It is around 8:00 in the morning, and Buck Mulligan, performing a mock mass with his shaving bowl, calls Stephen Dedalus up to the roof of the Martello tower overlooking Dublin bay. Stephen is unresponsive to Buck’s aggressive joking—he is annoyed about Haines, the Englishman whom Buck has invited to stay in the tower. Stephen was awakened during the night by Haines’s moaning about a nightmare involving a black panther.
Mulligan and Stephen look out over the sea, which Buck refers to as a great mother. This reminds Mulligan of his aunt’s grudge against Stephen for Stephen’s refusal to pray at his own mother’s deathbed. Stephen, who is still dressed in mourning, looks at the sea and thinks of his mother’s death, as Buck mocks Stephen for his second-hand clothes and dirty appearance. Buck holds out a cracked mirror for Stephen to see himself in. Stephen staves off Buck’s condescension by suggesting that such a “cracked lookingglass of a servant” could serve as a symbol for Irish art. Buck puts a conciliatory arm around Stephen and suggests that together, they could make Ireland as cultured as Greece once was. Buck offers to terrorize Haines if he annoys Stephen further and Stephen remembers Buck’s “ragging” of one of their classmates, Clive Kempthorpe.
Buck asks Stephen about his quiet brooding, and Stephen finally admits to his own grudge against Buck—months ago, Stephen overheard Buck referring to his mother as “beastly dead.” Buck tries to defend himself, then gives up and urges Stephen to stop brooding over his own pride.
Buck goes down into the tower singing, unknowingly, the song that Stephen sang to his dying mother. Stephen feels as though he is haunted by his dead mother or the memory of her. Buck calls Stephen downstairs for breakfast. He encourages Stephen to ask Haines, who is impressed with Stephen’s Irish wit, for money, but Stephen refuses. Stephen goes down to the kitchen and helps Buck serve breakfast. Haines announces that the milk woman is approaching. Buck makes a joke about “old mother Grogan” making tea and making water (urine), and encourages Haines to use it for a book of Irish folk life.
The milk woman enters, and Stephen imagines her as a symbol of Ireland. Stephen is silently bitter that the milk woman respects Buck, a medical student, more than him. Haines speaks Irish to her, but she does not understand and thinks he is speaking French. Buck pays her and she leaves.
Haines announces his desire to make a book of Stephen’s sayings, but Stephen asks if he would make money off it. Haines walks outside, and Buck scolds Stephen for being rude and ruining their chances of getting drinking money from Haines. Buck dresses and the three men walk down toward the water. On the way, Stephen explains that he rents the tower from the secretary of state for war. Haines asks Stephen about his Hamlet theory, but Buck insists it wait until they have drinks later. Haines explains that their Martello tower reminds him of Hamlet’s El-sinore. Buck interrupts Haines to run ahead, dancing and singing “The Ballad of Joking Jesus.” Haines and Stephen walk together. As Haines talks, Stephen anticipates that Buck will ask Stephen for the key to the tower—the tower for which Stephen pays the rent. Haines questions Stephen about his religious beliefs. Stephen explains that two masters, England and the Catholic Church, stand in the way of his free-thinking, and a third master, Ireland, wants him for “odd jobs.” Trying to be conciliatory about Irish servitude to the British, Haines weakly offers, “It seems history is to blame.” Haines and Stephen stand overlooking the bay and Stephen remembers a man who recently drowned.