Stephen's Sexual Desire and Religious Morality Essay

Stephen's Sexual Desire and Religious Morality Essay

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Throughout his life, Stephen is consumed by conflicting desires, the strongest of which being his sexual desire towards women versus religious morality. Confused and ashamed by these “sinful” thoughts, Stephen comes to view women in one of two extremes: they are either pure, virginal, and decent, like Emma, or impure, sexual, and corrupt, such as the prostitutes he visits in Belvedere. However, it is Stephen’s individual experiences with women from both ends of this spectrum that become the motivating factor behind both his art and personal growth as an artist.
As a young boy, Stephen is immensely attracted to Emma, who evokes his first feelings of love, attraction, and confusion. He becomes excited by her presence and “his heart dance[s] upon her movements like a cork upon a tide” (Joyce 73). She inspires his romantic imagination and motivates him to express his first form of artistic ability through poetry. Influenced by the poems of Lord Byron, Stephen addresses his first poem to “E – C –,” for he loves the thought of actually having a “beloved” to devote his poems to (Joyce 73). Emma quickly evolves into Stephen’s idea of perfection, a symbol of purity and love to which no other women could measure; Emma symbolizes the end of the spectrum representing goodness and purity. Later in the novel, Stephen elevates Emma’s status further by awarding her a God-like status. After feeling intense guilt for visiting the brothels, he imagines himself appearing before Emma and repenting his sins, for “God was too great and stern and the Blessed Virgin too pure and holy” (Joyce 111). However, Despite Emma’s apparent importance to Stephen, she remains a shadowy figure, seen only through occasional glimpses of Stephen’s adoration. As a cha...


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... conflicting desires towards women, which stemmed from his Catholic upbringing. As a catholic, Stephen had been taught to view women in one of two ways: as whores, which was in reference to Mary Magdalene, or as Madonna’s, reminiscent of the Virgin Mary. However, his transformation into an artist disproved this theory and allowed Stephen to judge women solely on their artistic beauty. The women within the novel pushed Stephen towards his true calling, each revealing to him the necessary steps required to become an artist. In the final lines of the novel, Stephen proclaims his desire to become an artist: “I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race” (Joyce 224). In a sense, art is Stephen’s “ideal woman,” for nothing on earth can match its purity or ability to transform.

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