Bats seem, to Stephen, to represent something essential about the conflicted, dark, mysterious Ireland of his childhood. He does not make the comparison entirely clear, yet he refers to it several times, with strong feeling: “he felt the thoughts and desires of the race to which he belonged flitting like bats across the dark country lanes,” he writes in one place; and “she was a figure of the womanhood of her country, a bat-like soul waking to the consciousness of itself in darkness and secrecy and loneliness.” At the turn of nineteenth century, Ireland was emerging from many centuries of British domination to a strong sense of national pride and dreams of independence. Stephen feels that Irish identity and self-awareness is still very young and uncertain, like a blind bat flying in the dark; it is also secretive and elusive, unlike the raucous Fenian celebrations in the streets. It is his artistic ambition to capture this identity and bring it to light.
Bats Symbol Timeline in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
The timeline below shows where the symbol Bats appears in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5, Part 3
...might sting its owners with his writing, how he might bring them closer to the bat-like imagination of his country. (full context)