Form and Structure || A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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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.

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