The Birdgirl in James Joyce's A Portrait of the artist as a Young Man

The Birdgirl in James Joyce's A Portrait of the artist as a Young Man

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Significance of the "Birdgirl"

The "birdgirl" is one of the most powerful symbols in James Joyce's A Portrait of the artist as a Young Man because she serves as an epiphany to Steven. Upon gazing at the beauty of this young girl a sudden and undeniable change comes over him. Before he sees her he is still debating whether or not to become a priest. His soul is in turmoil and he has conflicted thoughts and emotions about his purpose in life.

The "birdgirl" is important because she becomes to Steven a muse which empowers him to become an artist. When he glimpses her there in the water, he has a sudden moment of clarity about who he is and what he should become. Steven is forever changed by this revelation because it gives him the vision and strength to become an artist.

Steven sees the girl as a representation of pure beauty. She is wading in the water with her skirt hiked up and she and she makes eye contact with Steven In looking at her loveliness, he feels "an outburst of profane joy" (171). It is interesting that the joy is described as profane. This is because of the conflict in Stevens soul due to his strict Catholic upbringing. His emotional reaction to the girl's aesthetic beauty is foreign to him and therefore must be profane. Then a change comes over him. He is exhilarated rather than ashamed by these emotions. He then realizes that the beauty of the girl is what he was always looking for.

It is then that he has his revelation. As Joyce writes, "her eyes had called him and his soul had leaped at the call" (171). Before Steven sees her his mind is in turmoil at the thought of what he should become. In those few brief minutes all becomes clear to him. He realizes that his destiny is to "live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to create life out of life" (172).

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In allowing himself to enjoy the vision of the girl, to enjoy beauty just for the sake of beauty, Stephen accepts his own nature. In a single instant he grows up in the sense that he finally accepts his own character and destiny. Stephen knows now that he can never become a priest. The "birdgirl" is important because she instills in Steven a desire to create through his writing the same sense of beauty he sees when sees the girl.
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