The story Portrait of the Artist as Young Man is set in the Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century. Readers are introduced to the character of Stephen Dedalus, a young Irish boy from a Catholic family. The family is impoverished because of his father is incompetent. The family constantly moves from one place to another because of their poverty. Mary Dedalus, Stephen’s mother is a pious Catholic. The Dedalus children were taught by Mrs. Riordan (or Dante) their governess, also a devout Catholic.
Their Uncle Charles stays with them. The opening paragraphs start out with a stream of consciousness by Stephen as a young boy. The next time Stephen appears is during his stay at a boarding school in Clangowes. He suffers from homesickness, and bullying because of his measly frame and basically just unable to fit in the society of the boarding school. He is pushed by a bully into a cesspool that caused him to be sick but does not tell his teachers about it.
During Christmas, he joins the adult table for the first time. The dinner turns ugly when a heated debate about politics among the adults started. Back at the boarding school, Stephen is hit by Father Dolan, the prefect of the boarding school. He tells this incident to Father Conmee, the rector of the boarding of the boarding school. His classmates admired this act. His family’s continued financial woes took its toll on Stephen. He was unable to return to the boarding school in Clangowes.
Stephen, along with the rest of the family moves to Blackrock. Stephen enjoyed walks with his Uncle Charles in their new place. He plays imaginary adventures with Aubrey Mills, their neighbor in Blackrock. Yet again, just a few years after their move to Blackrock, they move again, this time to Dublin. This is where he meets Emma Clere, the girl that would greatly enthral Stephen throughout the story. Somehow his father managed to enrol Stephen into Belvedere College.
It was only in Belvedere where Stephen comes out of his shell, he became a leader and is active in theatre and literature. Stephen still feels alone even if he excels in those fields. As an adolescent young man, he got exposed to sex and is greatly fascinated by it, until finally he loses his virginity to prostitute. Stephen becomes addicted to sex. Although he knows that what he is doing is wrong he can’t control himself or rather he does not want to.
After some time, he hears a sermon from Father Arnall, his former Latin teacher back in Clongowes. The priests talks about how terrible hell is. Stephen is horrified. He suddenly changes from a sex addict person to a religious person. The Catholic doctrine eventually got old for him. A priest suggests to him that he might want to join the clergy, but he is convinced that priesthood is not for him. One eventful day, he sees a beautiful girl while walking on the beach.
He comes into a realization that admiration and desire for beauty is something not to be ashamed about. He decides he will live his life without constraints. Stephen managed to get in a university. The university made some profound contributions to Stephen’s character. He becomes familiar with the works of St. Thomas Aquainas and Aristotle because of their works regarding aesthetics. He himself had theorized his own concept of beauty.
Stephen continues to grow on the subjects of beauty and art. He is able to make a lot of friends in the university but still feels that he is alone. He decides that he must free himself from his country, family, and faith if he would continue to grow. For him, these things are holding him back, and that he needs to leave the country in order to be free from them.
And leave Ireland he does, to a foreign country to become a writer. He alludes his escape from Ireland to that of Dedalus, a mythological Greek character that made wings in order to leave the labyrinth.
Stephen Dedalus – the similarities between the author, James Joyce and Stephen Dedalus is unmistakable. Although some of the events in the story are fictional, the important events in the story can be paralleled to Joyce’s own life. Portrait of the Artist as a Young man is considered a semi-biographical novel of the author. Despite his family’s financial problems, he is still lucky enough to go through good boarding schools and a university. As Stephen grows, he goes through significant changes in his life. First is when Stephen, from a bullied boy to a student who excels in class. Next is Stephen’s exposure to sex through the prostitute, third is his repentance after hearing the sermon, and finally his epiphany experience on the beach.
Simon Dedalus – Stephen’s father who can’t help the family out of financial trouble, as a result the family have to move from one place to another. Very patriotic, and political, which lead to the argument during the Christmas dinner.
Mary Dedalus – Stephen’s mother, Simon Dedalus’ wife, a very pious woman
Emma Clery – the object of desire of Stephen, he continues to admire her up until the end of the novel.
Uncle Charles – Stephen’s uncle, he lives with the family. He takes Stephen on long walks when they moved to Blackrock, which Stephen enjoys. Stephen also enjoys listening to Uncle Charles and his father’s conversations
Father Conmee – the rector in Stephen’s boarding school whom he confides to after being hit by the prefect
Father Dolan – the prefect that hit Stephen,
Dante – the governess that is extremely an extremely devout Catholic, she teaches the Dedalus kids. She was part of the argument at the Christmas Dinner.
Development of Consciousness
James Joyce has popularized this literary style, it is the style of stringing together the thought of an individual rather than describing what the character is describing rather than narrating it externally. During the opening chapters of the book, Stephen was just a very young boy, therefore the descriptions were just simple and obviously coming from a boy’s mind. As he grows up, his thoughts become more clear and organized but are still biased by his strong beliefs, particularly his belief in the Church. In the end, he lets got of these biases and sees the world objectively and rationally.
The reason why Stephen abandons Ireland is because he sees it as a hindrance to living his life fully. He sees family, country, and religion as the major constraints to his life. His family because, they are poor, and the fact that his father is not helping frustrates Stephen. The country because he sees the Irish people as disloyal people, based on what has occurred to a local leader that was abandoned by his supporters. Religion because the Church constraints the free spirited and intellectual people such as what Stephen has become.
The story shows how Stephen became an artist, he left his family, and country to pursue his career as a writer. This is Joyce’s belief that artists are isolated. Stephen leaves everything behind because they are constraints to his growth as an artist. Stephen’s decision to leave the country, as awful as it sounds, is probably for a noble cause. At the end, he gave hints that suggest that he would dedicate his work to his community that has shaped him as a person, and made him the person that he is at that time
Joyce. J. (1916). A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: B.W. Huebsch