyrical, epical, and dramatic literary forms helps to illuminate Joyce’s own career as a writer.
Cranly, a student at University College. A casuist, he serves as an intellectual foil to Stephen Dedalus. To him, Stephen confides his decision not to find his vocation in the Church and the reasons for his inability to accept its rituals or even to believe its teachings.
Father Arnall, a Jesuit teacher at Clongowes Wood School. While Stephen Dedalus is attending Belvedere College, during a religious retreat, Father Arnall preaches an eloquent sermon on the sin of Lucifer and his fall. The sermon moves Stephen so deeply that he experiences a religious crisis, renounces all pleasures of the flesh, and for a time contemplates becoming a priest.
Father Dolan, the prefect of studies at Clongowes Wood School. A strict disciplinarian, he punishes Stephen Dedalus unjustly after the boy has broken his glasses and is unable to study. The beating he administers causes Stephen’s first feeling of rebellion against priests.
Uncle Charles, Stephen Dedalus’ great-uncle, a gentle, hearty old man employed to carry messages. When Stephen is a small boy, he accompanies Uncle Charles on his errands.
Nasty Roche, a student at Clongowes Wood School. His mocking reference to Stephen Dedalus’ name gives Stephen his first impression of being different or alienated.