Stephen in A Portrait of the Artist by James Joyce

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Stephen in A Portrait of the Artist by James Joyce

Stephen Dedalus, the main character in most of James Joyce's writings, is said to be a reflection of Joyce himself. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the reader follows Stephen as he develops from a young child into a young artist, overcoming many conflicts both internally and externally, and narrowly escaping a life long commitment to the clergy. Through Joyce's use of free indirect style, all of Stephen's speech, actions, and thoughts are filtered through the narrator of the story. However, since Joyce so strongly identifies with Stephen, his character's style and personality greatly influence the narrator. This use of free indirect style and stylistic contagion makes Joyce's use of descriptive language one of his most valuable tools in accurately depicting Stephen Dedalus's developing ideals of feminine beauty.

As a very young child Stephen is taught to idealize the Virgin Mary for her purity and holiness. She is described to Stephen as "a tower of Ivory" and a "House of Gold" (p.35). Stephen takes this literally and becomes confused as to how these beautiful elements of ivory and gold could make up a human being. This confusion is important in that it shows Stephen's inability to grasp abstraction. He is a young child who does not yet understand how someone can say one thing and mean something else. This also explains his trouble in the future with solving the riddles and puzzles presented to him by his classmates at Clongowes. Stephen is very thoughtful and observant and looks for his own way to explain or rationalize the things that he does not understand. In this manner he can find those traits that he associates with the Blessed Mary in his pro...

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...human desires and realizes how beautiful love, passion, and devotion can be from an artist's perspective.

Stephan Dedalus's transformation into a "priest of the arts" is parallel to the early life of James Joyce. Both struggle to deal with the conflicts of childhood and adolescence to find a balance in which they can happily live. Since A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is written in third person, yet employs the characteristics of the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, the use of descriptive language is essential to the reader's understanding of the novel as a whole. James Joyce excellently uses his talent to successfully communicate Stephen's feelings so that we, the reader, can understand the development of his attitudes and ideals about feminine beauty.

Works Cited

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Penguin Group,

1977.
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