A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

 

      James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is considered to

be one of the finest works of literature of all time.  Herbert Gorman, an author

from the early twentieth century, stated that "so profound and beautiful and

convincing a book is part of the lasting literature of our age," and with good

reason.  The main character of the novel, Stephen Dedalus, is a complex and

dynamic youth, and one who undergoes vast changes during the course of his life.

The main influences on him are family and religion.  As his life passes,

Stephens' feelings towards these influences change drastically.

 

      Stephen's family is very important to him.  His father, Simon, plays a

major role in his early life, and Stephen has great respect for him.  However,

there are instances when Stephen is angered by his fathers' actions, and resents

his statements.  The growing debts incurred by Simon lead to his son's

transferring to a day school.  Stephens' difficulties at his former educational

institution are relayed by his father, much to the chagrin of the younger

Dedalus.  Later in the novel, Stephen loses even more respect for his father as

the familys' debts continue to grow and they are forced to move.  Once, when the

two males travel to sell of the family estate, Simon returns to his former

school and converses with his former classmates.  Stephen is upset to hear of

his father's wild behavior as a youth, and of his flirtatious nature.  He begins

to rebel against his strict upbringing, striking back at his familys'

traditional values and way of life.

 

      Religion is an ever present force in Stephen's life.  He attends a

religious school from an early age, and is a devout Roman Catholic.  He has

great reference for the priests at his school, and even fears the rector.  As

his life progresses, Stephen experiences great feelings for women, and finally

gives into his desire when he encounters a prostitute in Dublin.  From this

point forward, he views his life as an immoral one and makes many attempts to

correct it.  He goes so far as to deprive all of his senses from any form of

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pleasure.  While attending a religious retreat, Stephen takes all that he hears

to heart.  He believes that if he does not correct his ways, he will be banished

to an eternity in Hell.  Deciding that he must confess his immoral act, Stephen

goes to a small parish where he is not known.  He begins to overcompensate for

his sins, but to no avail.  His sinful ways overcome his spiritual values, and

Stephen decides to abandon his religion.  He vows to change his life for the

better, and begins studying at a university.  Here, his artistic nature surfaces,

and Stephen embraces it. He explains his new theories to all who will listen,

and decides to move away from Ireland and his repressed beliefs, and to a new

life of freedom.

 

      A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a literary work that has many

distinct aspects involved in it.  The stylistic method of writing that Joyce

uses is perhaps the most notable of them.  Not once in the novel are quotation

marks used, making it difficult to judge where dialogue begins and ends.  This

very fact, however, lends itself towards the reader's determination of what the

author had in mind by using this style.  In addition to this, the plot seems to

have large gaps in it at points.  The time frame of the story, as well as the

simple determination of Stephen's age, is difficult to grasp during certain

instances.  Joyce may have utilized this to allow the reader to bring a more

personal approach to the reading and understanding of the work.  This, too, is a

fascinating aspect of the novel.  Many critics believe that Portrait is an

autobiographical piece of fiction.  Many similarities exist between the lives of

Stephen and Joyce.  The strong religious upbringing of these Irishmen, their

financial hardships, and the family life of each male is strikingly similar.

Each attended the same schools, underwent the same mental development, and grew

strongly attached to their artistic interests.  However many differences between

their lives, it is obvious that Joyce drew upon his own life when he created

this work.  Although Joyce was more of an athlete, more extroverted, and

regarded his peers as equals or superiors, Stephen's life parallels his with a

vast deal of similitude.  The personalities of Joyces' friends were changed, as

were the academic honors he was given, yet the fact still remains that the life

of Stephen Dedalus and James Joyce are intertwined to a great extent.

 

      On the whole, this novel was an obvious work of great literary skill.

The mastery with which it was written, and the questions it turns up in the

reader's own mind, affirm the classic nature of Joyce's writing.  The times at

which the story line is difficult to follow are more than compensated for by the

deep meaning of this portrayal.  The life of Stephen represents the life of

Joyce, and all his struggles to become whom he felt that he was meant to.  It

symbolizes an endeavor that everyone should take to heart; when one believes in

something for themselves, one should attempt to achieve their goals no matter

the difficulties that they must overcome.

 


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