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Religion and Stephen in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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Religion and Its Effect on Stephen in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


Religion is an important and recurring theme in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  Through his experiences with religion, Stephen Dedalus both matures and progressively becomes more individualistic as he grows. Though reared in a Catholic school, several key events lead Stephen to throw off the yoke of conformity and choose his own life, the life of an artist.

            Religion is central to the life of Stephen Dedalus the child. He was reared in a strict, if not harmonious, Catholic family. The severity of his parents, trying to raise him to be a good Catholic man, is evidencedby statements such as,  "Pull out his eyes/ Apologise/ Apologise/ Pull out his eyes." This strict conformity shapes Stephen's life early in boarding school. Even as he is following the precepts of his Catholic school, however, a disillusionment becomes evident in his thoughts. The priests, originally above criticism or doubt in Stephen's mind, become symbols of intolerance. Chief to these thoughts is...


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... his nets, reject society, and become an artist. Religion disturbs, shapes, and finally changes Stephen for good. While religion leads to an artistic and lonely life, Stephen can never totally break from his family or need for companionship. At the close of the novel he says, "Old father, old artificer, stand by me now and ever in good stead," belying the fact that no matter how independent Stephen becomes, no man can be an island.

Works Cited:

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: New American Library, 1991.

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