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Skulls and Masks

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

The image of the skull is very present in Stephen’s interactions with his Jesuit teachers, emphasizing the deathly and passionless character he eventually comes to recognize as a sign of the priesthood. The skull is a commonly used Christian symbol; it represents Golgotha, the supposed location of Christ’s death. A skull also pops up in the graveyard scene from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a play whose title character greatly resembles Stephen (they both think way too much about things). As early as Chapter One, Stephen notes a skull present in the Rector’s office at Clongowes. Later, he emphasizes the prominent curves of the skull of the Director of Belvedere. After his falling out with Cranly at the end of the novel, he comments on the "death mask"-like quality of his friend’s face, which reminds him of the severed head of St. John the Baptist (in his first description of Cranly much earlier, he also calls it a "priestlike face"). Finally, Lynch is also described in terms of a mask; however, his face is a "devil’s mask."

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