Essay on Art in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Essay on Art in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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Art in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man              


Stephen Dedalus' philosophy of art, expressed in his discussion with Lynch in Chapter Five, seems essentially romantic, yet the novel is written in a very realistic mode typical of the twentieth century. This apparent inconsistency may direct us to one way of interpreting this novel. Dedalus' idea of art may be Romantic, but because his world is no longer the world of the Romantics he has to see art more as a fundamental validation of his own being than as a communication of a special vision.

Two aspects of Romanticism figure into this analysis of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. First, the Romantics' defining belief in some connection between the human spirit and some higher purpose, and their belief in art's capacity to serve as the vehicle to connect the human with the divine, is the philosophical underpinning of Dedalus' esthetic theory. Second, however, the Romantics also believed that they were communicating in the words of the people, to the hearts of the people, and this Dedalus cannot quite believe he can do. He senses inchoately that communication of the Romantic vision to a modern world is impossible.

Therefore, Dedalus' difficult coming of age as an artist, and perhaps Joyce's, records the essentially romantic, Platonic soul, struggling to emerge from the oppressive realities of the mundane world. The Platonic soul has to reject that world because it is not divine, as the Romantics rejected the Enlightenment scientific worldview, but whereas the Romantics of Wordsworth's age could believe their role was to communicate this truth through poetry to "the people," Stephen Dedalus can only withdraw from the world into abstruse theory, or a l...


... middle of paper ...


...religion, its politics, its poverty, its people.

Conclusion

So when Dedalus finally pronounces his break from his whole upbringing, it is for this reason: his Romantic soul doesn't comport very well with his realist's understanding of the world. Since he cannot believe, as Wordsworth did, that the spiritually starved masses were waiting out there for his pronouncement of a Grand Vision, he does the only thing he can&emdash;he opts out:

I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use&emdash;silence, exile, and cunning. (247)

Works Cited:

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: NewAmerican Library, 1991.

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