A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

This is Joyce’s semi-autobiographical portrait of his alter ego Stephen Dedalus as he struggles free from his Irish Catholic heritage and of his eventual abandonment of Ireland. The portrait begins with Stephen as a young child, listening to the talk around the dinner table of Irish politics, but not really understanding it. In the first part of the novel, sensual perceptions are all, and there is no attempt to approach them or understand them in the sphere of ideas. Then we see Stephen go to boarding school, and we feel his experiences as he is homesick, missing his father and his mother. However, he soon comes to terms with the other boys and the life he leads there. We also get a small understanding that his father is not very good with money, and we find that Stephen and his family have to move for financial reasons–meaning that Stephen has to change schools. He moves to a school called Belvedere, where he starts taking part in amateur dramatics, and starts to grow into an assured young man. However, he is tormented by his sexual impulses, and he has his first sexual experience with a Dublin prostitute.

Stephen spirals into a spiritual abyss, in which he takes part in all sorts of sinful activities, feeling himself cut off from his religion. However, he then goes to hear a preacher, and the preacher’s words seriously affect him (full, as they are, with fire and brimstone warnings about the danger of sin). Stephen repents, and begins to lead an austere lifestyle – totally at odds with an emerging love of sensuous beauty. This lifestyle becomes so much a part of Stephen’s character that, as he prepares to leave school, one of his teacher suggests that he might want to become a priest. However, an epiphany on a beach – in which he sees a young girl wade in to the sea – completely turns him away from this path. He finds her inexplicably and incredibly beautiful, and this insight leads him to understand that his desire for beauty (far from being sinful), can be, in fact, a vocation.

We next see him at university, where he has met a number of bright young men and is considered by them to be one of the great thinkers amongst them. In a long conversation he tries to formulate a theory of art – but is still frustrated by the amount he relies on his friends and families. However, as he walks home from another boy’s room he feels that he can, somehow, break away. He determines to be an artist.

Each chapter in A Portrait of the Artist of as a Young Man coincides with a stage in Stephen’s life. And each one of them seems to follow a similar structure. We come to Stephen in a moment of uncertainty. He does not what to do with his life, where to go, how he can make the differing sides of his personality cohere into a single whole. The modern term is ‘conflicted’.

As the chapters progress (which are more interested in Stephen’s interiority than a straight narrative), we start to see Stephen work out these contradictions. Each chapter ends with a note of certainty, a feeling that Stephen can move forward a better and more complete man. In this way the novel seems to suggest that life is a series of these miniature battles, fights with ourselves to be the best that we can. It also suggests that this is precisely the means by which an artist might come to understand himself and his world–by resolving contradictions and uncertainties. Joyce – as one of the foremost modernists – has a technical brilliance when it comes to describing the way people live their lives, and (more importantly) what their lives are made of. Written with humour, a live intelligence and an understanding of the internal processes of the human psyche, A Portrait of the Artist of as a Young Man, is a true dissertation about the stuff of the artistic soul.

ISBN: 978-0007659050


Image result for james joyce

James Joyce

Scroll to Top