In literary terms, one of the revolutionary aspects of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is the fact that there is no actual plot to the book. Instead, the progress of the novel is organized around the growing consciousness of the central character, Stephen Dedalus. His consciousness of the world around him is an ongoing theme and is developed differently in each of the book’s five chapters. He experiences many types and levels of consciousness. Moreover, Joyce uses a highly original “stream-of-consciousness” technique to render Stephen’s thoughts and experiences.
Stephen’s initial consciousness comes through his five senses, a theme that is introduced on the first page. Here Joyce reports Stephen’s awareness of how his father’s face looks, how the wet bed feels, the “queer smell” of the oilsheet and the nice smell of his mother. He sings a song and listens to his mother’s piano playing.
From the beginning, Stephen is conscious of words as things in themselves. When he goes to Clongowes Wood College, he becomes conscious of what words mean—and of the fact that a word can have more than one meaning. Stephen’s consciousness of trouble is at first vague—he is not sure what Dante and Mr. Casey are arguing about at the Christmas dinner, but he knows that the situation is unpleasant. He is conscious of impending trouble when Father Dolan enters the classroom and threatens to...
(The entire section is 1502 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!