A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man by James Joyce is a partly autobiographical account of the author's life growing up. The novel chronicles the process through which the main character, Stephen, struggles against authority and religious doctrine to develop his own philosophies on life. Stephen is not necessarily rebelling against God and his father as much as he is finding his own person, creating his own life. He is an artist, not because of the outcome of his life, but because of the process he goes through to achieve that outcome. The artist is a hero because of the sacrifices he makes, the persecution he endures, and the risks he undertakes merely to set foot towards his vision.
Joyce demonstrates that whether or not Stephen achieved his vision is insignificant to the actual journey itself. First of all, the novel concludes not with the outcome of Stephen's life but with the beginning stages of his journey. "Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead," he writes in the last sentence of the novel. Joyce purposefully ends the book before Stephen's sets off, to emphasize that the process he undergoes to reach that point where he can reject the very foundation upon what his life was based is where the importance lies. The infamous hell scene spans over twenty pages not to frighten the reader as much as to show how difficult it is to even become an artist and fight conformity. All process towards breaking away is lost after the preacher's sermon on hell, as shown in the following passage:
He beat his breast with his fist humbly, secretly under cover of the wooden armrest. He would be at one with others...
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...d for his art, seeing that his religion is no good for his heart, he forges a new life and religion for his own, fulfilling his destiny as an artist.
Beebe, Maurice. "The Artist as Hero." James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Text, Criticism, and Notes. Ed. Chester G. Anderson. New York: Penguin, 1968. 340-57.
Ellmann, Richard. "The Limits of Joyce's Naturalism." Sewanee Review 63 (1955): 567-75.
Givens, Seon, ed. James Joyce: Two Decades of Criticism. New York: 1948. 2nd ed. 1963.
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The Portable James Joyce. Ed. Harry Levin. New York: Penguin, 1976.
Power, Arthur. Conversations with James Joyce. Ed. Clive Hart. London: Millington, 1974.
Wright, David G. Characters of Joyce. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1983.
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