Vacation has arrived and it is Christmas dinner in the Dedalus household. Stephen sits at the table with his father, Simon Dedalus, his mother, his great-uncle Charles, his aunt, Dante Riordan, and a family friend, Mr. Casey. The family at this point is comfortably off, and there are servants to bring in the turkey and ham, which is to be followed by plum pudding. The conversation quickly becomes acrimonious as politics and religion are discussed. Mr. Dedalus says that priests should not interfere with politics, but Dante says they have a duty to tell their flock what is right and what is wrong. An argument ensues over Charles Parnell. Parnell had been involved in a divorce scandal and his political support had vanished as a result.
Simon Dedalus and Mr. Casey are stanch defenders of Parnell, and say that the church betrayed him, but Dante, who despises Parnell, says the church behaved correctly. The argument becomes fierce, despite the attempts of Uncle Charles and Mrs. Dedalus to keep the peace. Stephen's father expresses his opposition to the Catholic church in Ireland, saying that the Irish are a "priestridden" race. But Dante replies that they should be proud of having many priests, since they are the representatives of God. She places God and religion before anything else. Mr. Casey shouts that they have had too much God in Ireland, and Dante screams at him that he is a blasphemer and then storms out of the room. Stephen is terrified, and his father is on the brink of tears.
The family quarrel is seen through Stephen's eyes. As a young boy, he does not know what the argument is about, but it makes a deep impression on him. The incident shows how important politics and religion were in the life of Ireland at the time. The movement for independence from Britain was gathering force, and Charles Parnell aroused fierce passions, both for and against. His aim was Home Rule, that is, the establishment of an Irish legislature in Dublin, with responsibility for domestic affairs. The incident the Dedalus family argues over began in November, 1890, when Parnell was named in a divorce suit. The revelation that Parnell had committed adultery cost him dear in Catholic Ireland. He lost his position as head of the Irish Party in the British parliament, voted out by his colleagues. For nine months, Parnell struggled to maintain his support in Ireland, but he was opposed by the Roman Catholic clergy. His efforts ended when in October, 1891, he died.
Later in the novel, Stephen will have to decide where he stands on questions relating to politics and Ireland, so this section is important thematically. It represents one of the things that Stephen, when he has more maturity, decides he must rebel against.