The works of twentieth-century Irish writer James Joyce resound
vividly with a unique humanity and genius. His novel, A Portrait of the
Artist as a Young Man, published in 1916, is a convincing journey through
the inner mind and spirit of Stephen Dedalus. Portrayed with incredible
fluency and realism, imagery guides the reader through the swift current of
growth tangible in the juvenile hero. Above all heavy imagery in the novel
is the recurring bird motif. Joyce uses birds to ultimately relate Stephen to
the Daedelus myth of the “hawklike man;” however, these images also
exemplify Stephen’s daily experiences, and longing for true freedom
. By using imagery of birds as threatening, images of beauty, and
images of escape, the reader can unify the work and better understand
Stephen’s tumultuous journey through life.
The opening scene of Chapter one portrays a conversation between
a very young Stephen and Dante, Stephen’s nanny. She scolds him for an
unconventional thought, warning him that “the eagles will come and pull
out [your] eyes”. This obviously graphic image suggests to Stephen the
threatening presence of eagles that are minding all his thoughts. Joyce’s
vividness with such gruesome imagery has a real effect on Stephen; he
repeats Dante’s caution in his childish song, chanting: “Pull out his eyes,
Apologize”. A playful, yet sensitive Stephen must immediately conformeven
his innocent unorthodox actions in fear of the threatening phantom
eagles to save the consequences they will bring. His thoughts are
threatened again by birds when he meets an acquaintance named Heron
when walking down a dark street. Stephen immediately notes the peculi...
... middle of paper ...
...of how the creatures
of the air have their knowledge and know their times and seasons because
they, unlike man, are in the order of their life and have not perverted that
order by reason”.
In order to seek true emancipation, Stephen “must go away for they were
birds ever going and coming...ever leaving the homes they had built to
wander”. Stephen resolves to leave his Irish homeland; free and wild
as his images of the birds.
The attributes which mold Stephen Dedalus’ growing integrity and
life decisions stem from the actions which surround him. The reader
associates Stephen by the images he encounters and his reaction to them.
In James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen’s
connection with bird imagery helps to define his search for a role in his
society, and helps readers define and identify with his quest.
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