Is A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man a stream of consciousness novel?
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Yes. It is. As also are many of James Joyce's works.
It is a stream of consciousness novel because the narrator is not only telling a story, but also having a catharsis by expressing his state of mind and animosity, or "consciousness" at the time of the action. Most works of this kind tend to be fictional or semi or totally autobiographical, and you can see that the author, as the narrator, is doing a cathartic revelation.
It is highly psychological, and the mode of narrative is not formal, rather, like the way in which you would speak with yourself and analyze a situation that is personal to you.
Indeed, I think that some of the most powerful elements of Joyce's work is his ability to establish the stream of consciousness style in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The novel's approach of explaining how Stephen Dedalus achieves consciousness is through Joyce's style of a stream of consciousness. In the opening pages of the book, we are not given a straight narrative, a seamless understanding that tells us exactly what is happening. Rather, we are given a series of images told in a narrative that is not entirely coherent. Moocow, smells, the feeling of an oil sheet, tuckoo are all thrown at us in the opening pages. While this might be jarring for the reader, it is perfectly appropriate because these pages outline the first moments of Stephen's life, as an infant, when he is becoming more conscious of the world and his place in it. This style is continued throughout the novel in Stephen's discussion of religion and the family debates about Irish freedom, the experience of sin and consciousness of the other sex, and the establishment of different epiphanies that allow Stephen to gain different forms of consciousness. The stream of consciousness style Joyce uses maintains the notion that the novel is a bildungsroman, a story about maturation and growth. It also allows the reader to fully immerse themselves in the life of Stephen without the need for an artificial or distinct narrator. This technique is mirrored by the philosophical implications of the text. Joyce writes a modernist work that seeks to question the validity and establishment of structures of power and seeks to create a foundation which critiques these institutional uses of power. We see this in Joyce's critique of religion and national identity, for example. The stream of consciousness style is reflective of this as we see that consciousness is not something where there is one definite vision, one definite narration. This notion of consciousness "is not a seamless fabric; it has deficiencies and gaps that the organism learns to work around," to quote philosopher Daniel Dennett in his understanding of consciousness. Certainly, Joyce's style is reflective of the philosophy he is seeking to espouse throughout his work.
In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce is experimenting with literary techniques, especially the use of stream of consciousness. He uses the third person to describe the experiences of Stephen Daedalus, but everything in the novel is seen through Daedalus. Joyce does not explain what is going on objectively, he simply describes it as Daedalus experiences it subjectively, in short, episodic accounts. At the beginning of the book, when Daedalus is a child, Joyce uses childlike prose, as in the opening lines:
ONCE UPON A TIME and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo…
By the end of the book, when Stephen is at university, the dialogue and the narrative is much more sophisticated:
His mind when wearied of its search for the essence of beauty amid the spectral words of Aristotle or Aquinas turned often for its pleasure to the dainty songs of the Elizabethans. His mind, in the vesture of a doubting monk, stood often in shadow under the windows of that age, to hear the grave and mocking music of the lutenists or the frank laughter of waistcoateers until a laugh too low, a phrase, tarnished by time, of chambering and false honour, stung his monkish pride and drove him on from his lurking-place.
This passage also demonstrates the use of stream of consciousness technique. It describes the way that Daedalus interacts mentally with his world rather than objectively describing that world itself. In this way, Joyce is able to show with remarkable nuance how Daedalus develops mentally. Other techniques are employed as well, but much of the novel is written in a form that can best be described as stream of consciousness. The fact that he does so by using the third person adds an additional layer of complexity to what is considered one of the great modernist works of fiction.
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