Stephen's Spiritual Development in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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A Tortuous Path: an examination of Stephen's spiritual development in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Joyce divides A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man into five chapters. At the end of each chapter exists somewhat of a revelation, or a climatic moment and realization that Stephen has. These five poetic moments in the novel mirror Stephen's artistic and spiritual development, as he gradually shifts from being brought up in a devout Catholic family to deciding to embrace life to the fullest, combining both the realms of the spirit and the world- the respective realms of Plato and Aristotle. The events leading up the conclusion of Chapter 1 lead Stephen to question to omniscient correctness of his religious overseers in Clongowes, and by extension, the Catholic Church. When he is unfairly accused and punished for breaking his glasses, Stephen responds with confusion. Dante taught Stephen as a child that the priests were always correct, since they represented the Church, and "God and religion [should come] before everything" (282). Dante's philosophy is that "The bishops and priest of Ireland have spoken and they must be obeyed" (274). However, the situation that Stephen becomes embroiled in when the priest unjustly "pandies" Stephen's hands seems to completely contradict all the dogma of the infallible Church that Dante preaches to Stephen throughout his early childhood. "The prefect of studies was a priest but that was cruel and unfair" (297). The situation that causes Stephen to doubt the priestly infallibility is not abstract or unrelated to Stephen's everyday life, such as the Parnell issue that causes Mr. Dedalus and Mr. Casey to doubt the church. Rather, the situation is of immediate... ... middle of paper ... ...n with his son, Icharus. To Stephen, creating that union means embracing his role as an artist, and pursuing it by creating beauty. At the end of Chapter 5, Stephen realizes he must leave Ireland if he is to truly realize his role as an artist. He has realized the harmfulness of the two religious extremes he has vacillated between as a teenager. Both the completely sinful and completely devout lifestyles are false and harmful to Stephen, as both prevent him from experiencing the entirety of the human experience. He does not want to lead a completely debauched life, but neither does he want to live within the iron dictates of the Catholic Church. Ultimately, Stephen reached the decision to embrace life and celebrate humanity, uniting both the concern with spirituality of Plato's philosophy and the concern with worldly existence of Aristotle's philosophy.
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