Stephen is jerked out of his reverie by jealous suspicions about Father Moran's interest in the girl, Emma. Stephen reflects that the last time he wrote verses to Emma was ten years ago, after they rode home together on the same tram after a birthday party. He accuses himself of folly, and wonders whether Emma has been aware of his devotion to her. Stephen feels desire flow through his body, and turns again to the villanelle, the poem he is composing.
The dean's inability to understand Stephen's use of the word "tundish" may seem like a minor detail, but it actually symbolizes the clash of cultures that is at the heart of the Irish experience. The dean is English, and represents to Stephen all the institutional power and prestige England has wielded throughout its colonial occupation of Ireland. The dean is thus a representative of cultural domination. By failing to understand Stephen's word—which is derived from Irish rather than English—the dean reminds us of the linguistic and cultural divide between England and Ireland. With sadness and despair, Stephen reflects that this divide may be unbridgeable, and his disappointment underscores the discontent he already feels for stale university life. The episode with the dean shows Stephen the importance of creating his own language, as the English he has been using is not really his own. He realizes that English "will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay."
Joyce reinforces this idea of speaking someone else's language throughout the novel through repeated uses of quoted speech from a variety of external sources. The opening lines of the novel, for instance, are a child's story told by someone else. Later, we find Stephen frequently quoting Aquinas and Aristotle. Yet despite these constant citations, no quotation marks are used in the novel, sometimes making it difficult to tell the difference between a character borrowing someone else's words and a character speaking in his or her own voice. The "tundish" episode with the dean shows Stephen the necessity of making this distinction and the importance of creating a distinctive and truly Irish voice for himself.
Joyce also uses these sections to explore the contrast between individuality and community. On one hand, Stephen is now more of a free-floating individual than ever before. His links with his family, whose sinking poverty level and carelessness repel him, are weaker than ever. His mother is disappointed with the changes university life has brought about in her son, and his father calls him a "lazy bitch." There seems to be little parental pride or affection to offset Mr. Dedalus's hostility. Moreover, Stephen's social life is hardly any less solitary. He fails to share the ideological position of any of his friends: he cannot adopt the Irish patriotism of Davin or the international pacifism of MacCann. Even the flattering adulation of Temple fails to inspire Stephen. Therefore, having given up hope on family, church, friends, and education, Stephen seems to be more alone than ever. This assessment is only partly true, however, as Stephen is never completely isolated in the novel. His family repels him, but he continues to see them and speak to them, and his warm address to his siblings shows that he still has family ties. Furthermore, even when composing epitaphs to dead friendships, Stephen is surrounded by his friends and interacts with them in a lively and outgoing way. The proximity of such human relationships is clearly important, as Stephen retains a powerful commitment to his society until the very end of the novel, even when dreaming of fashioning a new soul for himself.