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

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

James Joyce's novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) is entirely concerned with the development of its main character, Stephen Dedalus. By comparison with Joyce's earlier version, Stephen Hero [1], we see that he has cut out all extraneous material concerning other characters, and presented a close and detailed account of the development of Stephen's character from infancy to young manhood, the ground previously covered in Stephen Hero being compressed into Chapter 5 of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

The most important aspects of Stephen's early development go on internally, and Joyce takes us right inside his mind so that we can see the intellectual and emotional development going on behind the surface. The first chapter portrays Stephen as an individual alienated from his social environment, and experiencing encounters with authorities which will reappear in various guises throughout the book. We see the beginnings of this process in the first page and a half, and the patterns of behaviour and relationships shown here are repeated throughout the chapter. This opening section is almost a microcosm of the chapter and perhaps of the whole novel. Stephen has an intuitive drive towards rebellion. As a young child he plans to marry a Protestant girl from his neighbourhood, and when his mother and Aunt Dante scold him for this he defiantly hides under the table. This instinctive drive stays with him throughout the book, until, in the fifth and final chapter, he presents his defiant attitude in mature intellectual terms with his statement 'I will not serve . . . ' (p.247)

Stephen's rebellious attitude is necessary in order for him to preserve his own beliefs and values in the face of authorities which try to make him conform, but there is also a strong flavour of martyrdom about his attitude which is shown in an early fantasy in which Stephen identifies himself with the Irish politician Charles Parnell. We are also reminded of this throughout the book when we remember that Joyce chose the name Stephen to associate him with Stephen the first Christian martyr.

The first authorities Stephen encounters are father, mother, Dante, and Uncle Charles. He associates his mother with a nice smell, and his relationship with her might be described as one of artistic response; she plays the piano and he dances.
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