Last Updated 25 Mar 2020

Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man

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Every child becomes an adult—a boy to a man, a girl to a woman. In the novel, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, published in 1916 by an Irish writer, James Joyce illustrates the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, and his journey to seek for identity. While the title of the novel insinuates that the protagonist is going to become an artist, the novel also portrays Stephen’s sense of isolation that comes from the ambiguity and bewilderment that he experiences with his family, society, and country. As the novel begins, Stephan is still young and because of a lack of knowledge and experience, he fells small and weak.

Stephen goes through a severe portrayal of the injustices and intricacy of childhood as a child trying to grasp a clear image of the world; Joyce depicts the impression of a child in a world regulated for adults. When “[Stephen] turned to the flyleaf of the geography and read… Sallins/ Country Kildare/ Ireland/ Europe/ The World/ The Universe,” (Joyce, 13) thinking about the boundaries of the universe, Stephen attempts to identify himself by placing himself in the world by his geographic position.

In addition, when he contemplates the overwhelming ideas of God and the limits of his political knowledge, which seems to be so significant to the adults. This shows the reader the isolation Stephen feels as a young child from the world. In short, this essay will analyze how Stephen alienation with his environment affects him to finds his own identity as an artist. During Stephen’s childhood, he feels isolated more in relation to his family and the society.

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When Stephen encounters into the duty of revealing the rector that Father Dolan has been inequitable with him at the Clongowes Wood College, he comes to a decision not take any actions at one point. “No, it was best to hide out of the way because when you were small and young you could often escape that way,” (48) Stephen thinks about his colleagues in the scene when he is questioned whether he will go to the rector or not. In this scene, Stephen understands the children’s world.

He knows that “fellows [tells] him to go, but they would not go themselves” (48). However, after he tells the rector about Father Dolan, even though his fellows cheer for Stephen’s bravery and turnout to be here, he soon becomes alone. “He was happy and free: but he would not be anyway proud with Father Dolan. He would be very quiet and obedient: and he wished that he could do something kind for him to show him that he was not proud” (51) it states, emphasizing that Stephen knew that nothing would hange and the fact that he felt weak and small after all—a sense of isolation from his colleagues and adults. Soon after he experiences the sense of isolation from his colleagues, Stephen is introduced to the change in Dedalus’ financial situation. Moving into a “cheerless house” (57) in Dublin with his family, Stephan recognizes that his father is the cause for he is a financial failure. This allows Stephen to become self conscious and acrimonious, humiliated by the “change of fortune” (58).

Illustrating the Dedalus’ first night in their new house, where “the parlor fire would not draw [and the] half furnished uncarpeted room [was bathed in a] bare cheerless house” (57) makes Stephen’s “heart heavy” (57) with the “intuition and foreknowledge” (57) that it is his father who is responsible for the decline. Furthermore, Stephen starts to feel separated from his father. Despite the fact that Simon Dedalus is unsuccessful to manage the family’s financial needs, he his somwhat anxious of his children’s quality of education.

Yet, Simon lets down Stephen by treating Stephen’s collision with Father Conmee—a triumphant moment in Stephen’s young life—with a “hearty laugh” (63) with his friends This event makes Stephen to feel degraded and patronized by his elders, thus starts to isolate himself from his father. Prior to analyzing the relationship between Stephen’s isolation to seek for his identity, it is important to note several backgrounds on Ireland.

Around the time in which this novel was published, Ireland was colonized by England until April 24, 1916. (Parnell and Davitt) During the period of colonization by the Britain, along with the political tensions between the two nations, there was also a religious tension between the Catholics and the Protestants. Basically, the Catholics, including Joyce, were the Irish who supported Irish independence and contrary to this were the Protestants who wished to continue united with Britain. Fearghal McGarry) By the time Joyce was born, the Irish independence movement—the Fenian Movement—was wide-spreading by an Irish nationalist, Charles Stewart Parnell; however, his longstanding affair with a married woman caught, causing many followers to reject him as a leader and the Catholic church to condemn him. (Parnell and Davitt) This historical event can be seen within the surface of the novel and precisely in the Christmas dinner scene when Stephan’s relatives are discussing about politics. To sum up, such humiliating troubles within the country have perhaps caused Stephen to isolate himself from Ireland.

In chapter 3, Joyce describes the isolation of the Catholic boy from his home country, Ireland. Stephen, who has been frequenting prostitutes, has lost faith. “[Stephen’s] soul was fattening an congealing into a gross grease, plunging ever deeper in its dull fear into a somber threatening dusk while the body that was his stood, listless and dishonoured, gazing out of darkened eyes, helpless, perturbed, and human for a bovine god to stare upon,” (98) it says, to show the awareness of Stephen’s sins and his “dishonoured” body causes this moment of dull horror.

Because Stephen feels sinful, it triggers him to dream of hell, “[a] field of stiff weeds and thistles and tufted nettle-bunches…[with] battered canisters and clots and coils of solid excrement. ” (120) And the narrator continues, “An evil smell, faint and foul as the light, curled upwards sluggishly out of the canisters and from the stale crusted dung,” (120) giving the reader grotesque scenery with, “Goatish creatures with human faces, hornybrowed, lightly bearded and grey as indiarubber…[that moves in the field,] hither and thither” (120).

The goats wandering in this scene are symbols of animalistic, primal, and bestial culture of Ireland that manipulates the youths with language. As well as the murmuring sounds and the “soft language” (120) of the goats, the usage of the repetition of “hither and thither” also represents the hollow voices that are spoken from the adults to Stephen to become an Irishmen.

Joyce claims that this culture of Ireland, adults bringing up children with hollow voices, have been rooted long ago and will be everlasting, which can be seen as he describes the goats, “[moving] in slow circles, circling closer and closer to enclose, …their long swishing tail besmeared with stale shite, thrusting upwards their terrific face” (120). Recognizing Ireland as a dead country, Stephen begins to show clear detachment from his country. Stephen’s schoolmate, Mat Davin insists Stephen to become one of “us”, to declare his Irish nationality and to stop searching for potentials from England and France of artistic muse.

In a revealing conversation, Davin asks Stephen if he is even Irish. Here, Davin comprehends an Irishmen as a nationalist who desires Ireland to become independent from England, the colonizer. In other words, Davin means being united with the people rather than standing back from them with a sneer. On the other hand, for Stephen, though, being Irish means being all that he is, containing all the contradictions of a colonized subject. “The soul is born, [Stephen] said vaguely, first in those moments I told you of. It has a slow and dark birth, more mysterious than the birth of the body.

When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets,” (179) Stephen says, explaining the chances taken he is aware of as an heir in Ireland to his nationalist colleague, Davin. Rather than viewing the Fenian Movement as a potential for artistic inspiration, Stephen inspects the situation of Irish life as a downside. Stephen gradually becomes emotional through this conversation and initiate to treat it quite roughly, as he questions Davin, “ ‘Do you know what Ireland is? asked Stephen with cold violence. Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow,” (179). Here, Stephan metaphorically stresses that Ireland destroys its won children: a fate he wishes to avoid. Therefore, Ireland’s thwarted sense of nationhood devours Irishmen. To sum up, for Stephen, Ireland is a trap, restricting his independence and identity. In the last sections of the novel, Stephens seems to have settled his mind and ascetics about the world, and ready to isolate himself from his past—family, friends, , Ireland—to gain freedom.

When Stephen has a conversion with Cranly, Stephen’s best friend at the university, Stephen says, “Look here, Cranly, […] you have asked me what I would do and what I would not do. I will tell you wat I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use – silence, exile, and cunning. (218) Here, finally, Stephen demonstrates a clear and precise understanding of who he is. He is defined by his artistic goals and by his idealistic ambition to be true to his beliefs. While Joyce ends the novel at the point where Stephen departs from Ireland, this may be an interesting question for the reader to consider of: after leaving his country, how will Stephen see his home country when time passes? Work Cited Books • Joyce, James, John Paul.

Riquelme, Hans Walter Gabler, and Walter Hettche. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007. Print. Internet • McGarry, Fearghal. "The Irish War of Independence a€“ A Religious War? Part I. " The Irish War of Independence a€“ A Religious War? Part I. WPSHOWER & MOODYGUY, 2010. Web. 19 Mar. 2012. . • "Parnell and Davitt. " Irish Identity. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. .

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