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Stephen sees Emma as the ideal woman, a vision of feminine purity. Thus for him she is a symbol of pure love and innocence. He later sees her as a source of true beauty.
Two other women, who are prominently characterizes are Stephen's mother and governess, both are extremely religious, pious. Both women are depicted as domineering and have a role in Stephen's abandonment (rebellion) against the Catholic faith.
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man