Stephen Dedalus' Perception of Aesthetics in James Joyce’s novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Stephen Dedalus' Perception of Aesthetics in James Joyce’s novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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Aesthetics is the philosophy of art. By appreciating the value of aesthetics, one can comprehend the meaning of the abstract notion of beauty. In James Joyce’s novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus’ perception of aesthetics is a key component in the main character’s pursuit of individuality and purpose. Through the use of literary techniques such as diction and tone, Joyce conveys the protagonist’s aesthetic development. This artistic growth, paralleled throughout the novel’s external structure with Dedalus’ coming of age, illustrates the life, purpose and aesthetic ambition of an artist: “To discover the mode of life or of art whereby the spirit can express itself in unfettered freedom” (Joyce 231).
Stephen’s early childhood, depicted in chapter one, exposes the protagonist’s understanding of art through his naïve tone and childlike diction. In this stage of his development, the protagonist’s perception of aesthetics is defined according to what is nice. Also, the interesting use of the rhythmic and phonetic quality of words, along with the integration of verse, contributes to his infantile definition of the nature of art and beauty. The opening of the chapter demonstrates this wordplay through the childish story of the baby tuckoo and the moocow. Furthermore, Dedalus is shown to have an innate comprehension of art: “He wanted to cry quietly but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music” (Joyce 18).
As Stephen becomes aware of his surroundings, his perception of art begins to change. In chapter two, the protagonist’s eager tone leads him to develop a different understanding of the qualities of art. The author makes a literary allusion to Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cr...


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...nd pursuit of purpose. The different visions of aesthetics, particular to each stage of his life, define his character development and the author’s portrayal of his artistic destiny. Following the “bildungsroman” style, Dedalus attains maturity through his conception of the value of art. His treatise on aesthetics leads him to conclude that in order to gain the necessary claritas, or clearness of mind for his artistic endeavors, he must voluntarily severe all bonds of faith, family and country. Only through this exile can the artist gain the unfettered freedom necessary for the production of life out of life and the fulfillment of art with the sole purpose of aesthetic accomplishment. Whether it’s art for art’s sake, or for any other purpose, as long as it complies with the parameters of aesthetic fulfillment and spiritual freedom, art will undoubtedly be beautiful.

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