A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man

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A review of James Joyce’s book, “A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man”, illustrating his passage from boyhood to manhood.

A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man In Joyce’s novel, “A portrait of an Artist as a Young Man”, he weaves the stories of his youth and his growth as a young man to tell us about who he was as an individual and the sort of life he lead. Joyce uses many techniques such as stream of consciousness to help us picture his mindset and help his audience feel the emotions he had after the certain situations of his life.

In the novel, Joyce uses the young character Stephen as his protagonist to display the deep emotional turmoil and growth of the youth into the artist that he would become. As Stephen becomes disheartened by the way his life is heading while facing all of the dead-end realities of life, he is embarrassed by the financial situation of his family.

The cause of the misfortune and humiliation Stephen feels is traced back to the failure and betrayal of his father, Simon Dedalus, which is the symbolic failure of Ireland and its leaders to unite as a people and causes Stephen to leave it behind. From the beginning of the novel, “family” plays a central part in his growth, symbolizing many different things throughout his life. The first section of the novel sets the stage for the rest of his life. Stephen feels he should be the center of his family’s universe, or the “baby tuckoo”.

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His family symbolizes the oppression that Stephen encounters throughout his life.Read what to do f you find a path with no obstacles

“Apologise, pull out his eyes, pull out his eyes, apologise (Joyce 4).” Later the reader finds that this symbolizes how his family will not accept his spontaneous outbursts, especially involving the arts. Its also important to note that even at this early part of his life, Stephen prefers his mother over his father, which shows later on in the novel. ” . . . he had a hairy face . . . his mother had a nicer smell than his father. (Joyce 3)” In the first Chapter, at Clongowes, Stephen feels isolated.

Uncomfortable in his new surroundings, he turns to thoughts of his family, who symbolize security. “He longed to be at home and lay his head on his mother’s lap. But he could not: and so he longed for the play and study and prayers to be over and to be in bed (Joyce 9).” Stephen needs this escape, and thoughts of his family fills this requirement. He thinks of the time when he had to say goodbye to his family, because he feels like he’s “caught in the whirl of a scrimmage . . . fearful of the flashing eyes and muddy boots . . .” at Clongowes. Like his father, his mother also influences Stephen’s development. She symbolizes Stephen’s loyalty, in specific to Ireland, which is shown in Chapter 1. This is where we receive the first hints about Stephen’s thoughts of exile from his Mother Ireland. While he is at boarding school, Stephen feared exile from his mother, which relates to his experience with Ireland.

He feels great anxiety because of his separation from home. When one of his peers asks Stephen about kissing his mother, these fears are once again aroused. “He still tried to think what was the right answer. Was it right to kiss his mother or wrong to kiss his mother (Joyce 11)?” One of the most important events in Stephen’s life occurs when he goes back home for Christmas dinner with his family in Bray. This symbolizes his entrance into adulthood. For the first time, he says grace before the meal. Stephen envisions this adult world as exciting, joyful, and full of hope. Unfortunately for Stephen, however, this dinner with his family would also symbolize the loss of his innocence. During the dinner, his family engages in a fierce debate. At this point, Stephen loses his view of what adult life entails. The evident flaws of his adult family members make Stephen realize for the first time that the passage into adulthood means the death of parts of himself, specifically his innocence.

After this incident, Stephen will never look at life and the world around him the same. Stephen’s shame in his father begins quickly in the book as early in his childhood Stephen must change schools. He learns he will not be returning to Clongowes Wood College because of his father’s mounting debts. This brings Stephen much pain and humiliation as he realizes his father is a financial failure and becomes bitter and embarrassed by their “change of fortune”. This bitterness is built up as Stephen feels a sense of betrayal by his father as he pokes fun at Stephen’s pandying which “he and Father Dolan had a great laugh over”, even though this gave Stephen a high respect among his peers. In Stephen’s young adolescence this disappointment he feels is characterized by the oscillating mood swings , caused by his father. He receives no direction from his father, who he is ashamed of and does not wish to be seen with. “he had tried to cover that shameful sign of his father’s drinking bout of the night before . . . just one humiliation had succeeded another.” This uneasiness at home caused a restlessness in Stephen as he was given little direction in life and begins to wonder about the question of manhood: what defines a man? With this painful humiliation came the disappointment in the move to a “cheerless and foggy” section of Dublin.

This became too much for Stephen to handle at such a young age and he needed an escape. “His Blood was in revolt.” Stephen’s father gives him no help in his time of anguish. Stephen begins to be confused with his view of sex. When he thinks about a girl who is watching his play, Stephen feels confused about his desires. Seeing the word Foetus on a desktop compounds his confusion. Once again, his family, this time his father, symbolizes the lack of support that Stephen needs to face the challenges of his adolescence. Stephen’s father doesn’t acknowledge the trouble that is happening with Stephen, and he only gives shallow advice and talks about old times.

This increases Stephen’s feeling of isolation. Stephen’s inability to form a bond with his father causes him to sin, in the form of a prostitute. Although he longs to escape the filth and poverty of Dublin and pursue truth, beauty, and love, his quest takes a detour in a short-lived moment of physical gratification in the welcoming and seductive arms of a Dublin prostitute. He uses the prostitute as a substitute for the comfort he cannot find in his family. This act of lust continues in a downward spiral in Chapter 3 as Stephen’s despair causes him to lose hope in repentance as he began “to sin mortally not once but many times and he knew that, while he stood on the edge of eternal damnation.” This stage of depression continues as Stephen realizes he has become contaminated in every kind of sin, as he thinks over the sentence of Saint James, which says, “that he who offends against one commandment becomes guilty of all had to him first a swollen phrase until he had begun to grope in the darkness of his own state.” Stephen indirectly blames these actions upon his father as he, out of fear and humiliation, is afraid of becoming a man like his father, a failure in his own eyes. Another way that Stephen’s family comes into his life is through Daedalus, Stephen’s mythical namesake.

During the retreat, the final sermon asks questions that make Stephen analyze his life. “Why did you sin?” “Why did you not repent your evil ways?” Stephen begins thinking about what life would be like without God, or more specifically what Hell would be like. At this point Stephen exists in an imaginative Hell of his conjuring. Daedulus also experienced something similar. He disobeyed orders from King Minos and therefore was placed into a maze that he designed. Just as Daedulus was imprisoned by a Minotaur, Stephen feels imprisoned by this hell that exists within his soul. In Chapter 4, the theme of betrayal by father figures once again surfaces. Stephen talks to the director about pursuing the path of religious life. The director makes fun of the long-robed Capuchins while talking to Stephen. Stephen is shocked by this inappropriate comment.

Not only does the director insult the Capuchins, but he also pokes fun at the dress and manner of some of the other orders of the priesthood. Just as Stephen’s father ridiculed Stephen’s pandying at Clongowes, the director or “father” has shattered Stephen’s idea of what a priest should be and how he should act. This sets the stage for Stephen’s thoughts of choosing a new style of life for himself. This chapter also shows how Stephen’s parents symbolize his struggle to choose the life he wants to lead. When Stephen goes home, he finds that his father’s debts have forced his family to once again move. Despite the fact that his siblings are signing and seemingly full of joy, Stephen sees that they are truly “weary of life”, weary of the life created by their father.

Stephen’s mother, whose name is Mary, symbolizes the Virgin Mary, but more importantly, the religious life that Stephen no longer desires. Stephen’s father, because of the state of his house and his financial disorder, symbolizes a life of disorder and confusion. During this chapter, Stephen chooses the life of his father, but soon he will reject the symbolic lives of both his mother and his father, and instead choose a new and better life. The final chapter of the novel is by far the most important in Stephen’s development. Stephen examines the influences which have shaped his life up to his point: family, country, and religion. In this chapter, Stephen commits himself to the goal of achieving freedom. This symbolizes best Stephen’s want to escape his family, which all things in his life revolves around. Throughout his life, Stephen has wanted to throw away all ties to his past, especially his family.

But by the end of the novel, Stephen changes his view for the better. Stephen shows this need to leave the past behind when he is confronted by his mother’s belief in the “Easter duty”, which is confession and communion. At this point Stephen no longer believes in the sacredness of the Church rituals. Because he feels betrayed by religion and his family, he wants to leave them all behind, and declare his own artistic and spiritual independence. “I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church.” The last part of this chapter is the most important in Stephen’s development as a person and an adult. As he writes his diary entries, he prepares to leave Ireland. For once, Stephen begins to have hope for the future.

His last entry in his diary reveals a change in heart that has been developing throughout the novel. In the beginning and through most of his life, Stephen has viewed family and country as obstacles to growth. Now he sees them more as things that he cannot be totally connected to, but things that he needs nonetheless. He promises to “learn . . . what the heart is and what it feels,” just as his mother wished in her prayers. He realizes that he will always be connected to his country. He vows to “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.” He even goes as far as to ask his “old father” for help in whatever his future may hold. In the beginning of his life, Stephen saw no hope for the future. By analyzing his relations with his country and religion, but more importantly his family, in the end he finally grew to see hope in the world once again. Just as he grows to accept his mother country Ireland, Stephen finally looks past his father’s faults and accepts him too.

Cite this page

A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/a-portrait-of-an-artist-as-a-young-man-new-essay

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