Comment on Joyce's narrative technique in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

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In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce uses several narrative techniques, but he largely relies on a third-person narrative that mirrors the inward development of Stephen Dedalus, the protagonist. As the story traces Stephen's development from his infancy to his early adult maturation as...

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In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce uses several narrative techniques, but he largely relies on a third-person narrative that mirrors the inward development of Stephen Dedalus, the protagonist. As the story traces Stephen's development from his infancy to his early adult maturation as an artist, the narrative style shifts in tone and diction, signifying (in linguistic terms) the stages and moods of Stephen's consciousness.

For example:

  • Early childhood - the narrator reflects Stephen's infant experience with childish phrases ("baby tuckoo" and "moocow") and sing-song rhymes, loosely associating images and events without explanation.
  • First sexual encounter - the narrator expresses Stephen's felt pressure of his first sexual experience by paying special attention to bodily attraction ("warm calm rise and fall of her breast") and physical movement ("she bowed his head and joined her lips to his").
  • Stephen's religious repentance - the languid, rigid, and (admittedly) boring language in the early sections of chapter 4 matches the rigid, religious discipline of Stephen's suddenly repentant, routine-driven lifestyle.

Elements of the "stream-of-consciousness" narrative technique (which involves a more direct mimicry of the mind's stream-like flow from thought to thought) may be found throughout A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but not to the baffling degree of Joyce's Ulysses. Even so, A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man represents one of modernism's most famous attempts at depicting the inner complexities of human experience through the narrative power of language.

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The narrative displayed in Joyce's work is central to understanding the thematic essence of the work.  The idea of the work was to develop the consciousness of the artist in relationship to his surroundings.  There is not a desire to present a totalizing narrative where third person perfection is impacted.  Instead, the narrative is centered on Stephen and the development of his identity in accordance to the world around him.  This is fragmented and not entirely cohesive because of the limitations of individual perception, and in this stylistic element, a major theme concerning  identity formation in the work.  The technique evolves from the opening line of a "moocow" to the political arguments in the family, to the questioning of religious identity, to the epiphanies experienced and the ending of asking "old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead."  The narrative technique and approach mirrors toe evolution of Stephen's self and self and his relationship to the world.

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