How does the opening episode of Portrait (p. 5-6) illustrate the key themes and techniques of the text?

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James Joyce announces the subject of his novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in the introductory paragraphs. He begins with what reads like a fairy tale written for a very young child:

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 coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo....

Starting with a “once upon a time” fairy tale establishes the speaker as an artist or writer, and we soon discover that the story is autobiographical when the speaker reveals “He was baby tuckoo”.

The language in this passage is also significant because it indicates that not only is the author writing an autobiographical story, but he is writing it from the point of view of a child. That was not new in and of itself – Charles Dickens had done it in Great Expectations – but the innovation here is that it is written in the language of a small child. Words like “moocow” and “nicens little boy” put the reader in the mind of a toddler, and one with a lisp no less, which appears a few lines later: “O, the green wothe botheth”

The details Joyce includes in these introductory paragraphs give us more information about the narrator’s point of view. We read about the little boy’s sensory perceptions of his surroundings:

…his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face…

When you wet the bed, first it is warm then it gets cold. His mother put on the oilsheet. That had the queer smell.

Small children experience the world through their senses and often find expressing their thoughts in language challenging. These lines position the reader inside the toddler’s mind. With this novel, Joyce is becoming a pioneer in the stream-of-consciousness form. He tells the autobiographical story from inside the character's head, which gives the work a dual point of view: on the one hand, we see what the child is experiencing by reading his thoughts firsthand, but on the other hand, the adult writer puts these interior monologues together to form the novel.

These paragraphs also announce that the book will be about the experience of an artist. He makes his first of many references to the colors green and red. Colors are the purview of an artist, and these two take on symbolism as the novel progresses. Green will stand for Mother Ireland, which is why the green brush represents the Irish nationalist Parnell, and red for spirituality, which he aligns with Michael Davitt, who fought for fair treatment of farmers.

Also significant is the song the child claims as “his song”:

O, the wild rose blossoms
On the little green place.

This is an approximation of “Lily Dale,” a song sung by a man mourning his deceased love. The actual lines refer to “little green grave” but the child’s version changes “grave” to "place". So the original song, the original work of art, is edited, ostensibly because a small child is singing it. But Joyce may be suggesting that art in this world is censored, and the artist is repressed.

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