Abjection and Amor Matris in Ulysses
Towards the end of Portrait, Cranly attempts to convince Stephen to follow his mother’s wishes by making his Easter duties, arguing that “whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world a mother’s love is not. Your mother brings you into the world, carries you first in her body. What do we know about what she feels? But whatever she feels, it, at least, must be real” (P 263). Stephen, committed to an uncompromising religious transgression, responds by citing Pascal, Aloysius Gonzaga, and Jesus as figures who subordinated their love for their mothers to their intellectual and religious pursuits, and the resulting argument culminates in Stephen’s recognition of Cranly’s empathy towards others and the termination of their friendship. However, this rejection is not limited to Cranly; in refusing to make his Easter duties and subsequently leaving for Paris, Stephen has again chosen his intellectual freedom over the devotion to a real-world loved one, prioritizing the “play” of “ideas [and] ambitions” over the commitment to maternal love (P 263). When his father’s telegram brings him back to Ireland and his mother’s deathbed, Stephen is again forced to choose between amatory freedom and a display of compassion for a dying May Dedalus. Here, his refusal to pray for his mother’s soul carries greater consequences, as her death and his growing isolation begin Ulysses on a tragic note, sending Stephen away from his Martello tower in search of something to fill the void created by a vanquished maternal love.