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

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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