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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

by James Joyce
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In "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," how does Joyce show Stephen's ascent into a more artistic view of the world in the last chapter?

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As we reach the final chapter of "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man ," Stephen is becoming more and more detached from his friends, his family, and his fellow students. He's retreating ever more deeply into an aestheticized fantasy world which he believes to be the...

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As we reach the final chapter of "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," Stephen is becoming more and more detached from his friends, his family, and his fellow students. He's retreating ever more deeply into an aestheticized fantasy world which he believes to be the necessary condition of his becoming an artist. That world is now more palpably real than the mundane existence at home and at college that he's forced to endure on a daily basis.

As Stephen sits on the steps of the university he watches a flock of birds circling overhead. Stephen struggles to identify the birds, but being as how his aestheticized existence is so much more real to him than the world of fact, that doesn't much matter. What does matter is his instinctive grasp of the significance of the flock of birds as a symbol of freedom. Like the birds overhead Stephen, too, wants to soar; he yearns to break free from his stultifying existence and achieve the heights of artistic excellence like the great authors and poets he so much admires.

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You might like to think about the way in which Chapter Five, the last chapter, represents a development of Stephen's role as an artist that he chooses in Chapter Four. In this last Chapter, Stephen comes to completely explore his understanding of being an artist. This is mostly achieved through the way that Stephen is shown to distance himself more and more from those around him as he embraces the role of solitary exile. This chapter actually contains a large amount of speech, more than other chapters in this novel, but we need to realise that the function of this dialogue is to demonstrate the way in which Stephen is becoming more and more distanced from his surroundings. In what Stephen says and how he responds to others, we can see the need of Stephen to court isolation and to escape the various "nets" of nation, family and religion that threaten to enmesh him. Consider, for example, his conversation with his Physics tutor when Stephen becomes more and more aware that he is speaking in English rather than Stephen's own language and he is but only paying Stephen minimal attention. Stephen becomes more disillusioned with those around him.

This increasing sense of isolation as Stephen moves towards becoming the artist he realises that he wants to be is mirrored by the way that the novel ends with Stephen's voice alone with no other interruptions. The final section of the novel represents Stephen addressing himself in a journal form without any narrative intrusion. Stephen therefore in the course of this chapter moves ever closer towards the isolation that he feels is vital to be an artist and to create.

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