Free Essays on Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Finding the True-self

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Finding the True-self in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


Through the course of a man's life, he will continually change until he becomes himself or his true self, at least according to most Native American cultures.  Oddly enough, in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, this is the case even though the story is set in Ireland around the time before the Independence in 1922.  This book, one of Joyce's masterpieces set in the sometimes hard to follow "stream of consciousness" manner of narration has been hailed as both controversial and typical of it's time and place.  In both cases, Joyce was called a "ground-breaking" author and this semi-autobiographical piece is truly a hallmark in English Literature.  So what makes a masterpiece?  Critics say it's because it follows the Classical example of character development that tells of the coming of age of a particular individual and surely this book is no special case.  Interestingly enough, through the ending of each chapter, Joyce shows the variegation of one young man, Stephen Daedalus from one form to another, yet these "pieces" contribute to the "whole" at the end of the novel.


    Joyce first shows Stephen's soft memories of what it was like to be young, almost infantile in the first few sentences but by the end of the chapter he is a young, fearful servant of God, a role that beleaguers him throughout childhood. However, the end of the second chapter sees a completely different Stephen.  He first throws himself at the mercy of the Fathers that teach him while trying to get himself friends in the schoolyard at the same time and this proves to be quite a task.  Eventually, from a friend, he gets the courage to stand up to his unjust whipping and humiliation in front of the class and it changes him forever. He now, at the end of the first chapter is more confident that he can talk to adults and stick up for himself.  On the other hand, the Chapter II focuses on his break from childhood into his development as a young man (Zimbaro, 41) as he has his first sexual experience with a Dublin prostitute.  This also happened to Joyce at the tender age of 14, so when Joyce tells about "the swoon of sin"(109) it is probably his own account of his experience.  Shortly thereafter, Stephen feels immensely bad for what he has done because to him, he has committed the ultimate sin "of lust."  This is only part of his complete maturation.


    After Stephen goes through his first violently sinful experience, he tries to repent for his sins, not realizing that this unnecessary for him in order to be a devout Catholic.  In the end, it is his rejection altogether of Catholicism that lets him be a complete person, free from the slavery which was his piety.  He first listens to a lecture at a so-called "retreat" for the students to share their experiences with Christ.  Instead, he is given almost a migraine when he listens to what Hell is like for its' inhabitants.  Stephen, almost sure it is waiting for him, becomes even more of a "saint" trying not to tempt himself from the indulgences of everyday interactions.


  "On each day of the seven days of the week he further prayed that one of the seven

    gifts of the Holy Ghost might descend upon his soul and drive out day by day the

  Seven Deadly Sins which had defiled it in the past... (154)"


Soon, this becomes wearing on him so he stops abruptly, only to embrace the artistic life completely, described by Zimbaro as "the dawn of his new life as an artist (62)."  The opening of the flower (177) symbolically represents the opening of his eyes to not only have the ability to see things now as a man, but as an artist (Zimbaro, 62) which again, changes him completely.  While he doesn't abandon the once St. Augustine-like piety he had, it merely shifts into a more human and esoteric existence.


    Stephen Daedalus' name is of course two references to both Christian and Greek mythology (Zimbaro, 23).  Saint Stephen was one of the martyrs, stoned to death as a test of faith to his loving God.  Daedalus was a man more notably the father of the famous Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, yadda yadda.  Daedalus himself was the architect of the Labyrinth of the Minotaur, and was eventually imprisoned there himself.  Fortunately, he was rescued by Perseus who also slayed the Minotaur but ironically, this freedom ended in his son's death.  Stephen Daedalus therefore is both the martyr and the clever (sometimes too much for his own good) artist.  Stephen "flees" from the religious obsession, which nearly mentally kills him to "take flight" as an artist, only as a young man to discover himself.  His eyes are now open to the rest of the world, over a vast ocean to another continent.  His audience cannot help but hope that he is "ever in good stead (253).

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