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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man had various themes which covered many areas. The primary theme of the novel is the artistic development of the artist, Stephen, and this relates specifically to the artist’s development in the life of a national language. Stephen experiences many voices of Ireland as well as those of the writers of his education. Out of all these voices emerges Stephen’s aesthetic theory and his desire to find his own manner of expression. Stephen develops his own voice as a way of escaping these constraints.
One of the main constraints on the artist as Joyce depicts his life is the Roman Catholic Church. However, it is both a constraint and an enabling condition for the artist’s development. First, the Jesuit education Stephen receives, gives him a thorough grounding in the classical and medieval thinkers. It also structures Stephen’s life in such a way that it provides him with a basis for his own development as a moral and intellectual person. In relation to his eventual development of a theory of art or an aesthetic theory, Stephen fully draws on this tradition. He uses two central doctrines of the church in this theory. First, he revises the doctrine into a way of imagining the relationship between art and the world it describes. When Stephen develops his theory, he thinks of himself as taking on the role of a "priest of eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life." The second use of Catholic doctrine or tradition relates to its creation of a priesthood, a class of men separate from the world who act as intermediaries between the deity and the people. In Stephen’s idea of the artist, he is priestlike, performing the miracle of turning life into art.
Joyce is in good company when he uses techniques to drive a wedge in the totalizing authority of the church and in other forms of seriousness, even the artist’s own. When Stephen is discoursing learnedly on his aesthetic theory, his friend Lynch critisizes him. He brings lust into the picture of how and why art is created. He laughs at Stephen’s deadly serious use of the scholastics to develop a theory of art. Earlier in the novel, when Mrs. Dante Riordan is condemning Parnell and supporting his excommunication from the Catholic church, Mr.
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