For the first several years of one's life, their mother and father are their world. These first relationships occur at a time when the tiny human is learning the basic of their environment and how to respond to it. A child learns much of their early actions by imitating the role models around them. The relationship that exists between a child and each of their parents will set the tone for how they deal with other relationships that they encounter throughout their life.
In Chapter One we discover that our hero has "issues" with his paternal and his maternal relationship. These relationships overshadow almost any other conflict in the story at this time. It is apparent through Stephen's interactions with Mulligan and Haines that he did not have a strong paternal figure to model. He reacts in a rather passive manner. One must remember that this chapter takes place in 1904. Male and female roles were clearly defined by social constructs of the time. The man was supposed to be the bread winner and protector, while the women stayed at home and portrayed a more passive role. Passiveness in a confrontation was a female trait during this time period. Stephen passively gives the key to Mulligan and keeps his feelings about Mulligan's stabs about his mother inside.
We also know much about Stephen's relationship with his mother from this chapter as well. Stephen's thoughts about the milk lady demonstrate how he feels about his mother. The old lady is both symbolic of his mother and reflects the nationalism that he feels for "Mother Ireland." Joyce makes a statement about nationalism in the failure of the old woman to recognize the national language of her own country. One would expect an older person to be able to speak the old language of the country. This was a statement by Joyce to demonstrate just how far Ireland had strayed from its roots. This shows that the older generation had lost its national heritage long ago. The old woman refers to "those who know," meaning that she has never known the language. The loss of Gaelic is symbolic of oppression by the dominant English society. The scene with the milk woman tells us about the relationship the Stephen feels with "Mother Ireland."
Joyce uses several elusive symbols in this scene that may escape the casual reader. The first is the "green" of the milk, representing the beginning of life through the calf. The other is the green of the bile, representing death. Stephen later projects these images onto the sea through the sea, which he describes as a "bowl of green water." The soured green milk is similar to the green bile that his mother coughed up on her death bed. This also tells us that Mulligan's claims that blame Stephen for his mother's death are an attempt at control. Joyce gives us this to make it clear that Stephen's mother was dying from liver failure, not a lack of prayer. Joyce makes it clear the Mulligan is using a touchy emotional subject as ammunition to establish control. Throughout the milk lady scene, we find clues as to Stephen's maternal relationship.
Stephen concludes at the end of this series of mental images that Mother Ireland is dying and that her milk has turned sour. Stephen's loss of his own mother is demonstrated in his continual reference to his grief. We know that this grief is strong because Mulligan is able to capitalize on it Stephen has regrets that he mist deal with concerning his mother's death. It is doubtful that he would have had regrets if the relationship had been a good one when she was alive. Stephen fails to pray at her bedside as she is dying. He says that it is because of his severance with the Catholic Church. However, it is difficult to believe he will refuse his mother her dying request due to his hatred of the doctrines of the church. This leads the reader to believe that there is something in the relationship between Stephen and his mother that have created strain in the relationship.
Stephen's similarity in action to a strong female role model is highlighted by the fact that he is seeking a male figure to fill in his desire for a paternal relationship. Stephen forfeits the key to his castle and home. This too is a political statement about English rule in Ireland. The castle and key to it represent possession of the homeland. Stephen has given the key to his home to one that does not own it. This is symbolic of the English occupation and rule of Ireland and a direct reference to Joyce's feelings about it.
Like Telemachus, chapter one sets the stage for Stephens' journey to find a paternal figure and reconcile his relationship with his mother. Stephens' failure to pray at his mother's deathbed and rejection of the Catholic religion is also symbolic of a social movement that was a part of the real world of James Joyce and Ireland in general. Stephen rejects the presence of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. He does not feel that adherence to a Roman Catholic custom will help to make his mother better, just as he feels that the Catholicism is not the answer for "Mother Ireland."
In chapter four, "Calypso" we finally meet the character the will eventually fill the gap in Stephen's life for a father figure. Leopold Bloom (Poldy) presents himself as man that has also been deposed of his castle. Joyce contrasts the mundane inner world of Leopold with the intellectual inner world of Stephen. It is difficult to see Leopold Bloom as the father figure that Stephen needs in the beginning of the novel. He character also reacts passively to an invasion of his home. He does not react even when he knows that he wife will make love with another man. Bloom is extremely subservient to his wife, which makes him an unlikely substitute for the paternal love that Stephen needs.
We later find that Bloom's father committed suicide by taking an overdose of Monkshood while in Italy. Bloom is an outsider, which is highlighted in Chapter Six, "Hades" when Bloom must ride in a funeral hearse with a bunch of Catholics. Bloom is Jewish and inadvertently makes several off color comments that demonstrate his difference in ideology from those among him. Stephen and Bloom both feel like outcasts in Dublin.
Joyce fills his imagery with fatherly figures that are not so fatherly. We have Maggy, who begins her prayer, "Our Father, who are not in Heaven." Maggy is Stephen's sister, which gives us a clue that Stephens' father did not live a respectable life by most standards. Simon Dedalus appears completely drunk and unable to support his daughters. Derelict father figures are a reoccurring theme in Ulysses.
The theme of masculinity plays major role in the male and female characters that Joyce portrays. When Ulysses confronts the horrible Cyclops, he taunts him by calling him by his true name, "Norman." This taunt morphs into "noman" which eventually becomes "nobody." This is much the same effect that Mulligan's name calling has on Stephen. Blooms masculinity is challenged by references to his wife's infidelity. Bloom and Stephen are in a quest to define them as "something." They both must find themselves.
Stephen and Leopold do not actually meet each other until Chapter 14, "Oxen of the Sun." Stephen is sitting in a hospital waiting room bar with Mulligan and a few other younger friends. Bloom immediately assumes as paternal role, fearing that Mulligan has slipped something harmful into Stephen's drink. Bloom singles out Stephen as being different from the rest of the group. Mulligan appears as a threat due to his rowdy behavior and irreverent attitude and language. The contrast in character between Stephen and Mulligan is immediately apparent to Bloom. Bloom decides to follow Stephen to protect him from harm they leave to visit a brothel. This is a paternal act from Bloom that is a divergence from his expected behavior. This is the first time that Bloom has taken a proactive, rather than a passive stance on any issues thus far.
The birth of Mrs., Purefoy's husband is another reference to the missing paternal role model. Mulligan and Bloom become entangled in an effort to gain control of Stephen. Meanwhile, Stephen continues to seek out the true meaning of paternity. There are several references to Bloom's son who died at 11 days old. Stephen is obsessed by finding out about paternity, but remains obsessed with thoughts of his mother. Bloom is obsessed with thoughts of paternity. Bloom projects his desire to have a son onto Stephen. Stephen comes to prefer maternity to paternity as the story progresses. Evidence of this is Stephen's constant reference to his mother's death and Blooms constant reference to the death of his son.