Not long ago, something I read prompted me to pull my old copy of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man off the shelf and read through a bit. After reading a dozen or so pages, I was thinking that none of it sounded very familiar and once I came to the excellent dinner scene with the political argument, I was sure that I had never read that far into the book before. It's one of those books that I'd always figured I'd read and then promptly forgotten everything about when, in fact, I hadn't read it at all. At least not past the first ten or twelve pages.
I was surprised to find so much discussion of Irish nationalism and politics from a writer I had always counted as apolitical. The aforementioned dinner scene and the frequent mentions of Parnell and his downfall are part of what makes up Stephen Daedalus and his journey to becoming an artist. Stephen has to cast off this troublesome Irish nationalism as well as the Catholicism that insinuates itself throughout everything in the country in order to complete his transformation.
I think anyone who was raised in the Catholic church can appreciate the desperate panic Stephen experiences when he fears dying before he can make it to confession and be absolved of his sins. Of course, Stephen adds to the tension by feeling the need to go to a church outside of his parish because the sins he must confess are so humiliating, he doesn't want his parish priest to hear them. Amen.