Conflicting Desires in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Conflicting Desires in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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Conflicting Desires in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

 

        In the story, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, written by

James Joyce, the main character Stephen Dedalus has many encounters with

women. Women and sexuality are major influences on Stephen's adolescent

life. Another major factor that has an influence on Stephen's life is the

Church. Women and sexuality conflict with the Church and its beliefs, and

that is one of Stephen's major problems thus far. Stephen is having a very

big identity crisis, from being a God fearing Catholic to a very hormonal

teenager.

 

        As Stephen sits at the "adults" dinner table for the first time,

his father, Mr. Casey and Dante are fighting about religion and politics in

Ireland. As they are arguing, Stephen's train of thought leads him to think

about Eileen. Eileen Vance was the little girl that Stephen wanted to marry

when he was younger. She is described to have ivory hands and golden hair,

which confuses Stephen with the phrases, "Tower of Ivory" and "House of

Gold" which is part of the Roman Catholic Litany of Our Lady. Later when

Stephen is at school, he again thinks about Eileen. Stephen gets his first

sensual experience from Eileen when she puts her hand into his pocket and

touches his hand. Stephen gets quite confused with the terms of the Litany

of Our Lady so he starts to associate the "Tower of Ivory" and "House of

Gold" to Eileen. The way James Joyce describes the scene, "She had put her

hand into his pocket where his hand was and he had felt how cool and thin

and soft her hand was."(43) gives the reader the idea that Stephen enjoyed

the feeling. The only problem with Eileen was that she was a Protestant and

Stephen was a Catholic. Stephen also associates women with the Virgin Mary,

who was the mother of Jesus Christ. He thinks women as pure, just as Mary

was and since he already associated the "Tower of Ivory" and "House of

Gold" with Eileen, he assumes her to be like the Virgin.

 

        Another influence of women in Stephen's life comes from the story

"The Count of Monte Cristo" while reading this story, Stephen starts to

fantasize about Mercedes.

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As he fantasizes, he tries to bring her to life

through another girl, known as E.C.. He has many sexual longings for E.C.

but can not understand and is frustrated by his feelings. Knowing that his

thoughts and his actions  "perhaps he had been masturbating"  put him into

mortal sin, Stephen is very burdened. Alas, Stephen is overwhelmed by his

desires and ends up going to a prostitute. This prostitute is a mix of what

he was looking for in a woman, the Mercedes characteristics "she came over

to him and embraced him gaily and gravely... her arms held him firmly to

her"(101) and the motherly/pure characteristics  " she passed her tinkling

hand through his hair, calling him a little rascal."(101). Although Stephen

knows that he is sinning he wants to break away somehow from the good of

nature and experience what it feels like to be fallen like Adam or Lucifer.

 

        When Stephen hears the sermon by Father Arnall, he feels remorseful

of his actions. He thinks that the sermon is totally focused on him. And

from hearing this sermon, Stephen decides to change his ways back towards

the church. He does such a good job of being "Holy" that he is asked to

join the priesthood. But this makes him go on a surge of power hunger. He

thinks of all the power and respect he will get if he joins the priesthood

and of all the secrets that he will hear of women and girls. This again

makes him to think lustfully and makes him sin. He finally decides that

instead of entering priesthood, or for that matter, even live a religious

life, he would become an artist and free himself from the doctrines of

religion. When Stephen makes this decision, another girl is influential in

making this happen. Stephen sees a girl on the beach and he is taken by her

physically beauty but also compares her to an "...angel of mortal youth and

beauty." She was what all the girls before her were except more. This girl

tells Stephen to go towards art and so that is how he finally decides to

lead his life.

 

        Stephen has experienced many different feelings that were

conflicting within him from his own desires to the doctrines of the

Catholic Church. Through out his adolescent life was a roller-coaster of

emotions of sexual desires and guilt of having those desires and confusion

because of the guilty feelings. A lot of the confusion, stems from the

absence of a strong recognition of his own self. He was always confused

with his feelings and what he thought the church expected him to feel.

However, in the end, he seems to have figured out what he wanted through

another desire, so I wonder if he will actually achieve what he wants to or

will he fail and become confused again.
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