“A restless feeling of guilt would always be present with him: he would confess and repent and be absolved, confess and repent again and be absolved again, fruitlessly. Perhaps that first hasty confession wrung from him by the fear of hell had not been good? Perhaps, concerned only for his imminent doom, he had not had sincere sorrow for his sin? But the surest sign that his confession had been good and that he had had sincere sorrow for his sin was, he knew, the amendment of his life.
– I have amended my life, have I not? he asked himself,” (129).
Stephen turns to religion in part to make sense of the world and silence his curiosities about life. In attempt to absolve his sins, when he should feel most cleansed and absolute, he finds himself ever-guilty, still curious, and encompassed in doubt. The absolution of sin, in theory, allows man to live on without these feelings hovering over them, but Stephen, doubtful at heart, cannot escape them. By the end of this passage, he comes to the conclusion (if only for a moment) that he has absolved his soon through the “amendment of his life,” (129). Immediately following this glimmer of affirmation is the self-inflicted doubt we’ve seen in him from the start: “have I not?”