Essay on Stephen’s Heroic Quest in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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Stephen’s Heroic Quest in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

...His mother said:

-O, Stephen will apologise.

Dante said:

-O, if not, the eagles will come and pull out his eyes.

This utterance, which comes at the climax of the short first passage that Joyce presents to us, defines the heroic quest that Stephen (and/or his latent identity as mythic Daedalus) must undertake. He is, in this instance, bound by a strict commandment from "above" (from the towering grown-ups above him, from the air-borne, attacking eagles), from the poets of the past , and - most superficially from his elders, to perform an act of "apology". Stephen seals this cosmic agreement with his little song:

Pull out his eyes,



Pull out his eyes.


Pull out his eyes,

Pull out his eyes,


Stephen internalizes his predicament or legacy - by chanting the words that descend to him from layers of higher authority. He shapes the received words with his own voice (whether it be "out loud" or only inside his head), compresses /extractions phrases from the longer syntax, and utilizes rhyme in a patterned repetition. (In short, he has applied a "craft".)

If his mother, a temporal and merely parental figure, initiates young Stephen's artistic covenant in a mundane way, "Dante" (whose "real" identity in Stephen's world is sparsely revealed in this passage) is the accidental and incidental avatar of an old poet, or the "poetic tradition", or the artist-creator that Stephen (or Joyce, if we treat this work as autobiographical) must become. The implied historic Dante serves as a representative, for Stephen and Joyce, of the poetic c...

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...e University of Windsor Review. vol.1, no. 1. Spring, 1965. 1-15. Rpt. in Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. ed. Dennis Poupard. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1985. 16:229-234.

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Peake, C.H. James Joyce: The Citizen and The Artist. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1977. 56-109.

Pope, Deborah. "The Misprision of Vision: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man". James Joyce. vol.1. ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. 113-19.

The World Book Encyclopedia. New York: World Book Inc., 1987. 3.

Wells, H.G. "James Joyce". The New Republic. March 10, 1917. 34-46. Rpt. in Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. ed. Sharon K. Hall. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1980. 3:252.
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