Study Guide

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

by James Joyce

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*University College

*University College. Roman Catholic university in Dublin, as opposed to Trinity College, which was reserved for the Protestant elite. This is the site where Stephen Dedalus and his friends have long, involved discussions and arguments about topics such as art, politics, and the Catholic Church.

As at his earlier schools, Stephen is at odds, intellectually, philosophically, and religiously, with most of his fellows; however, at University College he is much better able to articulate his positions. It is here that Stephen finally renounces his Catholic faith, with his statement that he will refuse to make his Easter duty as his ailing mother has asked. In the physics theater of University College, Stephen and an elderly Jesuit priest discuss the powerful differences in language—particularly differences between English and Gaelic—that are powerful impulses in Stephen’s aspirations and actions. During this conversation, Stephen realizes the great potency words have in his life and senses that the artist who can transform reality through words is equivalent to the priest who can transmute the bread and wine during mass.

Dedalus homes

Dedalus homes. The large family of Simon and May Dedalus occupy a variety of houses and apartments in Dublin during the course of the novel. The steady decline in the richness and quality of these residences charts the descent of the Dedalus family from relative affluence to harsh poverty. In the first home, an elaborate Christmas dinner presented by servants is the scene of a dramatic political argument between Stephen’s father Simon and his aunt, Dante Riordan, over Irish politics, especially the fate of the Nationalist leader, Charles Stewart Parnell. Successive homes and their meals are smaller and less satisfying, until the family is living in less-than-genteel poverty. The decline in material richness is juxtaposed to Stephen’s growing intellectual and artistic richness and resources.

*Clongowes College

*Clongowes College. Exclusive school, run by Jesuits in County Kildare. Simon Dedalus respects the Jesuits for their ability to help their students achieve material and professional success in life. Clongowes combines classrooms, dormitories, playgrounds, and chapel. There, Stephen first experiences his artistic impulses. It is also here that he is the victim of larger, more powerful boys who mock and bully him for his physical weakness and intellectual inclinations.

*Belvedere College

*Belvedere College. More modest Catholic school to which Stephen is sent as the family’s fortunes decline. At Belvedere, Stephen attends a retreat where a visiting priest summons up terrifying visions of the eternal damnation and suffering of the tortured souls in Hell. Following these services, and after a night filled with horrible dreams, Stephen hurries to confession and dedicates himself to the Church, to the point where he seriously wonders if he has a vocation for the priesthood.


Bridge. Structure spanning a tidal river on the coast near Dublin. While walking in this vicinity, Stephen watches a company of Christian Brothers, an order of the Catholic Church, march over the bridge. Immediately afterward, he beholds a lovely young girl, birdlike in her appearance, wading in the water. As is often the case in James Joyce’s work, water, especially the sea, symbolizes art and freedom. There, the choice clearly is between the Church and art, and Stephen’s decision to renounce the Church in favor of art is made the moment he responds to the beauty of the girl.


*Dublin. Capital of Ireland, although at the time of the novel the nation was not independent but part of the British Empire. Dublin forms a backdrop for much of Portrait of the Artist, especially in the scene where young Stephen wanders the streets seeking a prostitute, both to release his sexual longings and to “embrace life” in defiance of the Church and Irish morality.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Historical Context

Joyce’s Ireland: The Historical and Political Context
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is set in Ireland in the...

(The entire section is 1107 words.)

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Setting

The publication of Portrait in book form in 1916 coincided with one of the most important events in modern Irish history: the Easter...

(The entire section is 656 words.)

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Quizzes

Chapter 1 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Through which characters’ consciousness is the narrative focused?

2. Who is “baby tuckoo”?

3. What is the significance of Dante’s maroon and green brushes?

4. What advice does Stephen’s father give him as they leave him off at Clongowes?

5. Why did Wells push Stephen into the ditch?

6. How does Mrs. Dedalus respond to the argument at the Christmas dinner table?

7. What is the story Mr. Casey tells at dinner?

8. According to Athy, why are Simon Moonan and Tusker Boyle in trouble?

9. Why was Stephen exempt from classwork by Father Arnall?

10. What do Stephen’s classmates encourage him...

(The entire section is 361 words.)

Chapter 2 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Where is the Dedalus family living at the start of the chapter?

2. What does Stephen read alone in his room at night?

3. Why does Stephen not return to Clongowes in September?

4. When the family has moved back to Dublin, why does Stephen spend so much time alone?

5. Why does Stephen feel it is appropriate to entitle his poem, “To E--- C---”?

6. Where does Stephen go to school after Clongowes?

7. Why does Heron mock Byron, who Stephen says is “the best poet”?

8. What word does Stephen see carved on a desk at Queen’s College in Cork?

9. Where does Stephen get the money for his “season of...

(The entire section is 299 words.)

Chapter 3 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What is Stephen’s attitude toward his sinful lifestyle as Chapter Three opens?

2. What religious office does Stephen hold at Belvedere?

\3. What is important about St. Francis Xavier, according to the rector?

4. What are the “four last things” the sermons will cover during the retreat?

5. What effect does seeing Father Arnall have upon Stephen?

6. Why does Stephen feel he cannot confess at the college chapel?

7. Describe Stephen’s vision of hell.

8. What effect does seeing the “frowsy girls” on the side of the road have on Stephen?

9. How old is Stephen in Chapter Three?

10. What...

(The entire section is 348 words.)

Chapter 4 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Describe Stephen’s daily life at the start of Chapter Four.

2. Why does Stephen have trouble mortifying his sense of smell?

3. What is Stephen’s opinion of the Jesuits now?

4. How does Stephen reply when the director of Belvedere asks him if he feels he may have a vocation for the priesthood?

5. What appeals to Stephen about the priesthood?

6. What repels Stephen about the priesthood?

7. Why aren’t Stephen’s parents at home when he gets in?

8. What phrase comes to Stephen’s mind as he crosses the bridge to the Bull?

9. What symbolic import does Stephen recognize in his name?

10. How...

(The entire section is 494 words.)

Chapter 5 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Describe Stephen’s attitude toward school at the start of Chapter Five.

2. What does Davin call Stephen?

3. What is the “useful art” the dean of studies promises to teach Stephen?

4. What are the two primary influences on Stephen’s artistic theory?

5. What is Davin’s objection to Stephen’s “revolt” against religion, family, and nation?

6. What characteristic of Lynch’s speech does Stephen identify with “culture”?

7. What, according to Stephen, are the three basic forms of art?

8. What kind of poem does Stephen compose in the middle of Chapter Five?

9. Describe the attitude which the...

(The entire section is 326 words.)