Analysis of the Pandying Scene in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
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The pandying scene from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is, in many ways, fairly typical of a coming-of-age story. A child or young adolescent discovers himself in a situation in which he is in conflict with the adults around him, and the situation resolves traumatically for the child. What is unusual about Stephen's experience is that he refuses to allow Father Dolan, a person of clear authority, to have the last word. By going to the rector and asserting his right to be treated fairly, humanely, and justly, Stephen as an artist-to-be reclaims authority over his own conscience. He emerges from the rector's office in control of his life, no longer a passive recipient of adults' misguided actions.
Stephen is initially singled out from the other boys by Father Dolan because he is different. He asks Stephen, "Why are you not writing like the others?" and though Stephen's teacher explains that he has broken his glasses and been exempted from work, Dolan immediately decides Stephen is a "lazy little schemer" (294). The fact that Stephen wears glasses suggests he is sensitive, intellectual, and physically delicate, he "sees" life differently than others. More imaginative and introspective than his fellow classmates, Stephen already exemplifies the qualities of an artist. It is this uniqueness, symbolized by Stephen's visual abilities (or disabilities), that brings him to Father Dolan's notice. Perhaps Joyce is pointing out that being an artist will always draw the suspicions of those who see life in more simplistic terms; for people like Father Dolan, force and authority are far more important than art and truth.
Though the physical pain caused by the pandy bat is intense, once it fades Stephen becomes increasingly indignant at the injustice of Father Dolan's punishment. He did not deserve it since "the doctor had told him not to read without glasses" (297). "Then to be called a schemer before the class" when Stephen was usually first or second in his studies was "unfair and cruel" (297). It was cruel the way the prefect had paused to steady his hand in order to cause Stephen the greatest pain, unfair that he had been publicly characterized as a schemer, and unjust because he had done nothing wrong.
Prompted by a classmate's remark that "the senate and the Roman people declared that Dedalus had been wrongly punished" (298), Stephen equates his experience with other great acts of injustice throughout history and identifies with those "great persons" who protested injustice; "history was all about those men" (298-9).