A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Life of the Author

James Joyce was born in Dublin. His father, John Stanislaus Joyce, was an impoverished gentleman, who had failed in a distillery business and tried all kinds of professions, including politics and tax collecting. Joyce’s mother, Mary Jane May Murray, was ten years younger than her husband. She was an accomplished pianist, whose life was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church and her husband. In spite of the poverty, the family struggled to maintain solid middle-class facade. From the age of six, Joyce was educated by Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College, at Clane, and then at Belvedere College in Dublin (1893-97). Later the author thanked Jesuit for teaching him to think straight, although he rejected their religious instructions. At school, he once broke his glasses and was unable to do his lesson. This episode was recounted in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). In 1898 he entered the University College, Dublin, where he found his early inspirations from the works of Henrik Ibsen, St. Thomas Aquinas and W.B. Joyce’s first publication was an essay on Ibsen’s play When We Dead Awaken. It appeared in Fortnightly Review in 1900. At this time he began writing lyric poems.

After graduation in 1902 the twenty-year-Old Joyce went to Paris, where he worked as a journalist, teacher and in Other Occupations in difficult financial conditions. He spent in France a year, returning when a telegram arrived saying his mother was dying. Not long after her death, Joyce was traveling again. He left Dublin in 1904 with Nora Barnacle, a chambermaid (they married in 1931), staying in Pola now in Croatia, Austria-Hungary, and in Trieste, which was the world’s seventh busiest port. Joyce gave English lessons in Berlitz School and talked about setting up an agency to sell Irish tweed. He continued to live abroad refusing a post teaching Italian literature in Dublin. The Trieste years were nomadic, poverty-stricken, and productive Joyce and Nora loved this cosmopolitan port city at the head of the Adriatic Sea; where they lived in a number of different addresses. During this period, Joyce wrote most of Dubliners (1914), all of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the play, Exiles (1918), and large sections of Ulysses. Several of Joyce’s siblings joined them, and two children, Giorgio and Lucia, were born. The children grew up speaking the Trieste dialect of Italian. Joyce and Nora stayed together although Joyce fell in love with Anny schleimer, the daughter of an Austrian banker, and Roberto Prezioso, the editor of the newspaper II Piccolo della Sera, fried to seduce Nora. After a short stint in Rome in 1906-07 as a bank clerk ended in illness, Joyce returned to Trieste,

In 1907, Joyce published a collection of poems, Chamber Music. The title was suggested, as the author later stated, by the sound of urine tinkling into a prostitute’s chamber pot, The have with vowels and repetitions such musical quality that many of them have been made into songs. “I have left my book, / I have left my room, / for I heard you singing (through the gloom.” Joyce himself had a fine tenor voice; he greatly liked opera performances. In 1909, Joyce opened a cinema in Dublin, but this affair failed and he was soon back in Trieste still broke and working as a teacher, tweed salesman journalist and

Lecturer. In 1912, he was in Ireland, trying to persuade Maunsel & Co. to fulfill their contract to publish Dubliners. The work contained a series of short stories, dealing with the lives of ordinary people, youth, adolescence, young adulthood, and maturity. The last story, ‘ ‘The Dead”, was adapted into screen by John Huston in 1987. It was Joyce’s last journey to his native country. However, he had become friend with Ezra Pound, who began to market his works. In 1916, appeared A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, an autobiographical novel. It apparently began as a quasi-biographical memoir entitled Stephen Hero between 1904 and 1906. Only a fragment of the original manuscript has survived. The book follows the life of the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, from childhood towards maturity, his education at University College, Dublin, and rebellion to free himself from the claims of family and Irish nationalism. Stephen takes religion seriously, and considers entering a seminary, but then also rejects Roman Catholicism. “—look here, Cranly, he said.

You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do. I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using my defense the only arms I allow myself to use — silence, exile, and cunning.” At the end, Stephen resolves to ‘leave Ireland for Paris to encounter “the reality of experience”. He wants to establish himself as a writer. At the outset of the First World War, Joyce moved with his family to Zürich, where Lenin and the poet essayist Tristan Tzara had found their refuge. Joyce’s WW I years with legendary Russian revolutionary and Tzara, who founded the Dadaist movement at the Cabaret Voltaire provide the basis for Tom Stoppard’s play Travesties (1974). In Zürich. Joyce started to develop the early chapters of Ulysses, which was first published in France, because of censorship troubles in the Great Britain and the United States, where the book became legally available in 1933. The theme of jealousy was based partly on a story. A former friend of Joyce claimed that he had been sexually intimate -with the author’s wife, Nora, even while Joyce was courting her. Ulysses takes place on one day in Dublin (June 16, 1904) and reflected the classic work of Homer. The main characters are Leopold Bloom, a Jewish advertising canvasser, his wife Molly, and Stephen the hero from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. are intended to be modem of Telemachus, Ulysses, and Penelope. Barmaids are the famous Sirens. One of the Model for Bloom was Ettore Schmitz (Italo Svevo), a novelist and businessman who was Joyce’s student at the Berlitz school) in Trieste. Story; using stream-of- consciousness technique, parallels the major events in (Odysseus’ journey towards home. However, Bloom’s adventures are less heroic and his homecoming is less violent. Bloom makes his trip to the underworld by attending a funeral at Glasnevin Cometary. ‘We are now for the repose of his soul. Hoping you’re well and not in hell. Nice changed air; out of the .frying pan of life into the fire of purgatory.” the paths of Stephen and Bloom cross and recross through the day. Joyce’s technical innovations in the art of the novel include an extensive use of interior monologue; he used a complex network of symbolic parallels drawn from the mythology, history, and literature from 1917 to 1930, Joyce endured several eye operations, being totally blind for short intervals. (According to tradition, Homer was also blind.) In March 1923, Joyce began in Paris his second major work, Finnegan’s Wake, suffering at the same time chronic eye troubles caused by glaucoma. The first segment of the novel appeared in Ford Madox Ford’s transatlantic review in April 1924, as part of what Joyce called Work in Progress. Wake occupied Joyce’s time for the next sixteen years — final version was completed late in 1938. A copy of the novel was present at Joyce’s birthday celebration in February 1939. Joyce’s daughter Luda, born in Trieste in 1907, became Carl Jung’s patient in 1934. In her teens, she studied dance, and later The Paris Times praised her skills as choreographer, linguist, and performer. With her father, she collaborated in Pomes Penyeach (1927), for which she did some illustrations. Lucia’s great love was Samuel Beckett, who was not interested in her. In the 1930s, she started to behave erratically. At the Burghölz psychiatric clinic in Zürich, where Jung worked, she was diagnosed schizophrenic. Joyce was left bitter at Jung’s analysis of his daughter — Jung thought that she was too close with her father’s psychic system. In revenge, Joyce played in Finnegan’s Wake with Jung’s of Animus and Anima. Lucia died in a mental hospital in Northampton, England, in 1932. After the fall of France in WW II, Joyce returned to Zurich, where he was taken ill. He was diagnosed of having a perforated duodenal ulcer. Joyce died after an operation, on January 13, 1941, still disappointed with the reception of Finnegan’s Wake, published on 4 May, 1939, by Faber and Faber. His last words were: “Does nobody understand?” Joyce was buried in Zurich at Fluntern Cemetery.

Key Facts about the Text

Full title: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Author: James Joyce

Type of work: Novel

Genre: Bildungsroman, autobiographical novel

Language: English

Time and place written: 1907—1915; Trieste, Dublin, Zurich

Date of first publication: 1916

Publisher: B. W. Huebsch, New York

Narrator: The narrator is anonymous, and speaks with the same voice and tone that Stephen might.

Point of view: Although most of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is in the third person, the point of view is Stephen’s: as Stephen develops as a person, the language and perspective of the narration develop with him. We see everything in the manner in which he thinks and feels it. At the very end of the novel, there is a brief section in which the story is told through Stephen’s diary entries. This section is in the first person.

Tone: The tone is generally serious and introspective, especially during Stephen’s several heartfelt epiphanies,

Tense: Past

Setting (time): 1882—1903

Setting (place): Primarily Dublin and the surrounding area

Protagonist: Stephen Dedalus

Major conflict: Stephen struggles to decide whether he should be loyal to his family, his church, his nation or his vocation as an artist.

Rising action: Stephen’s encounters with prostitutes; his emotional reaction to Father Arnall’s hellfire sermons; his temporary devotion to religious life; his realization that he must confront the decision of whether to center his life around religion or art

Climax: Stephen’s decision in Chapter 4 to reject the religious life in favors of the life of an artist

Falling action: Stephen’s enrollment in University College, where he gradually forms his aesthetic theory; Stephen’s distancing of himself from his family, church, and nation

Themes: The development of individual consciousness; the pitfalls of religious extremism; the role of the artist; the need for Irish autonomy

Motifs: Music; flight; prayers, secular songs, and Latin phrases

Symbols: Green and maroon; Emma; the girl on the beach

Foreshadowing: Stephen’s heartfelt emotional and aesthetic experiences foreshadow his ultimate acceptance of the life of an artist. Additionally, Joyce often refers to Stephen’s vague sense, even very early in his life, that a great destiny awaits him.

Critical Context

Published in 1916 and set in Ireland in the late. Nineteenth A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man established James Joyce as a leading figure in e international movement known as literary modernism. The title describes the book’s subject quite accurately. On one level, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man can be read as what the Germans call a Bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel.

Chronicling the life of Stephen Dedalus from early childhood to young adulthood and his life-changing decision to leave Ireland, the novel is profoundly autobiographical. Like Stephen, Joyce had early experiences with prostitutes during his teenage years and struggled with questions of faith. Like Stephen, Joyce was the son of a religious mother and a financially inept father, Like Stephen, Joyce was the eldest of ten children and received his education at Jesuit schools, Like Stephen, and Joyce left Ireland to pursue the life of a poet and writer. Stephen’s education includes not only his formal schooling but also his moral, emotional, and intellectual development as he observes and reacts to the world around him. At the center of the story is Stephen’s rejection of his Roman Catholic upbringing and his growing confidence as a writer. But the book’s significance does not lie only in its portrayal of a sensitive and complex young man or in its use of autobiographical details. More than this, A Portrait is

Joyce’s deliberate attempt to create a new kind of novel that does not rely on conventional narrative techniques. Rather than telling a story with a coherent plot and a traditional beginning, middle, and end, Joyce presents selected decisive moments in the life of his hero without the kind of transitional material that marked most novels written up to that time. The “portrait” of the title is actually a series of portraits, each showing Stephen at a different stage of development. And, although this story told in a third-person narrative, it is filtered through Stephen’s consciousness. Finally, the book can be read as Joyce’s artistic manifesto and a declaration of independence—independence from what Joyce considered the restrictive social background of Catholic Ireland and from the conventions that had previously governed the novel as a literary genre. More than eighty years after its publication, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man continues to be regarded as a central text of early twentieth-century modernism.

Mythical Context: Daedalus Myth

The name Stephen Dedalus was chosen by James Joyce to link his hero with the mythical Greek hero, Daedalus. The Latin epigraph is from the Roman poet Ovid’s version of the story.

In Greek myth, Daedalus was an architect, inventor, and craftsman whose name is often translated as “cunning (skillful artificer.” By the request of king Minos, Daedalus built a labyrinth—a maze— on Crete to contain a monster called the Minotaur, half bull and half man. Later, for displeasing the king, Daedalus and his son Icarus were both confined in this labyrinth, which was so complex that even its creator couldn’t find his way out.

Instead, Daedalus fashioned wings of wax and feathers so that he and his son could escape. But when Icarus flew too high—too near the sun—in spite of his father’s warnings, his wings melted, and he fell into the sea and drowned. His more cautious father flew to safety. Joyce had always been drawn to myths—ancient legends and tales that, despite their cultural origins, relate universal themes like the conflict between father and son or the role of the creative artist. The legend of

Daedalus and his headstrong son particularly interested him. He found in it parallels to his own predicament as an artist caught in the maze of his own constricted life, with his own father-son conflict. Like Daedalus, he needed skills and courage to fly away and escape. Joyce signed the name Stephen Daedalus to some of his early stories. Later, when he decided to use the name for the hero of Portrait of the Artist, he changed the spelling to Dedalus to make it seem a more Irish last name. The Daedalus myth gives a basic structure to Portrait of the Artist. At first, Stephen doesn’t understand the significance of his unusual name. He comes to realize, by the fourth chapter, that like Daedalus he is caught in a maze. If he wants to be free, he must fly high above his hazardous existence. At the end of Chapter Five, he is poised to fry his wings. Novel echoes the myth on several levels. Stephen seeks a way out of the restraints of family, country, and religion. Like Daedalus, he will fashion his own wings—of poetry, not of wax—as a creative (“cunning”) artist. But there are also times when Stephen feels like Icarus, the son who will not heed his father’s advice and who died for his stubborn pride. At the end of Portrait of the Artist, he seems to be calling on a substitute, spiritual parent for support, when he refers to Daedalus as “old father, old artificer.”

The myth’s pattern of flight and fall also gives shape to the novel. Some readers see each chapter ending as an attempted flight followed by partial failure — a fall — at the beginning of the next chapter. The last chapter ends with the most ambitious attempt, to fly away from home, religion, and a nation to a self-imposed artistic exile. If we identify Joyce with Stephen Dedalus, the last flight will appear to have been a success. As a purely fictional matter, however, it is not certain whether Stephen will soar like Daedalus or drown like Icarus

Political Context: Ireland

The most troubling issue in the history of Ireland was its difficult relations with England

Settings of James Joyce’s Novels

. England, which from the twelfth century had controlled portions of Ireland, gained near-complete dominance of the island in the sixteenth century. Irish resentment towards the conquerors was strong, especially when under King Henry VIII the English monarchy became Protestant, while Ireland clung to Roman Catholicism. Irish Catholics became victims of religious persecution in their own country. Unjust agricultural policies also contributed to the difficulties. Most Irish land was owned by absentee landlords and leased to tenant farmers. It was an inefficient system that was in part responsible for a series of Irish famines, the most terrible of which occurred after the failure of the potato crop in 1848. Over a million people died during this famine. From time to time, revolutionary heroes—like the eighteenth-century patriots

Wolfe Tone and Hamilton Rowan admired by young Stephen—aroused Irish hopes for independence, only to be crushed. In Joyce’s youth, confrontation was once again in the air. The Land League, led by Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell, had campaigned ‘ successfully for agricultural reforms. Other groups campaigned for Irish cultural independence by promoting the use of Gaelic, Ireland’s native tongue, rather than the English brought by Ireland’s conquerors. Perhaps most important was the campaign for Irish Home Rule, self-government through an independent Irish parliament. The Home Rule campaign was led by Charles Stewart Parnell. Parnell’s leadership in the British Parliament had succeeded in winning over his colleagues to Home Rule.

Before the bill was passed, however, Parnell’s enemies exposed his personal relationship with the married Katherine (Kitty) O’Shea, with whom he had been living secretly for many years.

The Parnell affair divided Ireland. Parnell’s own party deposed him, the Catholic Church denounced him, and his British backers withdrew their support. Parnell died of pneumonia shortly afterwards, in 1891, when Joyce was nine. (In the scene in Chapter One, the feverish Stephen dreams of his hero’s funeral procession.) Irish politics remained hopelessly tangled after Parnell’s downfall. Some groups still wanted to work for independence by peaceful means. Others believed that violence was necessary. Irish nationalists, like Stephen’s friend Davin, joined a group called Sinn Fein, whose military arm was called

The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). Remnants of the IRB later became The Irish Republican Army, known as the IRA. The Sinn Fein’s armed Easter Sunday Rebellion of 1916 against the British was unsuccessful in its attempt to seize Dublin and proclaim a republic. The British outlawed the group in 1918 and sent in troops (“Black and Tans”) to round up remaining guerrilla fighters.

Nevertheless, the Irish Free State (now the Republic Of Ireland) was established four years later; it included most, but not all, of Ireland. The six counties of the northern region of Ulster remained, as they are now, a part of Britain—but violently divided over religious issues. Thus, the long tradition of Anglo-Irish conflict continues to this day. The influences of Ireland on Stephen appear to him as a part of the labyrinth in which he is entangled; he feels that he must escape it. The country is the very opposite of Stephen’s ideal, because the Irish have allowed themselves to be shaped by alien forces and cultures. They are, in this view, victims of two empires, the British, which controls them politically, and the Roman Catholic, which rules them spiritually from Rome. That this is foreign to Ireland’s true nature is made very clear when Stephen, now a Student at University College, enters a house owned by the Jesuits. He senses the history of the place and asks himself, “(Was the Jesuit house extraterritorial and was he walking among aliens? The Ireland of Tone and of Parnell seemed to have receded in space”. Tone and Parnell were Irish nationalists; Stephen will also soon find out that the Dean of Studies is an Englishman. So the Jesuit house is “extraterritorial”; not really part of Ireland at all.

Part of Stephen’s quest is to break through this Irish net of foreign-dominated cultural history and create an art that is free. He has been aware, from a very young age, of the conflict in Ireland because the fierce quarrel that erupts at the family Christmas dinner makes a deep impact on him. It shows the divisions between the Irish regarding their own history and destiny. Dante Riordan supports the Church, which opposed Charles Parnell, the Irish nationalist who nearly brought Home Rule to Ireland. The Church in general opposed Irish nationalism. Opposing Dante are Stephen’s father and Mr. Casey, who argue that Ireland is a “priest-ridden” country; the Church is a harmful influence. As Stephen matures, he does not take sides; he transcends the debate. He will not side with the nationalists because he sees no hope in that path, based on the way the Irish people have treated their own leaders. He tells his friend Davin that “No honorable and sincere man.

has given up to you his life and his youth and his affections from the days of Tone to those of Parnell but you sold him to the enemy or failed him in need or reviled him and left him for another”. Nor does Stephen have any interest in following the Roman Catholic Church, which would merely be to follow a system and a doctrine laid out by an authority external to himself. Stephen does want to do something for his country, but he wants to free it through art, not politics. Or religion. This is clear from his penultimate diary entry, when he goes to “encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race”

Settings of James Joyce’s Novels
Joyce fled from Dublin to the mainland of Europe, but Dublin never left him. He wrote about the city for the rest of his life— in Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist, Ulysses, and Finnegan’s Wake. Dublin is more than the backdrop of Portrait of the Artist. It is also the symbol of Stephen’s discontent. The drab, stagnant city is seen as the heart of a paralyzed Ireland that stifles the aspiring young artist. The city’s streets, through which Stephen constantly wanders as he works out his future, are like the labyrinth (maze) constructed by his eponym, the mythical Daedalus. For both of them the only escape is flight.

Stephen’s family starts out living in Bray, an affluent sea side village to the south of Dublin. However’ financial problems force the family into the city, first to the suburb of Blackrock, and then to a series of progressively bleaker dwellings in the city’s shabbier sections. As you might expect, these downhill moves color Stephen’s view of the city and of his life. The Dublin streets reflect his dissatisfaction. There even comes a time when, disgusted with himself, he finds comfort in their foul-smelling filth—they match his own darker moods and self-disgust. The real Dublin of Joyce’s time had its gracious sections adorned by eighteenth-century Georgian brick houses and by many handsome monuments. It also had the natural beauty of Dublin Bay, the outlet of the River Lifer. Stephen is not completely blind to this beauty. In his frequent walks, he goes to the water. It is on the harbor’s seawall, called the Bull that he clearly hears the call of his artistic destiny, and on the Bay Shore that he sees the girl who becomes a symbol of the freedom and beauty he seeks. (Some see the Lifer and the sea as symbols of the “stream” of Stephen’s thoughts and as the sites of his rebirth and baptism as an artist.) But it’s the seamy side of Dublin that haunts Stephen in all its sordid detail: water-logged lanes, putrid puddles, dung heaps, odors of fish, “horse piss and rotted straw.” Despite any momentary feelings of communion, Stephen must reject the “dull phenomenon or Dublin”—and Ireland—as an environment suitable for artistic growth, even though both city and country will remain a rich source of the art itself.

Point of View

Just as the literary style of Portrait of the Artist is more subtle and in some ways more difficult than that of traditional novels, so is the novel’s point of view. Portrait of the Artist is, in general, an example of a third-person, limited omniscient narrative. Stephen Dedalus doesn’t tell his story himself. But in general we perceive only what he perceives. We don’t enter other characters’ minds. Only occasionally—as at the Christmas dinner scene, or during the trip to Cork with Simon Dedalus— do we even hear or see other characters who haven’t been completely filtered through Stephen’s perceptions.

Indeed, the book focuses so closely on Stephen, and takes us so. Deeply into his mind, that at times it resembles a first-person narrative. In fact, however, the book is a little trickier than that. If Portrait of the Artist were a first-person narrative, or a traditional third-person, limited omniscient narrative, it would be difficult for us to get outside of Stephen. We would see him only as he sees himself. We could judge him only as he judges himself. But that isn’t what happens.

First, Joyce very occasionally lets us step outside of Stephen’s consciousness. For example, at the end of the Christmas dinner scene, we are told that Stephen raises “his terror-stricken face.” Stephen, of course, can’t see his own face while sitting at the dinner table—but by taking us outside Stephen for this instant, Joyce emphasizes the impact the vicious argument has had upon the young boy.

More subtly, and more frequently, Joyce lets us stand just slightly outside Stephen—in this way giving us the distance we need to judge him—a through the language he uses to describe Stephen’s thoughts. For example, in Chapter Two, Stephen dreams of finding ‘in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld. …. They would meet quietly as if they had known each other and had made their tryst … and at that moment of supreme tenderness he would be transfigured.” Some readers feel such sentences are merely accurate descriptions of Stephen’s thoughts; they feel that since Stephen approves of his own thoughts, Joyce does too. But many other readers feel that Joyce has purposely laid it on a little too thick here, and in many other parts of the book. They feel the language, he uses to express Stephen’s thoughts is purposely a little too “poetic,” because Stephen himself is a little too poetic. He takes himself, his art, and his rebellion too seriously. Even the famous lines — “Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race”

— can be taken as a brave vow or as an eloquent-sounding but hollow promise that Stephen won’t be able to fulfill. In these ways, language in Portrait of the Artists becomes closely connected to point of view. We are inside Stephen’s mind, yet Joyce’s language may put us slightly outside it as well.

Form and Structure

Portrait of the Artist is divided into five chapters, each composed of episodes. Most episodes are separated, by asterisks. The scenes go back and forth in time without alerting the reader to the transition. They represent clusters of meaningful periods in Stephen Dedalus’ life. How does this collection of episodes add up to a unified whole? Some see the basic framework of Portrait of the Artist as a five-chapter, chronological progression from small boy to university student. According to this view, each of the five chapters represents a stage in the growth of Stephen’s character: his childhood, the shift from childhood to adolescence, the discovery of his true vocation as a writer, and his final decision to be an artist-in-exile. The discovery of his literary vocation pro- vides the book’s climax, and his decision to go abroad its resolution—a pattern like that of a musical symphony or a classical Greek drama.

Other readers see Portrait of the Artist as having a three-part structure that reflects the three crucial periods of Stephen’s self-awareness. The first two chapters concern Stephen’s awakening to his own body. The next two show his developing awareness that he must be a writer (and not a priest). The fifth chapter focuses on his realization that he must leave Ireland. Yet another view concentrates on the rhythmic movement of each chapter from a low point of self- doubt to a moment of triumph. The action rises slowly, only to fall at the beginning of the next chapter. It’s a pattern that has been compared to a series of waves. It has also been linked to the myth that underlies the novel—the myth of Daedalus. Each chapter can be seen as an attempted flight, at the chapter’s end, Stephen soars. But at the opening of the following chapter, he is brought down to earth once again. At the book’s end, Stephen is ready to make his most daring test of his wings. Whether he will succeed like Daedalus, or fall and drown like his too-proud son, Icarus, is left for the future still others read the book’s basic pattern as .an analogy to the birth embryo is barely formed. Later, the embryo develops a heart, its sex is defined, and it finds it must leave the mother’s womb to breathe the outside air. The final chapter leads up to the actual moment of birth and departure from the womb of family, religion, and country. To further unify this novel, Joyce uses special literary devices that take the place of transitions and plot developments. One is the myth of Daedalus that underlies the novel. Linked to it is another myth that of Lucifer (Satan), the fallen angel who, out of pride, refuses to serve God. Figures of speech—images and symbols—also help to flesh out the bare bones of the story, and to suggest tone and mood. They become a vital part of the structure, extended motifs that wind in and out of the story to lead the readers through the maze of Stephen’s experience. The use of recurrent words and references to create a structure was part of Joyce’s pioneer effort to express a deeper reality than that expressed by conventional narratives. Understanding of the structure depends much on readers’ ability to pick out and interpret the connecting materials.

Plot Overview

The novel begins with Stephen Dedalus’ first memories, when he was about three years old. The fragmented lines are from a childhood story and a nursery song, and are linked with family associations, sensory perceptions, and pieces of conversation. In this opening scene, Joyce is presenting to us the genesis of a future artist’s perception and interpretation of the world. Moving from Stephen’s infancy to his early days at Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit boarding school for boys, Joyce focuses on three key incidents which significantly affect Stephen’s personality. First„ Stephen is pushed into an open cesspool by a bullying classmate and, subsequently, he develops a fever which confines him to the school infirmary; here, he begins to discern that he is “different,” that he is an outsider. Later, when he is probably six years old, Stephen returns home to celebrate Christmas dinner with his family and is invited, for the first time, to sit with the adults at the dinner table. This extraordinarily happy occasion is marred by. A heated political argument between Stephen’s old nurse, Dante Riordan, and a dinner guest, Mr. Casey, leaving Stephen confused about the issues of religion and politics in the adult world.

On returning to school, Stephen accidentally breaks his glasses and is unable to complete his class work. He is unjustly humiliated and punished by the cruel prefect of studies, but after receiving encouragement from a friend, Stephen bravely (if fearfully) goes to the rector of the school and obtains justice. The success of this meeting instills in him a healthy self-confidence and ennobles him, for a moment, in the eyes of his classmates. After a brief summer vacation at his home in Blackrock, Stephen learns that his father’s financial reversals make it impossible to return to Clongowes Wood; instead, he is enrolled in a less prestigious Jesuit day school, Belvedere College. Here, he develops ‘a distinguished reputation as an award-winning essay writer and a fine actor in his school play. Despite these accomplishments, however, Stephen feels increasingly alienated from his schoolmates because of his growing religious skepticism and his deep interest in literature and writing. This feeling of isolation is intensified during a trip with his father to Cork, where he learns more about his father’s weaknesses.

Stephen becomes increasingly repelled by the dead-ü end realities of Dublin life. Frustrated by his loss of faith in the Catholic Church, in his family situation, and in his cultural bonds, Stephen seeks to “appease the fierce longings of his heart.” After wandering through the city’s brothel district, he finds momentary solace with a Dublin prostitute. He is fourteen years old, and this is his first sexual experience. After a period of “sinful living,” Stephen attends an intense three-day spiritual retreat. During that time, he is overwhelmed by guilt and remorse; he believes that Father Arnall is speaking directly to him. Panicking, he seeks out a kindly old Capuchin priest, pledges moral reform, and rededicates himself to a life of purity and devotion. He fills his days with fervent prayers and takes part in as many religious services as he can. Noticing Stephen’s exceedingly pious behavior, the director of the school arranges a meeting to encourage Stephen to consider entering the priesthood. At first, Stephen is flattered, fascinated by the possibilities of the clerical life, but increasingly he is tormented by carnal desires, He finally realizes that his “inherent sinful nature” makes it necessary for him to reject a religious vocation. Having made this discovery about himself, Stephen decides to enroll in the university, where he hopes to shape his destiny as an artist. This decision is immediately followed by a climactic “epiphany”: he sees a girl wading in the sea; to Stephen, she embodies the attraction, the promise, and the abandon which he wishes to experience in life. It is at this moment that Stephen understands that he can only hope to gain this experience through a life of artistic expression. Shortly thereafter, Stephen begins a new life as a young man in search of his own values and his own credo. In comparison with the other college students, Stephen often seems anti-social and more concerned with pursuing his own interests than supporting the causes of others. Even Stephen himself realizes that unlike most of his friends, he is unusually introspective. He is not the typical devil-may-care university student; he rejects the typical blind patriotic blather, and although he continues to respect the Catholic faith, he no longer believes that its tenets should govern his life. Through conversations with friends and a dean of studies, Stephen eventually develops his own aesthetic theory of art, based on the philosophies of Aristotle and

Aquinas. Simultaneously, he concludes that if he is ever going to find his artistic soul, he must sever all bonds of faith, family, and country. He must leave Dublin and go abroad to “forge” his soul’s “uncreated conscience.”

Brief Summary

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man takes place in Ireland at the turn of the century. Young Stephen Dedalus comes from an Irish Catholic family; he is the oldest of ten children, and his father is financially inept. Throughout the novel, the Dedalus f family makes a series of moves into increasingly dilapidated homes as their fortunes dwindle. His mother is a devout Catholic.

When Stephen is young, he and the other Dedalus children are tutored by the governess Dante, a fanatically Catholic woman. Their Uncle Charles also lives with the family. Book opens with stream of consciousness narrative filtered through a child’s perspective; there is sensual imagery, and words approximating baby talk, we leap forward in time to see young Stephen beginning boarding school at Clongowes. He is very young, terribly homesick, un-athletic and socially awkward. He is an easy target for bullies, and one day he is pushed into a cesspool. He becomes ill from the filthy water, but he remembers what his father told him and doesn’t tell on the boy.

That Christmas, he eats at the adult table for the first time. A terrible argument erupts over politics, with John Casey and Stephen’s father on one side and Dante on the other. Later that year, Stephen is unjustly hit by a prefect. He complains to the rector, winning the praises of his peers.

Stephen is forced to withdraw from Clongowes because of his family’s poverty. The family moves to

Blackrock, where Stephen takes long walks with Uncle Charles and goes on imaginary adventures with boys from around the neighborhood. When Stephen is a bit Older, the family moves to Dublin, once again because of financial difficulties. He meets a girl named Emma Clere, who is to be the object of his adoration right up to the end of the book. His father, with a bit of charm, manages to get Stephen back into private school. He is to go to Belvedere College, another institution run by the Jesuits. Stephen comes into his own at Belvedere—a reluctant leader and a success at acting and essay writing. Despite his position of leadership, he often feels quite isolated.

He continues to be a sensitive and imaginative young man, acting in school plays and winning essay contests. He is also increasingly obsessed with sex; his fantasies grow more and more lurid. Finally, one night he goes with a prostitute. It is his first sexual experience. Going with prostitutes becomes a habit. Stephen enters a period of spiritual confession. He considers his behavior sinful, but he feels oddly indifferent towards it. He cannot seem to stop going to prostitutes, nor does he want to stop. But during the annual spiritual retreat at Belvedere, he hears three fire sermons on the torments of hell. Stephen is terrified, and he repents of his old behavior.

He becomes almost fanatically religious. After a time, this feeling passes. He becomes increasingly frustrated by Catholic doctrine. When a rector offers him priesthood, Stephen realizes that it is not the life for him. One day, while walking on the beach, he sees a beautiful girl. Her beauty hits him with the force of spiritual revelation, and he no longer feels ashamed of admiring the body. He will live life to the fullest. Next time we see Stephen, he is a university student, University has provided him with valuable structure and new ideas; in particular, and he has had time to think about the works of Aquinas and Aristotle on the subject of beauty. Stephen has developed his own theory of aesthetics. He is increasingly preoccupied with beauty and art.

Although he has no shortage of friends, he feels isolated. He finds Ireland as a trap, and he realizes that he must escape the constraints of nation, family, and religion. He can only do that abroad. Stephen imagines his escape as something parallel to the flight of Daedalus who escaped from his prison with wings crafted by his own genius. The book ends with Stephen leaving Ireland to pursue the life of an artist.



Music, especially singing, appears repeatedly throughout A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Stephen’s appreciation of music is closely tied to his love for the sounds of language. As a very young child, he’ turns Dante’s threats into a song, “apologies, pull out his eyes, pull out his eyes, apologies.” Singing is more than just language, however—it is language transformed by vibrant humanity. Indeed, music appeals to the part of Stephen that wants to live life to the fullest.

We see this aspect of music near the end of the novel, when Stephen suddenly feels at peace upon hearing a woman singing. Her voice prompts him to recall his resolution to leave Ireland and become a writer, reinforcing his determination to celebrate life through writing. Flight Stephen Dedalus’s very name embodies the idea of flight. Stephen’s namesake, Daedalus, is a figure from Greek mythology, a renowned craftsman who designs the famed Labyrinth of Crete for King Minos. Minos keeps Daedalus and his son Icarus imprisoned on Crete, but Daedalus makes plans to escape by using feathers, twine, and wax to fashion a set of wings for himself and his son. Daedalus escapes successfully, but Icarus flies too high. The sun’s heat melts the wax holding Icarus’s wings together, and he plummets to his death in the sea.

In the context of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, We can see Stephen as representative of both Daedalus and Icarus, as Stephen’s father also has the last name of Dedalu”s. With this mythological reference, Joyce ‘implies that Stephen must always balance his desire to flee Ireland with the danger of overestimating his own abilities—the intellectual equivalent of Icarus’s flight too close to the sun. To diminish the dangers of attempting too much too soon, Stephen bides his time at the university, developing his aesthetic theory fully before attempting to leave Ireland and write seriously. The birds that appear to Stephen in the third section of Chapter 5 signal that it is finally time for Stephen, now fully formed as an artist, to take flight himself.

Prayers, Secular Songs, and Latin Phrases

We can often tell Stephen’s state of mind by looking at the fragments of prayers, songs, and Latin phrases that Joyce. Inserts into the text. When Stephen is a schoolboy, Joyce includes childish, sincere prayers that mirror the manner in which a child might devoutly believe in the church, even without understanding the meaning of its religious doctrine. When Stephen prays in church despite the fact that he has committed a mortal sin, Joyce transcribes a long passage of the Latin prayer, but it is clear that Stephen merely speaks the words without believing them. Then, when Stephen is at the university, Latin is used as a joke—his friends translate colloquial phrases like “peace over the whole bloody globe” into Latin because they find the academic sound of the translation amusing. This jocular use of Latin mocks both the young men’s education and the stern, serious manner in which Latin is used in the church, these linguistic jokes demonstrate that Stephen is no longer serious about religion. Finally, Joyce includes a few lines from the Irish folk song “Rosie O’Grady” near the end of the novel. These simple lines reflect the peaceful feeling that the song brings to Stephen and Cranly, as well as the traditional Irish culture that Stephen plans to leave behind. Throughout the novel, such prayers, songs, and phrases form the background of Stephen’s life.


Green and Maroon

Stephen associates the colors green and maroon with his governess, Dante, and with two leaders of the Irish resistance, Charles Parnell and Michael Davitt. In a dream after Parnell’s death, Stephen sees Dante dressed in green and maroon as the Irish people mourn their fallen leader. This vision indicates that Stephen associates the two colors with the way Irish politics are played out among the members of his own family.


Emma appears only in glimpses throughout most of Stephen’s young life, and he never gets to know her as a person. Instead, she becomes a symbol of pure love, untainted by sexuality or reality. Stephen. Worships Emma as the ideal of feminine purity. When he goes through his devoutly religious phase, he imagines his reward for his piety as a union with Emma in heaven. It is only later, when he is at the university, that we finally see a real conversation between Stephen and Emma. Stephen’s diary entry regarding this conversation Portrays Emma as a real, friendly, and somewhat ordinary girl, but certainly not the goddess Stephen earlier makes her out to be. This more balanced view of Emma mirrors Stephen’s abandonment of the extremes Of Complete sin and complete devotion in favor of a middle path, the devotion to the appreciation of beauty.

Critical Essays about“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”

The Question of Autobiography

The question of how much autobiographical material Joyce inserted into the fictional character of Stephen Dedalus has long been a matter of debate. Scholars and critics still produce evidence on both sides of the issue, but for the most part, the question has been largely resolved through the contributions of Richard Ellman, Joyce’s definitive biographer, and Joyce’s brother Stanislaus, who wrote his own book about Joyce, My Brother’s Keeper.

Despite the countless similarities between Joyce’s own childhood and that of Stephen Dedalus, Stanislaus Joyce makes it clear that “Stephen Dedalus is an imaginary, not a real, self-portrait.” Significant details exist to verify this view, including Joyce’s school records at Clongowes and Belvedere, as well as recorded interviews with several of Joyce’s friends. Stanislaus points out that although Joyce “followed his own development closely, has been his own model and (has) chosen to use many incidents from his own experience. He has (also) transformed and invented many others.”

One example of such invention is Joyce’s portrait Of Stephen as a physically weak, cowering and innocent “victim” at Clongowes. In contrast to this view of Stephen, Stanislaus remembers Joyce as a relatively well-adjusted student and “a good athlete,” who won “a variety of cups for his prowess in hurdling and walking.” He also recalls that Joyce was less isolated, less relatively bookish, and at times, less manageable than Stephen. In the Clongowes ‘ Punishment Book we find that Joyce, unlike Stephen, was never punished mistakenly for an incident involving broken glasses, but the book does record that Joyce received at least two punishments for forgetting to bring a book to class, and on another occasion, he was punished for using “vulgar language.”

Other variances between Stephen and Joyce are found in Joyce’s treatment of Stephen’s friends, most of whom are clearly intellectually inferior to him. Stanislaus remembers, to the contrary, that Joyce’s friends provided him with significant mental stimulation throughout his adolescent development. Yet another difference between the creator and the creation exists in Joyce’s relationship with his father. Ellman states, “In A Portrait, Stephen denies that Simon is in any real sense his father, but James himself had no doubt that he was in every way his father’s son.” In addition, Stanislaus recalls the Cork incident in the novel (where Stephen travels with Simon to Cork) and states that Joyce’s feelings during that trip were quite different; unlike Stephen, who was disgusted by his father’s visits to various pubs, Stanislaus emphasizes that “my brother’s James’ I letters … at the time were written in a tone of amusement even when he described going from one bar to another.” Joyce’s fictional representations of his friends at the university are just that—fictional. He changed many of their personalities, invented non-existent dialogues, and deliberately excluded significant individuals in the novel. Clearly, Stephen Dedalus is Joyce’s fictional Persona, whom he used to express his ideas about. The lyrical, epical, and dramatic forms of literature. In conclusion, in spite of-the obvious autobiographical similarities, Stephen is a fictional representation of Joyce’s art. Stephen exists, as does the novel, as an example of the author’s “handiwork,” behind which Joyce is “invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent …” and, probably if he had his way in the matter, is still standing concealed somewhere, “paring his nails.”

Artistic Development of the Hero

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man had various themes which covered many areas. The primary theme of the novel is the artistic development ‘Of the artist, Stephen, and this relates specifically to the artist’s development in the life of a national language. Stephen experiences many voices of Ireland as well as those of the writers of his education. Out of all these voices emerges Stephen’s aesthetic theory and his desire to find his own manner of expression. Stephen develops his own voice as a way of escaping these constraints. One of the main constraints on the artist as Joyce depicts his life is the Roman Catholic Church. However, it is both a constraint and an enabling condition for the artist’s development. First, the Jesuit education Stephen receives, gives him a thorough grounding in the classical and medieval thinkers. It also structures Stephen’s life in such a way that it provides him with a basis for his own development as a moral and intellectual person. In relation to his eventual development of a theory of art or an aesthetic theory, Stephen fully draws on’ this tradition. He uses two central doctrines of the church in this theory. First, he revises the doctrine into a way of imagining the relationship between art and the world it describes. When Stephen develops his theory, he thinks of himself as taking on the role of a “priest of eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of ever-loving life,” The second use of Catholic doctrine or tradition relates to its creation of a priesthood, a class of men separate from the world who act as intermediaries between the deity and the people, In Stephen’s idea of the artist, he is priest like, performing the miracle of turning life into art. Joyce is in good company when he uses techniques to drive a wedge in the totalizing authority of the church and in other forms of seriousness, even the artist’s own, When Stephen is discoursing learnedly on his aesthetic theory, his friend Lynch criticizes him. He brings lust into’ the picture of how and why art is created. He laughs at Stephen’s deadly serious use of the scholastics to develop a theory of art. Earlier in the novel, when Mrs., Dante Riordan is condemning Parnell and supporting his excommunication from the Catholic church, Mr. Dedalus and Mr. Casey discourages her, describing fat priests, the way the priests eat, and generally joking about the priest’s grasping for. Power. They win that argument. Mrs. Riordan leaves. It serves a good lesson for the young Stephen, who never employs it himself, but which Joyce certainly makes good use of. Even in describing Stephen’s process of writing a poem to his beloved, he begins in poetic inspiration and ends in lust, both are used to produce the poem. It is this philosophy that characterizes the final version of Stephen’s ideas of the function of art and the free life. Instead of the church’s idea of mortifying the flesh in favor’ of the spirit, Stephen finally decides that the flesh should also be given voice. The novel itself insists on the local as a site for theories of the universal, of the body as the place in which the spirit resides. The final description of Stephen’s theory of art is not in the novel’s narrative it is the novel’s narrative, as it incorporates all the voices of Stephen’s development, orchestrates them, makes them speak to each other, and disables any one of them from an authoritative hold over the free artist.


Though Joyce’s A Portrait is not a fully Modernist text (in the sense that Ulysses is), the novel appeared as a significant influence in the early days of the embryonic movement. Its subject and techniques anticipate many of the features of the later, more mature achievements of both Modernism and of Joyce himself, who became its prime mover. To fully appreciate these features in A Portrait it is vital to see it in the wider context of European artistic currents, and especially in the light of the crisis of values and uncertainties which took place during the period from 1890 to1920, a crisis which occurred in the face of a widespread collapse of confidence in science, philosophy, religion and art. To try to pinpoint the start of any movement with a specific date or work of art is inevitably a ticklish endeavor-—Modernism more so since it was never a school, just a more or less simultaneous stirring * among intellectuals and artists as a common but independent reaction to the failure of science and religion to offer a convincing definition of the changing world. There was never any consensus or manifesto among the artists and writers who have since been grouped together under its umbrella by succeeding critics. Thus Modernism has no easily identifiable starting date and indeed no real starting date—it grew instead as a late nineteenth-century reaction to Romanticism and a response to the world’s social and intellectual changes. And while its achievements reveal it’s radically distinct approaches based on new perspectives, its initial rise was quite gradual. While the break itself is difficult to pinpoint in time there is no question about the great divide in the terms on which art, ‘literature, philosophical attitudes, social values, politics and science separated the Modernists from the age of Jane Austen, Wordsworth, George Eliot and Dickens. But what differentiates the approach and style of Modernism from what went before? How can we identify the style of Modernism—its soul? To start with, Modernism is not one style but many. Unlike Romanticism which was effectively a change of emphasis growing out of the unconscious reaction to Neo- classicism, Modernism is a concerted attempt to create a new artistic attitude through a new way of looking at the world and at the art which expresses it. This is typified for instance in the new styles of painting, such as Picasso’s Cubism, with rejection of representationalism in favor Of significant form and expressive style based on experience—a sort of introversion turning on skepticism and mannerism, in which technique and form are un- mistakably foregrounded. But unlike representational art, which finds its pretext in a close physical correspondence between the image and the real world, Modernist art finds its justification within itself; it is ultimately self-sufficient. For Modernist art, there is not merely a crisis in reality but also a crisis in perception. On a wider scale, Modernism springs from and closely corresponds with the crises and anxieties of the age as a whole—industrialization and urbanization on a vast scale, rapid and uncontrollable change and chaos, together with the inevitable alienation of the individual. And all this is mirrored in the splintering of art into diverse schisms and “-isms” Two central challenges have preoccupied the Modernist novel: exploration and expression of the subtle potentialities of consciousness, and a coming to terms with the perceived state of chaos and fragmentation of the real world. Although A Portrait is not a fully Modernist text, both of these concerns can already be seen in embryo in it: firstly, in the abandonment of the restraints of conventional chronological plot (in favor of expressive form with modulating styles and shifting author-character-reader relationships arranged through Stephen Dedalus’s consciousness; and, secondly, in the sense of awe and fear which Stephen feels in the face of the chaos behind received forms of order (that is, the imposed moral order of the adult world and the Church) and the void awaiting him in the uncertain future beyond the novel:

A sense of fear of the unknown moved in the heart of his weariness, a fear of symbols and portents, Of the hawk like man whose name he bore soaring out of his captivity on osier woven wings … At the start of this century it seemed that the novel might have exhausted its potential in terms both of form and of content (having fully explored different forms and narrative styles, inner and outer states, politics, religion, philosophy, sex as well as violence). The novel could confidently embrace any aspect of human affairs which public taste and the circulating libraries would permit, or so it was confidently imagined.

However, in England the three-volume novel’s interest in scientific realism had declined into a sterile preoccupation with plot, materialism and the naturalistic fallacy of surface effects—typified in the writings of Wells, Galsworthy and Bennett who, according to Virginia Woolf, could examine every physical aspect about a character and yet overlook its essential soul. To illustrate her criticism she used the analogy of a railway in which a Mrs. Brown might be travelling with them, while they observed everything in the background:

… At factories, at Utopias, even at the decoration of the carriage; but never at her, never at life, never at human nature for us those conventions are ruin, those tools are death.”

One of the immediate consequences of this apparent dead-end was a crisis of confidence, especially in the capacity of language to communicate, but there also followed a collapse of faith in the realist illusion (a skepticism which had been growing even as the novel itself had evolved, at least since the eighteenth century). The crisis emerged most characteristically in a new form of self-awareness, even in self-consciousness, doubt and a failure of confidence. But this was not new. Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1760-67) brilliantly epitomizes the novelist’s doubts about narrative conventions and exploits them through parody for comic effect. It is of course a witty display of authorial virtuosity, though it accepts the traditional authorial role and material content in order to parody them. However, Modernism goes further than authorial virtuosity, especially in first undermining and then positing new author-reader relationships, directly co-opting the reader’s active involvement but also, through its subtlety of form-play, examining and qualifying the very nature of the art form itself as the artist creates it, so that ultimately the reader himself is complicit in the form of the novel. A Portrait focuses precisely on this and further anticipates later Modernist developments by focusing also on the theme of the artist—the growth of the artist becomes the theme of his own creation, and by extension if we grant the special relationship between Stephen Dedalus and James Joyce the novel eventually comes to discuss itself. For example, in Chapter 5 the villanelle and the art theory are the culmination of growing speculation about the nature of the artist’s relationship to his art, to his reader and to society in general:

“The image, it is clear, must be set between the mind or senses of the artist himself and the mind or senses of others.”

Because of this skepticism there also emerged in the early days of Modernism a distinct feeling of angst, a fear that the author of a novel creates nothing in fact but clearly fakes or forges the so-called reality in a work and that his search for form is partly to justify this (a clear symptom of this is the popularity of the detective story in the late nineteenth century especially among prominent writers such as Wilkie Collins, Dickens, Conan Doyle, Henry James and T. S. Eliot), forging a coherent pattern on to the apparent chaos. Stephen Dedalus too talks of forging in this way—imposing meaning on life through art, forging an order .different from that in reality but creating a new aesthetic order. But he also uses “forges” to highlight the sense that the Modernist artist is a confidence trickster, deceiver, con man like Thomas Mann’s Felix Krull. But who is fooling whom? Is Stephen deceiving, only himself or, through Joyce, the reader too? Further aspects of the Modernist novel can also be seen beginning to emerge in A Portrait. For example, the form of the novel, rather than being a more or less detached vessel into which the subject matter is poured and contained, actually partakes of the subject matter as later, in the mature Modernist work (such as Ulysses), the form actually became the content, united and radiant in appropriate wholeness and harmony: these words in this order. As Joyce told his friend, the artist Frank Budgen:

“I have the words already. What I am seeking is the perfect order of words in the sentence. There is an order in every way appropriate.”

It was a concern very much shared by other Modernist writers at this time, anxious to liberate the novel from its close dependence on external material realism (itself based on assumptions of a direct correspondence between words and reality) and to concentrate on probing the unutterable territory of the human consciousness and the soul, instead of finding their creative energy from within the artist’s uniquely private vision. Subsequently, the Modernist novel also became very much concerned with disrupting the traditional forward flow of narrative time by sudden leaps forward and backward along “timeless” moments (or epiphanies), and setting up conflicts with, while also exploiting, the reader’s “real time” progress through the But one of Joyce’s profound innovations here is the use of multiple points of view. A Portrait has no single perspective: Stephen’s consciousness changes as he matures and, through the shifting modulating style, the perspective of the narrator also changes, setting up an implicit dialectic between the two. The idea itself of an implied narrator—a voice not wholly Joyce’s, but a surrogate author and Joyce’s representative in the work— is a new development evolving through Flaubert, James and Conrad, and arising directly from the avowed aim of keeping the author’s moral presence out of the novel. As we have seen, A Portrait excludes any direct authorial moral comment but continues to exert control over the reader’s response through the technique of the form— juggling the order, emphasis, theme and point of view. Time is also of crucial importance. In the Modernist novel, time dominates both as one of the key themes as well as one of the key organizing principles of the design. Marcel Proust’s A la recherché du temps perdu (1913-27) is a paradigm of this preoccupation with time. An enormous undertaking, its scope is equally epic, its central ideal being that in moments of intense illumination it is possible to penetrate and recapture the long-lost past and to relive its emotions. Because of his special skills and sensitivity the artist, unlike the ordinary person, is able to record and prolong such isolated moments into eternity itself through the magic of symbolism and myth vision (stressing the elevated status of the artist).

But to be able to exploit such moments for the central experience of reality, it was necessary for the novelist to concentrate on pattern rather than plot in organizing his work. Both A la recherché du temps perdu and A Portrait display this emphasis, and Virginia Woolf made her plea for such novels in which, like A Portrait, the interplay of the consciousness of the writer and of his people work to create the form:

“If a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feelings and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no clove interest Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; but a luminous halo, a’ semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning. Of the consciousness to the end. Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, unknown and circumscribed spirit, whatever aberration or complexion it may display, with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible?” (Virginia Woolf)

At the same time the capacity of the language and the novel form are pressed to new limits in attempting to make language approximate to the inner realities of such phenomena as simultaneity (Ulysses), sudden illumination or epiphany (Dubliners and A Portrait), and relative time and the unconsciousness (the techniques of stream-of-consciousness and “interior monologue”). We have seen above already that this idea of the “moment” was one which energized -the work of so many G Modernist -writers—Woolf, Eliot, Proust, and Others—but especially of Joyce, in his idea of the ‘epiphany”, the basic unit of the form in both Dubliners and A Portrait. Its use underlines vividly the fragmentariness of modern existence 4 and .its disintegration, at the same time deriving the form of the work from a principle of significant aesthetic pattern rather than from a conventional chronographic history, the concept of the epiphany dynamically assimilates the Modernist idea of time as the moment to the special notion of truth as discovery. And the writer’s use of his own biography works in the same way, fusing the writer’s conception of real life with the need for pattern and coherence, as Proust reflected:

“The true life, life at last discovered and illuminated, the only true life really lived, is that of the writer.”

The theme of the artist’s own biography (sometimes attacked as a form of introversion) is encountered again and again in the Modernist novel. Like Proust’s masterpiece, A Portrait is both the portrait of the novel’s creator and the revelation of the life principle on which the novel is written. It represents that reality which the novelist is most familiar with: his own life and his art.

Combined with the epiphany as the most logical means of arranging and signifying experience, his own themes of personal exile and alienation parallel the exile and alienation of the age. In the best work of the theme confronts and resolves one of the central crises in the Modernist novel—the struggle to express the new impalpable realities in the wake of the acute failure of confidence in the language. In A Portrait Stephen Dedalus is at the same time both the experience of the novel and its author; Joyce adapts his own experience, and his words are both the means of expressing them as well as being the subject of the expression themselves. The text ultimately forges its justification’ within itself, again perfectly fusing form and content, technique and In Joyce’s contemporary writing, the “portrait of the artist” theme occurs again and again: in Thomas Mann’s

Tonio Kroger, Andre Gide’s The Counterfeiters, D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers and in Proust’s monumental work, as well as in submerged form in countless works, frequently involving exile or flight into the unknown—a correlative of the Modernist crises themselves—through which the artist confronts the problematic of artistic creation and his own relationship to it.

The following points can broadly be considered to understand A Portrait as a Modernist text:

1. The first two pages of A Portrait, so distinctive in style and technique, are an example of the experimentalism that made Joyce’s writing so different from that of his 19th century predecessors. Stephen’s way of perceiving the world affects the sound of the prose, making the boundary between the narrator and the character hard to determine.

2. Stephen’s thoughts about his own name bring up the issue of myth and modernism. Modernist writers like Joyce (T.S. Eliot is another example) had a respect for writers and ideas of the past and often referred myths and mythical characters in their work.

3. Stephen’s decision to devote himself to art after he sees the bird girl is an example of an “epiphany.” Epiphanies, often portrayed in modernist writing, happen when a character is transformed in one moment of penetrating insight.

4. When Stephen thinks as he’s walking to school about “common lives,” he’s expressing a modernist’s concern for the lives of people who are not rich or well-known. Modernist writing often portrays the very real problems of characters that may not have been considered “literary” enough in times past.

5. When Stephen looks at Maple’s Hotel, full of boring middle-class people too comfortable to be affected by art, his reaction of contempt expresses the modernist attitude that true art must be created for art’s sake only, not in the hopes of changing people (who are often too silly or stubborn to be changed).

6. Stephen’s decision to take on art and the world alone shows a notion of individuality that was relatively novel in this time period. In the modern era, the idea of one person taking on the world (Vs. a person acting as part of a community) became a more popular way of thinking about the self.

7. For Joyce, time is a dynamic sequence of fluid consecutive present moments, forever cross- referencing through memory and fate to the past and the future, represented in Stephen’s stream-of-consciousness, and fluctuating between different times in the forms of memory and ambition. Fluidity of time lies central to modernism as an experimental movement.

Stream-of-Consciousness Technique
The advances of modern psychology have been a great shaping force in the literature of the twentieth century, the drama of the mind of the individual becomes the writer’s focus of interest,

The term “stream-of-consciousness” is borrowed from modern psychoanalysis and describes the “free association” of ideas in the human mind. Just as floating objects are carried along somewhat haphazardly by the current of a stream or river, so do thoughts and images travel through our minds in an apparently unorganized, illogical succession. James Joyce and Virginia Woolf were the first writers to transfer this mental phenomenon to English literature and exploit it as a literary technique. Instead of simply stating what the character is thinking, the author writes as though he were inside the mind of the, character. The result is an “interior monologue” or “direct quotation of the mind.” The “action” takes place and the plot develops through the mind of the characters. The adventures of Stephen Dedalus are of an emotional and intellectual nature. The real struggles take place in his mind, and so, th6ught becomes “action.” what he does and sees is not so significant as what he thinks as he is doing and seeing. The actual conflict & are not usually dramatized. An external event or situation along with all the associations and recollections which it arouses in Stephen’s mind are presented more or less simultaneously. In this connection, it should be noted that there is an uncommon amount of walking done in Portrait of the Artist. It is the principal “action” of the story. Stephen says at the end of Portrait of the Artist: “The Past is consumed in the present and the present is living only because it brings forth the future.” Joyce was ever concerned with the past’s impingement on the present. One cannot escape the past; it determines the present. Other twentieth-century writers have developed this theme, notably William Faulkner. Stephen Dedalus has a sense of history and though he says, “I am not responsible for the past,” he sees the consequences of the past all around him in the present. This merging of past and present in Joyce’s writing is expressed by means of the stream-of-consciousness technique.


Fundamental to an appreciation of Joyce’s approach in A Portrait is an understanding of his concept of “epiphany ‘ and its use. As defined by Stephen and used by Joyce, it is crucially important not only to this novel but to all of Joyce’s work, since in implications it widely embraces the themes of time, truth, morality and art. By epiphany, Joyce meant a sudden revelation, a moment when an ordinary object is perceived in a way that reveals its deeper significance. An epiphany can produce in the perceiver a moment of ecstasy. The word epiphany does not actually appear in A Portrait, but Joyce does use it in Stephen Hero, the draft on which A Portrait was based: “By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation. . . . He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate -and evanescent of moments.” An epiphany occurs as part of the perception of beauty, Stephen says as he explains his aesthetic theory to Cranly (in A Portrait, it is Lynch to whom he explains the theory). Joyce bases this theory on the work of St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval Catholic theologian. According to Aquinas, the three things needed for beauty are integrity, symmetry, and radiance. It is when the last quality, radiance, is perceived, that an epiphany occurs.

This is how Stephen explains it in Stephen Hero: “1ts soul, it’s what ness, leaps to us from the vestment of its appearance, the soul of the commonest object seems to us radiant. The object achieves its epiphany.” When this episode appears in A Portrait (in Chapter 5), the three qualities from Aquinas are altered slightly, to become wholeness, harmony and radiance. Stephen explains, “The instant wherein that supreme quality of beauty, the clear radiance of the esthetic image, is apprehended luminously by the mind which has been arrested by its wholeness and fascinated by its harmony is the luminous silent stasis of esthetic pleasure, a spiritual state” In A Portrait, Joyce makes use of epiphanies not only as a fundamentally significant literary technique but also as an important philosophical concept which was to become the cornerstone Of his own mature works—and a cornerstone of Modernism in general. The most famous epiphany in A Portrait is the moment Stephen perceives the girl wading in the strand: “A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful sea creature” Another epiphany occurs later, when Stephen watches the swallows from the steps of the library. The Penultimate entry in his journal (“Welcome, O life) is also an epiphany, since an epiphany, Joyce has Stephen say in Stephen Hero, can also be “a memorable Phase of the mind itself.” In this case, the epiphany is a sudden realization about life that uplifts the soul. In Stephen’s definition and in Joyce’s practice, the term has two meanings: one is that an epiphany reveals the truth, the intrinsic essence of a person or of something which is observed, revealed perhaps through a “vulgarity of speech or of gesture”; and the second meaning is a state of mind, a heightened spiritual elation of the observer’s mind, what Joyce calls the “memorable phase of the mind itself’. The first puts emphasis on the object and the fact that its reality can be revealed by an epiphany, while the second puts emphasis on the observer„ for whom an epiphany can be a state of spiritual ecstasy. Consequently, although we would normally think of the acquisition of knowledge in terms of a rational process, both of these meanings involve non-rational states, and in so far as they involve knowledge (either about an object or about oneself), the process implies a subjective source of truth, knowledge as a sort of intuition.

Taking the first meaning of “epiphany”, the example which Stephen gives to Cranly in Stephen Hero places the emphasis on the object rather than the observer: “the clock of the Ballast Office was capable of an epiphany”— not that the clock has the ability, but that it is a potential source of epiphany for the person looking at it. A good example of this comes in Chapter 2 of Portrait when Stephen’s romantic idea of farm life is given a violent shock by the reality when he visits Stradbroke, and the vivid details of the cow yard bring home to him the between the beauty of his idea and the foulness of the reality: the first sight of the filthy cow yard at Stradbroke with its foul green puddles and clots of liquid dung and steaming bran-troughs sickened Similarly, in Chapter 4, Stephen recalls the rough feel of a woman’s stocking as a shock to his preconception of the yielding softness of women. And, as we have seen in A Portrait as a whole, Joyce likes to parallel the shock of reality for Stephen with a similar shock for the reader through a change of style, both to reinforce the impact of the sudden enlightenment and to rouse Stephen into an awareness of the sordid reality of Dublin. The epiphany; in fact, is fundamental to Joyce’s writings and Modernism in general, for no longer is the novel tied to the plot of strict chronological sequence. The psychological insights of the epiphany all at once open up a completely new, wholly natural method of organizing the subject matter-—through the consciousness of the central character, around the ever-present and eternal moment, flashing back and forth spontaneously between the “was” and “shal” of now. For Joyce, time is a dynamic sequence of fluid consecutive present moments, forever cross-referencing through memory and fate to the past and the future, represented in Stephen’s stream-of- consciousness, and fluctuating between different times in the forms of memory and ambition. This idea, that in the evanescent moment all eternity can be glimpsed, is further developed by Joyce in Ulysses and in Finnegans Wake where it finds ultimate expression. In both works Joyce takes Rill advantage of the epiphany technique by his additional of myth and fable, vastly expanding the connotations of the immediate material to embrace cosmic potentialities However, as we have already seen, the approach already started with A Portrait both in the role played by the epiphany br “timeless moment in time’ 7 (as T.S Eliot called it) and also in his more limited use of archetype myth and symbol: Daedalus, Icarus, Christ, St. Stephen, Lucifer, Parnell.

Stephen’s Aesthetic Theory

The main aspects of Joyce’s aesthetic theory are as follows:

1. Those things are beautiful the perception of which pleases.

2. The good is that towards which the appetite tends.

a. The creative artist is concerned only with the creation of the beautiful.

b. The productive artist is concerned with the production of the good.

3. Art must produce a stasis in the observer; that is, it seeks no end but the satisfaction of an aesthetic sense.

4. Art should not be kinetic; that is, it should not produce an emotion such as desire or loathing.

If it does it assumes the function of a useful art, such as rhetoric,

5. Three things are necessary for the perception of the beautiful:

A. wholeness or integrity

B. harmony or proportion

C. clarity or radiance.

Using the example of a basket, Stephen elaborates on the three things necessary for the perception of the beautiful. First, one sees the basket as one thing (wholeness); then one perceives it as a thing with parts (harmony): finally one sees it as that thing and no other thing (clarity). Stephen explains to Lynch that beauty and truth produce a stasis in the mind of the observer He quotes Plato: “Beauty is the splendor of the truth.” As they proceed on their walk, Stephen divides art into a progression of three forms:

1. The lyrical: the image is presented in immediate relation to the artist himself.

2. The epic: the image is presented in immediate relation to the artist and to others (not purely personal).

3. The dramatic: the image is presented in immediate relation to others. The artist’s personality is refined out of existence (impersonal).

Joyce’s Use of Imagery

Although Joyce is frequently praised for his mastery of the “stream-of-consciousness” narrative technique, his distinctive use of imagery has contributed much to the artistic development of the twentieth-century novel. Specifically in A Portrait, he uses imagery to establish motifs, identify symbols, and provide thematic unity throughout the work. Perhaps the most obvious use of imagery in the novel occurs during the novel’s first few pages, with the introduction of the sensory details which shape Stephen’s early life: wet versus dry; hot versus cold; and light versus dark—all images of dichotomy which reveal the forces which will affect Stephen’s life as he matures. If we can understand this imagery, then we can better Understand Stephen’s reasons for deciding to leave Ireland. The wet/dry imagery, for example, is symbolic of Stephen’s natural response to the world versus a learned response. As a small child, Stephen learns that any expression of a natural inclination (such as wetting the bed) is labeled “wrong”; the wet sheets will be replaced by a dry, reinforcing “oil sheet”— and a swift, unpleasant correction for inappropriate behavior. Thus, wet things relate to natural responses and dry things relate to learned behavior. Other examples of this wet/dry imagery include the wetness of the cesspool (the square ditch) that Stephen is shoved into and the illness which follows; likewise, the “flood” of adolescent sexual feelings which engulf

Stephen in “wavelet(s),” causing him guilt and shame, seemingly, “wet” is bad; “dry” is good.

A turning point in this pattern occurs when Stephen crosses the “trembling bridge” over the river Tolka. He leaves behind his dry, “withered” heart, as well as most of the remnants of his Catholicism. As he waves through “a long rivulet in the strand,” he encounters a young girl, described as a “strange and beautiful seabird.” She gazes at Stephen from the sea, and her invitation to the “wet” (natural) life enables Stephen to make a climactic choice concerning his destiny as an artist. Later, after Stephen has explained his aesthetic philosophy to Lynch, rain begins to fall; seemingly, the heavens approve of Stephen’s theories about art, as well as his choice of art as a career. The hot/cold imagery similarly affects Stephen. At the beginning of the novel, Stephen clearly prefers his mother’s warm smell to that of his father. For Stephen, “hot” is symbolic of the intensity of physical affection (and, in some cases, sin); “cold,” on the other hand, is Symbolic of propriety, order, and chastity. Specific examples of this symbolism can be found in Stephen’s memories: resting in his mother’s warm lap, being cared for by the kindly Brother Michael (when Stephen is recovering from a fever), and receiving a heated embrace from the Dublin prostitutes during his first sexual encounter. In contrast, the cold, slimy water of the square ditch is evidence of the cruel reality of his changing life at school; in addition, Stephen initially experiences a “cold indifference” when he thinks about the Belvedere retreat, and his vision-like worship of Eileen (the young Protestant girl) has coldly symbolic, touch-me-not overtones; her hands, pure and white, enable him to understand the references to the Tower of Ivory in an oft-repeated Church litany. The last of this set of opposites is concerned with the light/dark dichotomy: light symbolizes knowledge (confidence)’ and dark symbolizes ignorance (terror). Numerous examples of this conflict pervade the novel. In an early scene, when Stephen says that he will marry a Protestant, he is threatened with blindness: “Put out his eyes / Apologies.” Stephen is terrorized without knowing why; seemingly, a good Catholic boy should remain ignorant about other faiths—and perhaps even of women Stephen’s natural fondness for Eileen is condemned. Stephen is only a boy, but his sensitive artist’s nature realizes that he is going to grow up in a world where he will be forced to suppress his true felling and conform to society’s rules and threats. Stephen’s broken glasses are also part of this light/dark imagery. Without his glasses, Stephen see the world as if it were a dark blur; figuratively blinded, he cannot learn. And yet he is unjustly punished for telling the truth about the reason for his ‘blindness.” He quickly’ realizes the potential, dark (irrational) cruelty of the clergy Further on in the novel, there are recurrent images of darkness in the streets of Dublin—for example, when Stephen makes his way to the brothel district. Here, we also see the darkness within Stephen’s heart as he wanders willfully towards sin. Later on, the philosophical discussion about the lamp with the Dean of Studies (Chapter V) reveals the ‘blindness” of this cleric, compared with the illumination of Stephen’s aesthetic thoughts.

A close reading of the novel will produce many more images within these patterns. Joyce’s use of them is essential as he constructs his intricate thematic structure. Another kind of imagery in the novel is made up of references to colors and names. Colors, as Joyce uses them, often indicate the political and religious forces which affect Stephen’s life. Similarly, Joyce uses names to evoke various images—specifically those which imply animal qualities, providing clues to Stephen’s relationships with people. For an example of color imagery, note that Dante owns two velvet-backed brushes—-one maroon, one green. The maroon brush symbolizes Michael Davitt, the pro-Catholic activist of the Irish Land League; the green- backed brush symbolizes Charles Stewart Parnell. Once Parnell was Dante’s political hero par excellence, but after the Church denounced him, she ripped the green cloth from the back of her brush. Other references to color include Stephen’s desire to have a “green rose” (an expression of his creative nature) instead of a white one or a red one, symbols of his class’ scholastic teams. Another reference to color imagery can be seen in Lynch’s use of the term “yellow insolence” (Chapter V); instead of using the word ‘bloody,” Lynch uses the word ‘Yellow,” indicating a sickly, cowardly attitude towards life. Idea of a ‘bloody” natural lust for living would be appalling to Lynch. Lynch’s name, literally, means “to hang”; he has a “long slender flattened skull . . . like a hooded reptile … with a reptile like … gaze and a self- embittered … soul.” Like Lynch, Temple is also representative of his name. Temple considers himself “a believer in the power of the mind.” He admires Stephen greatly for his “independent thinking,” and he himself tries to “think” about the problems of the world. Cranly, like his name (cranium, meaning “skull”), is Stephen’s companion, to whom he confesses his deepest feelings. Note that several of Joyce’s references also focus on Stephen’s image of Cranly’s “severed head”; Cranly’s symbolic significance to Stephen is similar to that of John the Baptist (the “martyred Christ”). The name ‘Cranly” also reminds us of the skull on the rector’s desk and Joyce’s emphasis on the shadowy skull of the Jesuit director who queries Stephen about a religious vocation. Concerning the other imagery in the novel, perhaps the most pervasive is the imagery that pertains to Stephen’s exile, or, specifically, his “flight” from Ireland. The flight imagery begins as early as his first days at Clongowes, when Stephen’s oppressed feelings are symbolized by “a heavy bird flying low through the grey light.” Later, a greasy football soars “like a heavy bird” through the sky. At that time, flight from unhappiness seemed impossible for Stephen, but as the novel progresses and Stephen begins to formulate his artistic ideals, the notion of flight seems possible. For example, in Chapter IV, after Stephen renounces the possibility of a religious vocation, he feels a “proud sovereignty” as he crosses over the Tolka and his name is called out by his classmates; this incident is followed by another allusion to flight. Later, the girl wading in the sea is described as “delicate as a crane,” with the fringes of her “drawers … like the featherings of soft white down”; her bosom is described as “the breast of some dark plumaged dove.” Her presence in this moment of epiphany enables Stephen to choose art as his vocation. Finally, note that when Stephen’s friends call him, his name seems to carry a “prophecy”; he sees a “winged form flying above the waves and … climbing in the air.” The image of this “hawk like man flying sunward” is at the heart of the flight motif. As Stephen realizes his life’s purpose, he sees his “soul soaring in the air.” He yearns to cry out like an “eagle on high.” He experiences “an instant of wild flight” and is “delivered” free from the bondage of his past. At the end of the novel, Stephen cries out to Daedalus, his “old father, old artificer,” and prepares for his own flight to artistic freedom.


The Development of Individual Consciousness

The development of Stephen’s consciousness in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is particularly interesting because, in so far as Stephen is a portrait of Joyce himself, Stephen’s development gives us insight into the development of a literary genius. Stephen’s experiences hint at the influences transformed Joyce himself into the great writer he is considered today: Stephen’s obsession with language; his strained relations with religion, family, and culture; and his dedication to forging an aesthetic of his own mirror the ways in which Joyce related to the various tensions in his life during his formative years. In the last chapter of the novel, we also learn that genius, though in many ways a calling, also requires great work and considerable sacrifice. Watching Stephen’s daily struggle to puzzle out his aesthetic philosophy, we get a sense of the great task that awaits him. Joyce’s innovation in showing the development of his hero’s consciousness is known as stream of consciousness, a style in which the author directly transcribes the thoughts and sensations that go through a character’s mind, rather than simply describing those sensations from the external standpoint of an observer. Joyce’s use of stream of consciousness makes A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man a story of the development of Stephen’s mind. In the first chapter, the very young Stephen is only capable of describing his world in simple words and phrases. The sensations that he experiences are all jumbled together with a child’s lack of attention to cause and effect. Later, when Stephen is a teenager obsessed with religion, he is able to think in a clearer, more adult manner, Paragraphs are more logically ordered than in the opening sections of the novel, and thoughts progress logically, Stephen’s mind is more mature and he is now more coherently aware of his surroundings. Nonetheless, he still trusts blindly in the Church, and his passionate emotions of guilt and religious ecstasy are so strong that they get in the way of rational thought. It is only in the final chapter, when Stephen is in the university, that he seems truly rational by the end of the novel, Joyce renders a portrait of a mind that has achieved emotional, intellectual, and artistic adulthood.

The Pitfalls of Religious Extremism

Brought up in a devout Catholic family, Stephen initially ascribes to an absolute belief in the morals of the church. As a teenager, this belief leads him to two opposite extremes, both of which are harmful. At, first, he falls into the extreme of sin, repeatedly sleeping with prostitutes and deliberately turning his back on religion. Though Stephen sins willfully, he is always aware that he acts in violation of, the church’s rules. Then, when Father Argall’s Speech prompts him to return to Catholicism, he bounces to the other extreme, becoming a perfect, near fanatical model of religious devotion and obedience. Eventually, however, Stephen realizes that both of these life styles—the completely sinful and the completely devout—are extremes that have been false and harmful. He does not want to’ lead a completely debauched life, but also rejects austere Catholicism because he feels that it does not permit him the full experience of being human. Stephen ultimately reaches a decision to embrace life and celebrate humanity after seeing a young girl wading at a beach. To him, the girl is a symbol of pure goodness and of life lived to the fullest.

The Role of the Artist

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man explores what it means to become an artist. Stephen’s decision at the end of the novel—to leave his family and friends behind and go into. Exile in order to become an artist—suggests that Joyce sees the artist as a necessarily isolated figure.

In his decision, Stephen turns his back on his community, refusing to accept the constraints of political involvement, religious devotion, and family commitment that the community places on its members. However, though the artist is an isolated figure, Stephen’s ultimate goal is to give a voice to the very community that he is leaving. In the last few lines of the novel, Stephen expresses his desire to “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.” He recognizes that his community will always be a part of him, as it has created and shaped his identity, when he creatively expresses his own ideas, he will also convey the voice of his entire community. Even as Stephen turns his back on the traditional forms of participation and membership in a community, he envisions his writing as a service to the community.

The Need for Irish Autonomy

Despite his desire to steer clear of politics, Stephen constantly ponders Ireland’s place in the world. He concludes that the Irish have always been a subservient People, allowing outsiders to control them. In his Conversation with the dean of studies at the university, he realizes that even the language of the Irish people really belongs to the English. Stephen’s perception of Ireland’s subservience has two effects on his development as an artist. First, it makes him determined to escape the bonds that his Irish ancestors have accepted. As we see in his conversation with Davin, Stephen feels an anxious need to emerge from his Irish heritage as his own person, free from the shackles that have traditionally confined his country: “Do you fancy I am going to pay in my own life and person debts they made?” Second, Stephen’s perception makes him determined to use his art to reclaim autonomy for Ireland. Using the borrowed language of English, he plans to write in a style that will be both autonomous from England and true to the Irish people.

Entrapment and Constraint

Stephen eventually comes to see Ireland as a kind of trap, a restraint that will make it impossible for him to live and create. Three major bonds threaten: family, nation, and the Church. Stephen’s family, increasingly destitute, is a source of frustration and guilt. He can do nothing to help them, and the continued ineptitude of his father exasperates Stephen. Though his father is an ardent nationalist, Stephen has great anxieties about Irish politics. He finds that the Irish people are fickle- minded and ultimately disloyal; at one point, he says to a friend that the Irish have never had a great leader whom they did not betray or abandon. He also rebels against the nature of activities like petition-signing and protest; in his mind, these activities amount to an abdication of independence. At the same time, he leaves Ireland hoping to forge the new conscience of his race.


The Church is perhaps the greatest constraint on Stephen, and merits its own entry. The teachings of the Church run contrary to Stephen’s independent spirit and intellect. His sensitivity to beauty and the human body are not at all suitable to the rigid Catholicism in which he was raised. But the Church continues to exert some small hold on him. Although he eventually becomes an unbeliever, he continues to have some fear that the Catholic Church might be correct. Despite his fears, he eventually chooses to live independently and without constraint, even if that decision sends him to hell.


Escape is the natural complement to the theme of Entrapment and Constraint. Joyce depicts escape metaphorically by the book’s most important symbol and allusion: the mythical artificer Daedalus. Dedalus is not at all an Irish name; Joyce took the name from the mythical inventor who escaped from his island prison by constructing wings and flying to his freedom. Stephen, too, will eventually escape from the island prison of Ireland for the alienation need for an artist.


Closely related to the above theme, Stephen’s move towards independence is one of the central movements of the novel. When we first encounter- Stephen as a Young boy, his athletic ineptitude and sensitive nature make him an easy target for bullies. He is a rather shy and awkward boy. The contrast with the university student Stephen could not be greater. The older Stephen is fiercely independent, willing to risk eternal damnation to pursue his destiny. He is not cowed by anyone, and he will pursue life as an artist no matter what the cost.

Beauty, Sensitivity, and Imagination

What begins as sensitivity and imagination in the child Stephen eventually evolves into a near-obsessive contemplation of beauty and the mechanics of art. Even as a child, young Stephen is an extraordinarily imaginative and sensitive boy. Eventually, these strong but unarticulated feelings take shape as a passion for the arts. In Chapter 5, Stephen has developed a theory of aesthetics that is quite sophisticated for a university student; he thinks carefully and thoroughly about beauty and the power of art, and knows that he can do nothing else but pursue the life of a poet and writer.

Rejection of Authority

Stephen’s ultimate rebellion is a classic example of a young person’s struggle against the conformity demanded of him, by society. The young Stephen possesses a childish faith in his family, his religion, and his country. As he matures, he comes to feel these institutions are attempting to destroy his independent spirit. He must escape them to find himself. Stephen’s rebellion is directed against numerous opponents. One is his father, Simon Dedalus. As Stephen discovers that his father is a drunken, in- effectual failure, he rejects his authority. Stephen also rejects the bonds of a religion that restricts his natural impulses. Catholicism imposes a burden of guilt that weighs him down. He must “‘admit” and “confess” and’ “apologies” even when he feels innocent. By rejecting Catholicism, Stephen is ‘also rejecting his devoutly religious mother. Stephen’s rebellion is also directed against his native land. Dirty,’ backward Ireland destroys any of its children who show creativity; it is, he says,’ a sow that eats her farrow. His classmates attempt to reform Ireland through political action and promotion of native literature. Stephen rejects these attempts as futile and backward-looking. Instead he abandons Ireland and looks towards the continent.

Portrait of a Young Egotist

Some readers feel that the central theme is the character study of an arrogant, unhappy egotist, an intensely self-absorbed young man. An egotist is interested only in the self, and is intensely critical of other people and the world. This can be said of Stephen, who feels superior and finds it hard to care for others, even for his own family. It is equally hard for him to accept affection or love from others. From his early school days on, he is at the edge of group life, observing himself. As he grows older, he becomes even more totally absorbed in his own ideas until he finally withdraws from his familiar surroundings. Stephen’s Opinions on art and his own attempts at writing, as evidenced by the villanelle he writes in Chapter Five, suggest to some that he is not talented enough to justify his self-appointed role as a priest of art.

Sin as a Liberating Force

In some views, it is Stephen’s acceptance of his own sinfulness that sets him free. Guilt and fear of punishment keep him in a sterile, pale world of virtue where he is always hounded by the pressure to confess, admit, or apologize. By committing a mortal (serious) sin of impurity (of the flesh) and falling from grace like Adam from Paradise, or like Lucifer expelled from Heaven, he is thrust back into the earthly world of the senses, a world that releases his creative powers. Stephen will sin again and again, but instead of confessing he will write.

Life as a Maze

From the beginning, Stephen, like most young people, is caught in a maze, just as his namesake Daedalus was. The schools are a maze of corridors; Dublin is a maze of streets. The mind itself is a convoluted maze filled with dead ends and circular reasoning. Life poses riddles at every turn. Stephen roams the labyrinth searching his mind for answers. The only way out seems to be to soar above the narrow confines of the prison, as did Daedalus and his son.


Many readers point to Stephen’s pride as a cause of his isolation. From the beginning, pride—a mortal sin— keeps him away from others. He yearns for “order and elegance” in his life. He feels superior to his family and to his peers. He feels superior to his country, and to attempts to improve it. In the end, pride drives him to lonely exile. What readers must decide is whether Stephen’s pride is justified by his talent, or whether it is merely selfish; whether pride has driven him to a fall, as it did Icarus and Lucifer, or whether it will save him.


Stephen Dedalus

The main character of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. While growing up, Stephen goes through long phases of hedonism and deep religiosity. He eventually adopts a philosophy of aestheticism, greatly valuing beauty and art. Stephen is essentially Joyce’s alter ego, and many of the events of Stephen’s life mirror events from Joyce’s own youth.

Simon Dedalus

Stephen’s father, an impoverished former medical student with a- strong sense of Irish patriotism.

Sentimental about his past, Simon Dedalus frequently reminisces about his youth.

Mary Dedalus

Stephen’s mother and Simon Dedalus’s wife Mary is very religious, and argues with her son about attending religious services.

The Dedalus Children

Though Simon’s siblings do not play a major role in the novel, Stephen has several brothers and sisters, including Maurice, Katey, Maggie, and Boody.

Emma Clery

Stephen’s beloved, the young girl to whom he fiercely attracted over the course of many years. Stephen constructs Emma as an ideal of femininity, even though he does not know her well.

Mr. John Casey

Simon Dedalus’s friend, who attends the Christmas dinner at which young Stephen is allowed to sit with the adults for the first time. Like Simon, Mr. Casey is a staunch believer in Irish nationalism, and at the dinner he argues with Dante over the fate of Parnell.

Charles Stewart Parnell

An Irish political leader who is not an actual character in the novel, but whose death influences many of its characters. Parnell had powerfully led the Irish National Party until he was condemned for having an affair with a married woman.

Dante (Mrs. Riordan)

The extremely fervent and piously Catholic governess of the Dedalus children, Dante, whose real name is Mrs. Riordan, becomes involved in a long and unpleasant argument with Mr. Casey over the fate of Parnell during Christmas dinner.

Uncle Charles

Stephen’s lively great uncle. Charles lives With Stephen’s family. During the summer, the young

Stephen enjoys taking long walks with his uncle and listening to Charles and Simon discuss the history of both Ireland and the Dedalus family.

Eileen Vance

A young girl who lives near Stephen when he is a young boy, When Stephen tells Dante that he wants to marry Eileen, Dante is enraged because Eileen is a Protestant.

Father Conmee

The rector at Clongowes Wood College, where Stephen attends school as a young boy.

Father Dolan

The cruel prefect of studies at Clongowes Wood College,


The bully at Clongowes. Wells taunts Stephen for kissing his mother before he goes to bed, and one day he pushes Stephen into a filthy cesspool, causing Stephen to catch a bad fever.


A friendly boy whom Stephen meets in the infirmary at Clongowes. Athy likes Stephen Dedalus because they both have unusual names.

Brother Michael

The kindly brother who tends to Stephen and Athy in the Clongowes infirmary after Wells pushes Stephen into the cesspool.


One of Stephen’s friends at Clongowes.

Father Arnall

Stephen’s stern Latin teacher at Clongowes. Later, when Stephen is I at Belvedere College, Father Arnall delivers a series of lectures on death and hell that have a profound influence on Stephen.

Mike Flynn

A friend of Simon Dedalus who tries, with little success, to train Stephen to be a runner during their summer at Blackrock.

Aubrey Mills

A young boy with whom Stephen plays imaginary adventure games at Blackrock.

Vincent Heron

A rival of Stephen at Belvedere.

Boland and Nash

Two schoolmates of Stephen at Belvedere, who taunt and bully him.


Stephen’s best friend at the university, in whom he confides his thoughts and feelings. In this sense, Cranly represents a secular confessor for Stephen. Eventually, Cranly begins to encourage Stephen to conform to the wishes of his family and to try harder to fit in with his peers—advice that Stephen fiercely resents.


Another of Stephen’s friends at the university. Davin comes from the Irish provinces and has a simple, solid nature. Stephen admires his talent for athletics, but disagrees with his unquestioning Irish patriotism, which Davin encourages Stephen to adopt.


Another of Stephen’s friends at the university, a coarse and often unpleasantly dry young man. Lynch is poorer than Stephen. Stephen explains his theory Of aesthetics to Lynch in Chapter 5,


A fiercely political student at the university who tries to convince Stephen to be more concerned with politics.


A young man at the university who openly admires Stephen’s keen independence and tries to copy his ideas and sentiments.

Dean of Studies

A Jesuit priest at University College.

Johnny Cashman

A friend of Simon Dedalus.


Analysis of Major Characters

Stephen Dedalus

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is above all a portrait of Stephen Dedalus. It is through Stephen that we see his world, and it is his development from sensitive child to rebellious young man that forms the plot of the novel. There are many Stephens, often contradictory. He is fearful yet bold, insecure yet proud, lonely and at the same time afraid of love. One Stephen is a romantic who daydreams of swashbuckling heroes and virginal heroines: The other is a realist at home on Dublin’s most sordid streets. One Stephen is too shy to kiss the young lady he yearns for. The other readily tums to prostitutes to satisfy his sexual urges. One is a timid outsider bullied -by this classmates. The other is courageous enough to confront -and question authority.

One devoutly hopes to become a priest. Other cynically rejects religion.  Stephen loves his mother, yet eventually hurts her by rejecting her Catholic faith. Taught to revere his father, he can’t help but see that Simon Dedalus, his father, is a drunken failure. Unhappy as a perpetual outsider, he lacks the warmth to engage in true friendship. “Have you never loved anyone?” his fellow student, Cranly, asks him. “I tried to love God,” Stephen replies. “It seems now I failed.” The force that eventually unites these contradictory issues is Stephen’s overwhelming desire to become an artist, to create. At the novel’s opening he is seen as an infant artist who sings “his song.” Eventually he expands that song into poetry and theories of art. At the book’s end, he makes art his religion, and he abandons family, Catholicism, and his country to worship art.

The very name of the hero underscores this aspect of his character. His first name comes from St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr; many readers have seen Stephen as a martyr to his art. His last name comes from the great inventor of Greek myth, Daedalus, whose mazes and waxen wings are the kind of splendid artistic creations Stephen hopes to equal in his writing. Just as Stephen is a contradictory figure, we may have contradictory feelings about him. On the one hand, he seems to be a brilliant artist who must flee dull, uncultured Dublin at any cost. We can admire intelligence and courage. We can consider his art well worthy of martyrdom, and consider that it merits comparison with Daedalus’ achievements. His theories and poems are, if not masterpieces, at least the works man who may someday create a masterpiece. Indeed we can believe that

Stephen may grow up to be very much like the James Joyce who wrote Portrait of the Artist, On the other hand, Stephen can be called a supreme “a posturing, unproven esthete (lover of egotist, Beauty],” a self-centered snob who has succumbed to the sin of pride. “You are wrapped up in yourself,” says his friend MacCann, We can believe, as some readers do, that Stephen’s artistic theories and his works of poetry are at most the products of a clever but shallow mind. Stephen may martyr himself for art, but his martyrdom will be worth nothing because he is too self-absorbed to be a great artist. He is not Daedalus; instead he resembles Daedalus’ son, Icarus,

Who, wearing his father’s wings, soared too near the sun and died as a result of foolishness and pride. Or we can take other views. Perhaps Joyce makes fun of Stephen’s pretensions while still admiring the bravery that accompanies them. Perhaps Joyce feels sympathy for Stephen’s struggles but also feels obliged to mock the less admirable aspects of his hero’s character because he shared those character traits himself. In short, Stephen Dedaluso is a man with many contradictions found in a creative artist, a person whose egoism and creative frenzy ultimately lead to his alienation.

Simon Dedalus

He was Stephen’s father, “A medical student, an oarsman, a tenor, an amateur actor, a shouting politician… a drinker, a good fellow, a story teller, somebody’s secretary, something in a tax gatherer, a bankrupt and at present a praise of his own That’s how Stephen describes his father, Simon Dedalus, towards the end of the novel. Portrait of the Artist is a book, of discoveries, and one of the most important discoveries Stephen must make is this: what kind of man is his father? Like most sons, he must measure his father in order to measure himself. Simon Daedalus’,

Character is revealed gradually from the first chapter of the novel to the last. To the infant Stephen he ‘is just a hairy face. A slightly older Stephen knows he is a “gentleman.”‘ During the Christmas dinner in Chapter One, you see that Simon can be a genial but argumentative host. In Chapter Two you see that while he may fall from respectability himself, he still believes in it for others. Stephen must attend an upper-class school run by the Jesuits, not the Christian Brothers’ school that caters to the lower-class Irish—though ‘ Simon is rapidly becoming part of that class,

As the novel progresses, Simon seems. To represent both what is admirable about, Ireland and what is destructive. Simon is a good fellow fine talker, a lover of politics and But he is an irresponsible head of a family, incapable of keeping a job, saving money, or refusing a drink. Stephen feels alienated both from his father’s strengths and from his weaknesses. He feels superior to Simon’s irresponsibility. But he envies his father’s robustness, gregariousness, and warmth. When in a bar Simon declares that in his youth he was a better man than Stephen is now, part of Stephen fears his father’s judgment is correct. As time goes on, Simon drinks more heavily and leads his family deeper into poverty. He lives in the past because has failed in the present.

Stephen realizes that to grow he must reject his biological father and adopt a spiritual father who will guide him in his art. He chooses Daedalus, the father and creator of wings to fly. And it’s Daedalus, not Simon, whom Stephen calls “old father,” in the final lines of the book.

Emma Clery

Emma is Stephen’s “beloved,” the young girl to whom he is intensely attracted over the course of many years. Stephen does not know Emma particularly well, and is generally too embarrassed or afraid to talk to her, but feels a powerful response stirring within him whenever he sees her. Stephen’s first poem, “To E—C,” is written to Emma. She is a shadowy figure throughout the novel, and we know almost nothing about her even at the novel’s end. For Stephen, Emma symbolizes one end of a spectrum of femininity. Stephen seems able to perceive only the extremes of this spectrum: for him, women are either pure, distant, and unapproachable, like Emma, or impure, sexual, and common, like the prostitutes he visits during his time at Belvedere.

Charles Stewart Parnell

Parnell is not fictional, and does not actually appear as a character in the novel. However, as an Irish political leader, he is a polarizing figure whose death influences many characters in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. During the late nineteenth century, Parnell had been the powerful leader of the Irish National Party, and his influence seemed to promise Irish independence from England. When Parnell’s affair with a married woman was exposed, however, he was condemned by the Catholic Church and fell from grace. His fevered attempts to regain his former position of influence contributed to his death from exhaustion. Many people in Ireland, such as the character of John Casey in Joyce’s novel, considered Parnell a hero and blamed the Church for his death. Many others, such as the character Dante, thought the Church had done the right thing to condemn Parnell. These disputes over Parnell’s character are at the root of the bitter and abusive argument that erupts during the Dedalus family’s Christmas dinner when Stephen is still a young boy. In this sense, Parnell represents the burden of Irish nationality that Stephen comes to believe is preventing him from realizing himself as an artist.


Stephen’s best friend at the university, Cranly also acts as a kind of non-religious confessor for Stephen. Long, late-night talks, Stephen tells Cranly everything, just as he used to tell the priests everything during his days of religious fervor. ‘While Cranly is a good friend to Stephen, he does not understand Stephen’s need for absolute freedom. Indeed, to Cranly, leaving behind al the trappings of society would be terribly lonely. It is this difference that separates the true artist, Stephen from the artist’s friend, Cranly. In that sense, Cranlyrepresents the non-genius, a young man who is called to greatness as Stephen is, and who therefore doc not have to make the same sacrifices.

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