THE SYMBOLISM OF STEPHEN DEDALUS
Like his martyred namesake, Stephen suffers through this novel because of
his unique artistic perception of the world.
His family, religion and country all try to make him conform, but he will not be subdued and cuts his ties with all three when he leaves Ireland at the end of the book. If he had stayed, his very essence would have been destroyed, it would have been killed. This relates to the skull image that comes to the fore on numerous occasions.
Daedalus constructed a labyrinth for King Minas.
The labyrinth presents itself in a different form to Stephen at Clongowes School when he has to make his way to the Rector’s office. There too, a skull awaits him, but his meeting with the Rector is initially a success, although this will be an object of betrayal later on (see above). Later, Stephen manages to escape the labyrinth, which is Dublin in order to travel to the free environment of Europe. The association between Stephen and Daedalus comes right at the end of the book when he says, “Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.”
Ironically, Daedalus’ relationship with Icarus is in total contrast to the
relationship between Simon and Stephen. Metaphorically, Daedalus encourages Icarus to fly in order to experience the exhilaration of freedom.
Icarus has to trust his father’s skill and guidance. Stephen receives none of these from his father Simon who tries to clip his wings and keep him earthbound. He provides him with no encouragement so far as his artistic feelings are concerned.
The message here is that perhaps Stephen will not share the impetuous nature
of Icarus and steer a good course not too close to the sun.