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Joyce’s a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Essay


Writers of the first decades of the twentieth century became fascinated by the inner lives of teeming impressions , and by the mental activities of meaning – making which constitute our private inner lives. The works of Irish writer James Joyce are distinguished by their keen psychological insight and use of various literary techniques; most notably “stream of consciousness” which is an attempt to write in the manner in which thoughts and memory actually work in our minds.

This study is an attempt to examine the ‘ steam of consciousness ‘ as a technique used in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) which is one of the greatest of modern novels. Joyce arranged his novel in five chapters which trace the protagonist’s life, Stephen Dedalus, from boyhood to young manhood.

In this study , a careful examination of this technique is carried out through moving from the innocence of childhood to frenzied episodes of adolescent lust and then to a calm contemplation of women, aesthetic theory independence and art .

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‘ Stream of consciousness’ is a narrative technique in non dramatic fiction intended to render the flow of myriad impressions-visual, auditory, physical, associative, and subliminal-that impinge on the consciousness of an individual and form part of his awareness along with the trend of his rational thoughts.”

This term was first used by the psychologist William James in The Principles of Psychology (1890). James was formulating a psychological theory where he had discovered that ” memories, thoughts and feelings exist outside the primary consciousness appear to one, not as a chain, but as a stream , a flow .”

In his introduction on the use of this narrative technique, Robert Hurley shows that It was first used, as a literary term, in the late 19th century. This term is ” employed to evince subjective as well as objective reality. It reveals the character’s feelings, thoughts, and actions, often following an associative rather than a logical sequence, without commentary by the author.

Widely used in narrative fiction, the technique was perhaps brought to its highest point of development in early twentieth century novels where stream of consciousness plays an important role” . Writers such as Dorothy Richardson , James Joyce , Virginia Woolf , and William Faulkner writing during the same period, each developed distinctive uses of this technique. . James Joyce, whose talents were so much greater, will be regarded as much more than this.

In Chapter Two : Stephen’s Childhood the beginning of the book-describing Stephen’s experiences as a baby-represents the thoughts of an infant as well as other people’s so-called baby talk to an infant:

“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow…His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face. (A Portrait, ch. 1, p. 7 )

Through the artistic use of the stream of consciousness , Joyce exposes us directly to Stephen’s interior world. We are given no clues how to feel or react ; we have no privileged position outside of the narrative_ Stephen’s environment is just Stephen’s environment, Stephen’s thought’s are just Stephen’s thought’s :

“A development of the single point of view in which reality appears only as it is mirrored in the observations , sensations , and memories of a single character . “

his treatment of Stephen during this critical stage of his life. With Stephen , Joyce suggests rather than fully records the stream of consciousness; ” as he walks through Dublin, stray thoughts flicker through his mind like fishes, thoughts suggested by whatever business he is about, by things that catch his eye in the streets , by smells that assail his nostrils; and all the time , coming sometimes to consciousness through association with these sense- impressions”. Chapter Four : Stephen’s Manhood

Joyce used St. Francis Feast Day as an entrance to another stage in Stephen’s life . It is the stage of manhood ; or as it will be reflected a rebellion against the Catholic values. At first he enters a state of moral paralysis and confusion.

Having broken one rule , he seems to lose the ability to maintain any kind of moral structure or self- discipline. His deep unrest manifests itself as a general souring of his whole personality. His situation is difficult. He is indulging in the pleasures of the flesh for the first time , but he soon learns that to abandon the moral order in which one was raised is no easy thing:

He had sinned mortally not once but many times and he knew that , while he stood in danger of eternal damnation for the first sin alone, by every succeeding sin he multiplied his guilt and his punishment. His days and works and thoughts could make no atonement for him , the fountains of sanctifying grace having ceased to refresh his soul … his sin, which had covered him from the sight of God, had led him nearer to the refuge of sinners. ( Ch.3 , p.98 )


In A Portrait of an Artist as a young Man , Joyce followed Stephen’s life from childhood through adolescence to first flash of manhood using one of the most artistic and remarkable techniques ever used in English Novel . As Stephen matures through various family conflicts and periods of study at Jesuit schools, he begins to rebel against his family, his religion, and his nation. Finally, in order to establish himself as an individual and to find his identity as an artist, he seeks self-imposed exile in Paris

What particularly sets Portrait apart form other ” coming of age ” books is Joyce’s manipulation of the narrative itself- the language and syntax used at each point in the book reflect the age and intellectual development of Stephen.

To link the sections of his novel and the phases of Stephen’s life; Joyce used elaborate patterns of symbols which echo and re-echo through the text, the use of stream of consciousness .

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Joyce’s a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. (2017, Feb 16). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/joyces-a-portrait-of-the-artist-as-a-young-man-essay

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