At the heart of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man lies Stephen Dedalus, a sensitive young man concerned with discovering his purpose in life. Convinced that his lack of kinship or community with others is a shortcoming that he must correct, Stephen, who is modeled after Joyce, endeavors to fully realize himself by attempting to create a forced kinship with others. He tries many methods in hopes of achieving this sense of belonging, including the visiting of prostitutes and nearly joining the clergy. However, it is not until Stephen realizes, as Joyce did, that his true calling is that of the artist that he becomes free of his unrelenting, self-imposed pressure to force connections with others and embraces the fact that he, as an artist, is fully realized only when he is alone.
Stephen is painfully aware of his difficulty relating to others early on— the other boys at his first school mock him about his name and his family; his body feels "small and weak" amongst the other boys’ on the football field; he is pushed into a ditch. (Joyce, 246) Frequently, Stephen appears to mentally separate from himself and observe himself from outside Earth’s confines; he writes a progression of "himself and where he was" that reads "Stephen Dedalus…Class of Elements…Clongowes Wood College…Sallins…County Kildare…Ireland…Europe…The World…The Universe". (Joyce, 255) Though Stephen demonstrates by this list that he is all too aware of his own self and his technical place in the universe, his need to solidify this awareness to himself reveals his uncertainties about how he relates to his surroundings.
"With a sudden movement she bowed his head...
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...dom and power of his soul, as the great artificer whose name he bore, a living thing, new and soaring and beautiful, impalpable, imperishable". (Joyce, 433) Stephen is now fully able to create from within himself, without being dependent on others to feel whole. This is accentuated by Joyce’s description of the beach scene— "He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life". (Joyce, 433) Stephen the artist is alone and needs to be alone, not to search in vein for companionship that, even if attained, could only drag him from his newfound freedom. This realization of self-fulfillment and self-control is the single defining point in Stephen’s education; it is the brushstroke that completes the "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man."
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: New American Library, 1991.
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