A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
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  1. Plot Overview
    • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man tells the
    • story of Stephen Dedalus, a boy growing up in Ireland at the end of the
    • nineteenth century, as he gradually decides to cast off all his social,
    • familial, and religious constraints to live a life devoted to the art
    • of writing. As a young boy, Stephen's Catholic faith and Irish
    • nationality heavily influence him. He attends a strict religious
    • boarding school called Clongowes Wood College. At first, Stephen is
    • lonely and homesick at the school, but as time passes he finds his place
    • among the other boys. He enjoys his visits home, even though family
    • tensions run high after the death of the Irish political leader Charles
    • Stewart Parnell. This sensitive subject becomes the topic of a furious,
    • politically charged argument over the family's Christmas dinner.

    • Stephen's father, Simon, is inept with money, and the
    • family sinks deeper and deeper into debt. After a summer spent in the
    • company of his Uncle Charles, Stephen learns that the family cannot
    • afford to send him back to Clongowes, and that they will instead move to
    • Dublin. Stephen starts attending a prestigious day school called
    • Belvedere, where he grows to excel as a writer and as an actor in the
    • student theater. His first sexual experience, with a young Dublin
    • prostitute, unleashes a storm of guilt and shame in Stephen, as he tries
    • to reconcile his physical desires with the stern Catholic morality of
    • his surroundings. For a while, he ignores his religious upbringing,
    • throwing himself with debauched abandon into a variety of
    • sins—masturbation, gluttony, and more visits to prostitutes, among
    • others. Then, on a three-day religious retreat, Stephen hears a trio of
    • fiery sermons about sin, judgment, and hell. Deeply shaken, the young
    • man resolves to rededicate himself to a life of Christian piety.
    • Stephen begins attending Mass every day, becoming a model of
    • Catholic piety, abstinence, and self-denial. His religious devotion is
    • so pronounced that the director of his school asks him to consider
    • entering the priesthood. After briefly considering the offer, Stephen
    • realizes that the austerity of the priestly life is utterly incompatible
    • with his love for sensual beauty. That day, Stephen learns from his
    • sister that the family will be moving, once again for financial reasons.
    • Anxiously awaiting news about his acceptance to the university, Stephen
    • goes for a walk on the beach, where he observes a young girl wading in
    • the tide. He is struck by her beauty, and realizes, in a moment of
    • epiphany, that the love and desire of beauty should not be a source of
    • shame. Stephen resolves to live his life to the fullest, and vows not to
    • be constrained by the boundaries of his family, his nation, and his
    • religion.
    • Stephen moves on to the university, where he develops a number of
    • strong friendships, and is especially close with a young man named
    • Cranly. In a series of conversations with his companions, Stephen works
    • to formulate his theories about art. While he is dependent on his
    • friends as listeners, he is also determined to create an independent
    • existence, liberated from the expectations of friends and family. He
    • becomes more and more determined to free himself from all limiting
    • pressures, and eventually decides to leave Ireland to escape them. Like
    • his namesake, the mythical Daedalus, Stephen hopes to build himself
    • wings on which he can fly above all obstacles and achieve a life as an
    • artist.
  2. Character List
    Character List


    • Stephen Dedalus -
    • The main character of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
    • 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.

    • Read an
    • in-depth
    • analysis of Stephen Dedalus.


    • 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.

    • Read an
    • in-depth
    • analysis of Simon Dedalus.

    • 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 his 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 is fiercely attracted
    • over the course of many years. Stephen constructs Emma as an ideal of
    • femininity, even though he does not know her well.

    • Read an
    • in-depth
    • analysis of Emma Clery.

    • 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.

    • Read an
    • in-depth
    • analysis of Charles Stewart Parnell.

    • 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.

    • Wells -
    • 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.

    • Athy -
    • 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.

    • Fleming -
    • One of Stephen's friends at Clongowes.

    • Father Arnall -
    • Stephen's stern Latin teacher at Clongowes. Later, when Stephen is
    • 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's 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's at Belvedere.

    • Boland and Nash -
    • Two schoolmates of Stephen's at Belvedere, who taunt and bully
    • him.

    • Cranly -
    • 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.

    • Read an
    • in-depth
    • analysis of Cranly.

    • Davin -
    • 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.

    • Lynch -
    • 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.

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

    • Temple -
    • 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.
  3. Analysis of Major Characters
    • Stephen Dedalus
    • Modeled after Joyce himself, Stephen is a sensitive, thoughtful
    • boy who reappears in Joyce's later masterpiece, Ulysses. In A
    • Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, though Stephen's large
    • family runs into deepening financial difficulties, his parents manage to
    • send him to prestigious schools and eventually to a university. As he
    • grows up, Stephen grapples with his nationality, religion, family, and
    • morality, and finally decides to reject all socially imposed bonds and
    • instead live freely as an artist.

    • Stephen undergoes several crucial transformations
    • over the course of the novel. The first, which occurs during his first
    • years as Clongowes, is from a sheltered little boy to a bright student
    • who understands social interactions and can begin to make sense of the
    • world around him. The second, which occurs when Stephen sleeps with the
    • Dublin prostitute, is from innocence to debauchery. The third, which
    • occurs when Stephen hears Father Arnall's speech on death and hell, is
    • from an unrepentant sinner to a devout Catholic. Finally, Stephen's
    • greatest transformation is from near fanatical religiousness to a new
    • devotion to art and beauty. This transition takes place in Chapter 4,
    • when he is offered entry to the Jesuit order but refuses it in order to
    • attend university. Stephen's refusal and his subsequent epiphany on the
    • beach mark his transition from belief in God to belief in aesthetic
    • beauty. This transformation continues through his college years. By the
    • end of his time in college, Stephen has become a fully formed artist,
    • and his diary entries reflect the independent individual he has become.

    • Simon Dedalus
    • Simon Dedalus spends a great deal of his time reliving past
    • experiences, lost in his own sentimental nostalgia. Joyce often uses
    • Simon to symbolize the bonds and burdens that Stephen's family and
    • nationality place upon him as he grows up. Simon is a nostalgic, tragic
    • figure: he has a deep pride in tradition, but he is unable to keep his
    • own affairs in order. To Stephen, his father Simon represents the parts
    • of family, nation, and tradition that hold him back, and against which
    • he feels he must rebel. The closest look we get at Simon is on the visit
    • to Cork with Stephen, during which Simon gets drunk and sentimentalizes
    • about his past. Joyce paints a picture of a man who has ruined himself
    • and, instead of facing his problems, drowns them in alcohol and
    • nostalgia.




    • 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.

    • Cranly
    • Stephen's best friend at the university, Cranly also acts as a
    • kind of nonreligious confessor for Stephen. In 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 all 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, Cranly
    • represents the nongenius, a young man who is not called to greatness as
    • Stephen is, and who therefore does not have to make the same
    • sacrifices.
  4. Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
    • Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas
    • explored in a literary work.

    Themes

    The Development of Individual Consciousness

    • Perhaps the most famous aspect of A Portrait
    • of the Artist as a Young Man is Joyce's innovative use of 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 development of Stephen's consciousness in A Portrait
    • of the Artist as a Young Man is particularly interesting because,
    • insofar 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 that 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.

    • 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 Arnall'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
    • lifestyles—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.

    • Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts,
    • or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text's major
    • themes.

    Motifs

    • Music
    • 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, " [A]pologise, pull
    • out his eyes, pull out his eyes, apologise." 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 Dedalus. 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.

    • Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or
    • colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

    Symbols

    • 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
    • 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.

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