“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” is 1916. novel by the famed Irish writer James Joyce. The novel was Joyce’s first and was begun in the year 1903 as an autobiographical novel. Several years later, Joyce abandoned his first draft and re-wrote it as a shorter, fictional novel. The novel was serialized in the English literary magazine, “The Egoist” in 1914 by the American poet Ezra Pound and was published into a novel two years later.
The novel was a success and earned Joyce a place among the most respected literary characters of his day. A film adaptation was made in 1977 starring Bosco Hogan and T.P. McKenna.
The novel revolves around the protagonist, a young man named Stephen Dedalus and his coming of age as a young man in nineteen-century Ireland. Stephen begins to feel temptations that are not in line with his Catholic school upbringing and indulges himself in many sins including sex with prostitutes in Dublin.
At first, Stephen does not realize that these indulgences are against his religion but when he does he is deeply ashamed and begins a strict daily religious regimen that deprives him of all of his desires and leaves no room for any sins. Eventually, Stephen begins to realize that this regimen is too encompassing and little-by-little he stops doing it until he is back to his old self. By the end of the book, he is convinced that he no longer believes in God at all.
The novel is a contemplation on religion, morality, nationality and the burden of a family.
The story begins with Stephen’s father, Simon telling him a story as a young boy. Simon tells a story about a cow who meets a baby called Tuckoo that Stephen identifies with, being a young boy himself. Stephen recalls memories from his early childhood, such as his mother and his governess Dante and Uncle Charles.
Stephen tells his family that he intends to marry the little girl next door, Eileen Vance however, as Eileen is Protestant, Stephen’s Catholic family does not see this as funny. Stephen crawls under the table to avoid their outrage, and his mother tries to calm everyone down. Dante says that if Stephen does not apologize than eagles will pull out his eyes. Stephen is frightened but still turns this rhyme into a song in his head.
The narrative then shifts to Stephen’s time at Clongowes Wood College as he watches other boys play ball from the sidelines. The boys pick on Stephen, asking about his father’s job and his social rank. Later, Stephen tries to study for school but finds himself distracted with meditations on God and himself. Stephen wonders if it possible that the different names for God all over the world might be for the same God. A bell rings to signal time for night prayers, and Stephen prays for his families well-being. Stephen goes to bed and dreams of a black dog with large eyes and a castle.
The next day, Stephen comes down with an illness from being shoved into the school’s cesspool by Wells, the school bully. Stephen spends the day in the school’s infirmary with the kindly Brother Michael. Stephen is reassured that he will get better but soon hears of the death of a heavy weight Irish political leader, Parnell. Soon after this, Stephen is sent home for Christmas vacation and experiences his first Christmas at the adult table.
Simon and his friend, Mr. Casey discuss politics and Simon criticize the role of the Catholic Church in Irish politics. This angers Dante, who says that it isn’t right for a good Catholic to criticize the church and the discussion turns into an argument. Stephen is confused by the argument and doesn’t understand why anyone is against the priests. He thinks that Dante is right but remembers that his father once criticized her because she used to be a nun.
Dante argues that God and religion should come before everything else and Simon argues that perhaps Ireland should not even have religion. This angers Dante to the point that she leaves the table. Mr. Casey is so upset by the death of Parnell that he weeps.
Back at school after the break, Stephen overhears Wells and the other boys were talking about a group of boys that were kicked out of school. Wells says that they were kicked out because they stole wine from the sacristy and the other boys go quiet at the horror of this offense against God. Stephen’s friend Athy, whom he met in the infirmary tells a different story. He says that the boys were kicked out for displaying homosexual behavior. The boys go to class, and one of the prefects notices that Stephen is not working. One of the priests says that Stephen has been excused from work until he can procure better glasses, as his were broken but Stephen still gets pandies, or lashes on his hands.
After class, Stephen’s friends urge him to complain about the treatment to the rector. Stephen agrees, reluctantly and tells the rector what happened. Stephen’s friends are gratified that he called Father Dolan, the prefect that hit him, on his mistake. That summer, Stephen returns home again to his family’s new house in Blackrock, near Dublin. He spends much time with his Uncle Charles, whom he describes as a very lively and quick old man who smokes “black twists” of tobacco. Stephen and Charles walk through town every morning to the park where they meet a friend of Stephen’s father’s, Mike Flynn. Flynn wants to teach Stephen to be a runner, but Stephen is doubtful.
After they train, Stephen goes with Uncle Charles to the chapel. Stephen’s father is very poor with money management. Stephen escapes his life into novels like Alexandre Dumas’, ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ where he imagines himself as one of the characters. He befriends another young boy named Aubrey Mills, and the two begins to reenact scenes from the book together.
Soon after this, Stephen’s family must move again as their financial troubles have gotten worse. The family has to move into Dublin. Stephen enjoys Dublin as he has more freedom to roam there. He explores the city by himself and wanders along the docks. However, despite this happiness, Stephen finds that he seems to be growing more and more bitter. Stephen attends a friends birthday party but feels separated from the other children. He watches the others silently. He does develop an attraction for another young girl at the party; E.C. Stephen takes the tram home with E.C. When he gets home he writes her a love poem as he tries to sort of these new feelings of romance that he is having.
At the end of the summer, Stephen learns that he will not be returning to Clongowes school as his father can no longer afford it.
He begins attending a Jesuit school named Belvedere College, and the book picks back up with him having just become a teenager. Stephen is cast in a school play and during a rehearsal he steps outside to see his friends Heron and Wallis. Heron and Wallis tease him about seeing his father with a young girl, and Stephen automatically suspects that the girl is the one from the birthday party that his father has brought to see him.
After the play, Stephen goes out with his father alone and is embarrassed by his father’s drinking and flirting with the barmaids. Stephen wins a literary prize which comes with some money. He begins spending on his family, treating them to gifts and meals until the money is all gone and he is left upset by his foolish spending spree. He had hoped that spending the money on his family would be a way to bring them together and make them get along, but it did not work that way, and now he feels more alienated from them than ever.
Stephen has also begun to experience puberty and finds himself tormented by sexual desire. One night he is wandering the streets when he is propositioned by a young prostitute dressed in pink. Stephen agrees to follow her to her room, and he loses his virginity to her. This begins a string of prostitute visits from Stephen, which at first he does not see as being incongruous with his Catholic faith.
In December, Stephen sits in his classroom and imagines a nice feast that he will be having later. He then begins imagining the variety of prostitutes that he will see that night. Stephen cannot focus on class as he wonders about these delights. He felt contempt for his classmates and disconnected from the people around him. Stephen is part of a society in the school that is devoted the Virgin Mary. At first, he does not see the sinful habits he has developed as being at odds with his veneration of Mary and his religious schoolwork but soon he becomes more worried about where his life is heading.
One of Stephen’s teachers, a priest named Father Arnall, announces a retreat in honor of St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of the college. The retreat is meant to give the students a break from classes so that they might contemplate their soul and the souls need to heed death, heaven, hell, and judgment. All these talk grounds Stephen and he starts to truly think about the sins that he has been committing lately. As he walks home with his friends, Stephen thinks about the rich meal that he has just eaten and thinks that it made him feel like a greasy slob.
Over the next day, he falls deeper into despair over his soul and wonders if he will be able to find salvation on his death bed. He pictures his weak, shriveled body on his dying day, not about to find salvation. Then he pictures Judgment Day when God will punish all the sinners for their wrongdoings.
As he walks through the town square, Stephen hears a girl’s laughter and thinks of the girl from the party. He feels that he has tainted her innocence with all that he has done since he saw her. With reluctance, he mentally goes over a list of all of the prostitutes that he has seen in the last few months. Stephen appeals to God and the Virgin Mary for help and imagines the Virgin reaching down and joining he and the girl from the parties hands in marriage.
After returning home, Stephen goes to his room to think and “be alone with his soul.” Lying down on his bed, he fully owns up to the sins that he has committed and is amazed that God has not struck him down yet. Stephen falls asleep and has a nightmare about six frightening, ghoulish creatures in a field circling him and whispering incomprehensible words.
Waking up frantically, Stephen rushes to his window for fresh air. Finding that the sun has come out, Stephen prays to Jesus for his lost innocence. Stephen walks down into the street again and asks an old woman where the nearest chapel is so that he may confess. Stephen waits anxiously for his turn in the confessional and enters solemnly. The priest asks him when his last confession was and Stephen says that it has been eight months. He confesses that he is sixteen and that he has had sexual relations with a woman. The priest forgives him, and Stephen leaves feeling lighter and happier.
After this, Stephen begins to create a new, stricter religious discipline for himself that completely changes his life. He starts by praying every single morning before a holy image and then divides his daily schedule into different parts that correspond to different spiritual functions. He keeps a rosary in his pocket at all times and reads religious books.
However, even with all of this work to improve his spiritual standing he still worries that it will not be enough and that his soul is forever tainted. But over time, Stephen begins to feel better about his soul and accept that God still loves him. Desperate not to get carried away in triumph, he imposes even more strict rules on himself. He avoids making any eye contact with women and will not let himself change positions in bed once he lies down. He begins sniffing terribly rank odors to “mortify” his sense of smell so that the scents of good food will not tempt him.
Despite this, he is still tempted by sin occasionally, but he comforts himself by saying that temptations are proof that he is holding strong against the devil. Once back in school after the vacation ends, Stephen is summoned to a meeting with the director of the school.
The Director jokes with Stephen a bit about the Capuchin priestly robe should be changed. The Director jokingly calls it a “skirt” and this jolts Stephen as it makes him think of women’s undergarments. He wonders if the Director mentioned skirts on purpose to gauge his reaction to the word. Getting to the point of the meeting, the Director asks Stephen what he intends to do with his life and wonders if he might consider a life in the church. Stephen is initially interested in the thought of becoming a priest and pictures himself as one. However, the thought of the bland and scheduled life within the church makes him hesitate and he beings to feel anxious.
Leaving the meeting, he walks back home and passes a statue of the Virgin Mary without feeling anything toward it. When he arrives home, the house is a mess and Stephen asks his brothers and sisters where their parents are. The family is about to be thrown out of their house again, and Stephen’s parents are out looking for somewhere else to live.
Seeing his messy house, Stephen feels that his destiny is not to enter the church but to learn wisdom “among the snares of the world.” Stephen changes his views again and becomes more comfortable being himself. He feels guilty about this however and hesitates to meet the eyes of priest and monks now.
Soon, Stephen gets into University although he continues to live with his increasingly impoverished family. Overhearing his parents fighting about him, Stephen walks back out into the streets and contemplates his University life. He is unsatisfied with his classes and disappointed with the state of his education. He thinks about a friend of his named Davin, a smart boy who is devoted to the Irish cause.
Returning to campus, Stephen bumps into the Dean of studies and the two have a chat wherein Stephen uses an Irish word that the English Dean does not understand. Stephen thinks that English will always seem like a borrowed language to him. Some of Stephen’s friends urge him to sign a petition for universal peace, but he is reluctant. One of his friends defends him as independent. Davin proudly reiterates his Irish Nationalist views and asks Stephen why he has dropped out of Irish language class. He says that Stephen is a true Irishman but too proud. Stephen begins explaining his theories that derive from Aristotle and Aquinas about art and the soul. One of his friends tells him that his beloved, a girl who is not named, is nearby.
The next morning Stephen writes a romantic poem for the girl and remembers being alone with her and dancing and singing. He feels that Father Moran is too interested in the girl, Emma. Emma is the girl that Stephen met at the birthday party years earlier and the last time he wrote a poem to her was ten years earlier. He wonders whether she knows that he is devoted to her.
The next day, Stephen sees Emma leaving the school’s library but she does not acknowledge him, and he is hurt. Walking home with a friend, Stephen says that he recently had an argument with his mother about attending Easter church services. Stephen no longer feels any religious faith and does not wish to go. His friend reminds him that his mother’s happiness is more important than anything and says that he should go.
His friend also asserts that despite Stephen’s insistence, he still has faith. Stephen feels that he may have to leave school soon so that he may see to his artistic ambitions. He no longer wants to serve anyone but himself.
In the last section, the novel switches to epistolary form with journal entries written by Stephen. Stephen’s final thoughts are scattered musings on his everyday life. He talks about an another fight with his mother about losing his faith and some of his dreams. One entry talks about him meeting Emma on Grafton Street. Emma asks him why he left school and why he is no longer writing poems and he animatedly talks about his artistic ambitions.
The next day he has a vision of arms and voices calling to him to join them. He ends his journal with a prayer to his father, Simon to stand him in good stead.
Stephen Dedalus – the main character of the novel. Stephen is a young man from a heavily Catholic family who lives in Ireland. Stephen comes from a large, tumultuous family whom he often feels alienated from. As he grows, Stephen begins contemplating his religion and the things about heaven and hell that he has learned from the Catholic school that he has attended his whole life. Midway through the novel, Stephen begins to indulge in life that a heavily religious person would disapprove of, by indulging all of his desires and sleeping with prostitutes.
At first, Stephen does not even realize that what he is doing is against his religion but when he comes to this realization he is deeply troubled and ashamed. He immediately casts off all vestiges of his sinful life and begins a routine of religious devotion that is at times, punishing and painful.
As the novel continues, Stephen deals with finding himself not only in his religion but his nationality as an Irishman during a very political time and as an artist.
By the end of the novel, Stephen feels that he no longer believes in God and wishes to be an artist. He now prays to his father, showing that he has forgiven his family somewhat and that he still needs something to pray to.
Simon Dedalus – Stephen’s father. Simon is a former medical student who now lives in ever-increasing poverty with his large family. Simon is said to be bad with money, and the narrative reflects this as he often has to move his family into smaller and smaller houses throughout Stephen’s life.
Simon is trapped in the past, spending much of his time telling stories and mentally reliving his youth to Stephen. He has deep pride in his traditions but is unable to move into the present day and keep his current life in order. In this way, Joyce uses Simon as a tragic figure meant to represent the burdens that nationality place on Stephen as he grows up.
The longest scene we get with Simon as a character is after Stephen’s graduation when they go out to dinner, and Simon spends the evening getting drunk and talking about his past. Joyce shows the reader a character who has ruined his life and, instead of trying to fix it now drowns his regrets in alcohol and nostalgia.
Emma Clery – Stephen’s beloved. Emma meets Stephen at the birthday party of a mutual friend when they are children, and he remains in love with her over the years although he does not know her that well. He is often too embarrassed or scared to talk to her. Stephen begins writing love poems to Emma and continues to do so for many years.
Emma’s character is never well developed, serving instead as a symbol of Stephen’s lust and sinful dreams rather than an actual character in her right. Emma perfectly represents Stephen’s Madonna/Whore complex. In his mind, women are either pure, wholesome Madonna characters like Emma or lowly, sexual, vixens like the prostitutes that he visits.
James Joyce Biography
Born James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (1882 – 1941) James Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet. His psychological perceptions and innovative literary techniques made him one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century.
He was born in Dublin, the son of an impoverished civil servant. Although middle class, his family quickly lost that distinction with his father’s alcoholism, they began a steady downward slope. Educated at Jesuit schools, he was raised to be Roman Catholic but broke with the church while in college. In 1904 he left Ireland with a chambermaid named Nora Barnacle. The two finally married and had two children. They lived in Trieste, Italy, Paris and Zurich, Switzerland. They eked out a living on his salary as a language instructor and gifts from patrons.
In 1907 James Joyce was struck with iritis. This was the first of the severe eye troubles that left him almost blind. After living in Paris for twenty years, Joyce took his family to Zurich just after the start of World War II for their safety. He lived there until his death in 1941. Most of his stories are set in his fictional Ireland, which is populated with caricatures of family members and people from his Irish community. He said that he always wrote on Dublin, because if he could get to the heart of Dublin, he could get to the heart of any city.
Joyce’s early works consisted mostly of essays and poetry. His first book, “Chamber Music,” published in 1907, consisted of thirty-six love poems. The poetry showed a preference for Elizabethan James Joyce’s book, “Dubliners,” is comprised of fifteen short stories, that all tie in together as stories set with the middle class. The book is broken up into three groups. Childhood, adulthood and old age. His first long work of fiction was “The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” and is largely autobiographical. It recreates his home life as a child in his character, Stephan Dedalus.
He became internationally famous after his publication of “Ulysses,” in 1922. Based on Homer’s Odyssey, it tells the story about a twenty-four hour period in the life of a Jewish Irishman. It also tells of the same day in the life of Stephan Dedalus. Then the two characters meet at the end.
Finnegan’s Wake was the last novel by James Joyce. It was also his most complex. It is an attempt to embody in fiction a cyclical theory of history. The novel is written in the form of an interrupted series of dreams during one night in the life of the Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Joyce uses various historical figures and mythological creatures in the book.
James Joyce used symbols to create what he called and “epiphany.” The revelation of certain inner qualities. Using experimental techniques to convey the essential nature of realistic situations, Joyce merged in his greatest works the literary tradition of realism, naturalism, and symbolism. Thus, the earlier writings reveal individual moods and characters and the plight of Ireland and the Irish artist in the early nineteen hundreds.