Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Green and Maroon

Stephen associates the colors green and maroon with his governess, Dante, and with two leaders of the Irish resistance, Charles Parnell and Michael Davitt. In a dream after Parnell’s death, Stephen sees Dante dressed in green and maroon as the Irish people mourn their fallen leader. This vision indicates that Stephen associates the two colors with the way Irish politics are played out among the members of his own family.

Emma Clery

Emma appears only in glimpses throughout most of Stephen’s young life, and he never gets to know her as a person. Instead, she becomes a symbol of pure love, untainted by sexuality or reality. Stephen worships Emma as the ideal of feminine purity. When he goes through his devoutly religious phase, he imagines his reward for his piety as a union with Emma in heaven. It is only later, when he is at the university, that we finally see a real conversation between Stephen and Emma. Stephen’s diary entry regarding this conversation portrays Emma as a real, friendly, and somewhat ordinary girl, but certainly not the goddess Stephen earlier makes her out to be. This more balanced view of Emma mirrors Stephen's abandonment of the extremes of complete sin and complete devotion in favor of a middle path, the devotion to the appreciation of beauty.

The Bird Girl

After Stephen rejects the idea of becoming a priest, he sets out on a walk and finds himself headed toward the sea. This journey allows him to reflect on who he truly is, and he begins to sense that his connection to the myth of Daedalus is a prophecy that will ultimately help him find the freedom to which his soul aspires. When Stephen finally arrives at the ocean, he sees a girl wading in the water, and his mind transforms her into an image of a bird. In this moment of epiphany, the bird girl becomes a symbol of Stephen’s artistic power and inspires him to pursue a creative life. He transforms an ordinary moment into something extraordinary, a move which puts Stephen in an almost God-like position of creating. In order to achieve this act of artistic creation, he subconsciously draws on all of his experiences from the first four chapters of the novel. The combination of sexual and spiritual imagery indicates that the bird girl is simultaneously an object of desire and of worship for Stephen, and his acknowledgement of these two qualities allows him to view the world around him through a wholistic lens. This perspective, which he can only achieve by using artistic sensibilities to shape his reality, brings him closer to understanding the meaning of truth and beauty. By serving as his muse, the bird girl gives Stephen the opportunity to discover the significance of the artistic process.