Stephen is home for the winter holidays. Uncle Charles, Dante, his father Simon Dedalus, Simon’s friend Mr. Casey, and Stephen sit by the fire waiting for Christmas dinner. Simon and Mr. Casey have just come home from a walk, and the two of them have a drink of whiskey. Finally dinner is served, and Stephen says grace. The food is fragrant and beautiful. It’s the first year that Stephen is old enough to stay up or sit with the adults.
The happy, comfortable scene shows that the Dedalus family is still very comfortable financially. Stephen loves sitting up with the adults and looks forward to listening to their conversations. As the child of a religious family, he is expected to say grace.
Simon offers Dante (also called Mrs. Riordan) some sauce, but she refuses curtly. The adults argue for a while about the Catholic Church’s denunciation of Parnell as an adulterer. Dante believes the church was right to make a statement, but Simon and Mr. Casey think politics should be kept out of church. Mrs. Dedalus tries to keep the conversation civil, but tempers rise. Dante thinks the men sin when they criticize the behavior of the priests, but Simon and Mr. Casey think the priests betrayed Parnell and behaved despicably.
The party is bitterly divided about Parnell’s death. Simon and Mr. Casey are loyal to Parnell despite his adultery because he was a devoted leader who accomplished a great deal for Ireland: he laid the groundwork for Irish independence, though he did not live to see it. Dante believes that Parnell must have been a bad man despite his accomplishments, because the Church denounced him.
Stephen listens to the conversation with confusion; who is right? He knows that Dante, Mr. Casey, and his father all love Ireland, so why do they disagree? Mr. Casey and Simon are against the priests, who, they believe, have harmed Ireland, but Dante thinks priests are sacred. Dante values God and religion above all else, but the men would choose Ireland over religion. Dante storms out, screaming insults. Stephen watches as his father cries for Parnell.
Stephen watches most of his adult world splinter into two groups, like the children in his math class. The division confuses the youthful Stephen, to whom such fierce, myopic loyalties seem fascinating but incomprehensible. The pull of country and religion on his own loyalties later in life can be traced partially to this scene.