This was the call of life to his soul not the dull gross voice of the world of duties and despair, not the inhuman voice that had called him to the pale service of the altar.

Chapter 4, Section 2

Vacation has ended and Stephen is back in his Jesuit school, where he has been mysteriously summoned to a meeting with the director. Stephen goes to the director and listens to his idle discussion about whether or not the Capuchin priestly robe should be eliminated. The director laughingly refers to the robe as a "jupe," meaning "skirt" in French. Stephen feels awkward. The "jupe" reference calls up thoughts of women's undergarments in Stephen's mind. Stephen wonders why the director makes mention of skirts, and it occurs to him that the priest may be testing Stephen's response to the mention of women. The director asks Stephen whether he has ever felt he has a vocation, and urges him to consider a life in the church. The director says that the priesthood is the greatest honor bestowed on a man, but adds that it is a very serious decision to make.

At first, Stephen is intrigued by the thought of the priesthood, and pictures himself in the admired, respected role of the silent and serious priest carrying out his duties. As he imagines the bland and ordered life awaiting him in the church, however, he begins to feel a deep unrest burning inside him. He walks back home from school and passes a shrine to the Virgin Mary, but feels surprisingly cold toward it.

When Stephen sees his disorderly house, he knows that his fate is to learn wisdom not in the refuge of the church, but "among the snares of the world." Arriving home, he asks his brothers and sisters where their parents are. He learns that his parents are looking for yet another house because the family is about to be thrown out of its current one. Stephen reflects on how weary his siblings seem even before they have started on life's journey.

Chapter 4, Section 3

Stephen impatiently waits for his father and tutor to return with news about the possibility of his admission into the university. Stephen's mother is hostile to the idea, but Stephen feels that a great fate is in store for him. He sets off walking toward the sea, encountering a group of teacher friars on the way. He considers greeting them, but concludes that it is impossible to imagine them being generous toward him. He recites snatches of poetry and regards the light on the water. Stephen comes upon several of his schoolmates who are swimming, and they jokingly greet him as they say his name in Greek.

Reflecting on the myth of Daedalus that his name evokes, Stephen ponders his similarity to that "fabulous artificer" who constructed wings with which he flew out of imprisonment. Stephen is suddenly enraptured by this thought, and feels that he will soon begin building a new soul that will allow him to rise above current miseries. At that moment, he sees a beautiful girl wading in the water, her skirts hiked up high. He and the girl make eye contact for a moment. Stephen perceives her as an angel of youth and beauty, and he swoons inwardly. In the evening, he climbs a hill and watches the moon.