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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 the woman Stephen meets in the Ballyhoura Hills contrast with the Irish women he rejects?

According to Marian Eide, the woman Stephen meets in the Ballyhoura Hills offers "a troubling yet auspicious alternative view of the nation he is writing for and about."

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The Woman of the Ballyhoura Hills: James Joyce and the Politics of Creativity, Marian Eide.

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In The Woman of the Ballyhoura Hills: James Joyce and the Politics of Creativity, Marian Eide makes the argument that Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is continuously trying to symbolize Ireland as a nation with the women he meets throughout the course...

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of the novel. Eide makes the argument that this becomes inherently problematic simply due to the fact that Stephen is unable to see women as their own autonomous figures, separate from his preconceived definitions.

For example, at the end of chapter 5, Stephen is completely unable to understand the dynamics and complexity of the woman he meets in the Ballyhoura Hills. Through his inability to understand her, Stephen loses his ability to understand his nation and his own development. Continuous throughout A Portrait is Stephen's dichotomous notion of morality. His belief is that responsibility equals repression, and irresponsibility is equal to sexual liberation. The woman he ultimately meets in the Ballyhoura Hills confounds this notion and thus confounds his notion of nationalistic identity and his own identity as an artist and a young man.

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Marian Eide takes a view of this text that sees the various women as different representations or models of Ireland. She argues that Emma, the idealised woman that Stephen believes he loves, is an image of Mother Ireland that is based on a symbol of pure love that has nothing to do with either sex or real life. During his religious stage, Stephen imagines that he will be rewarded for his earthly religious devotion by being united with Emma in heaven. When finally he has a conversation with her after he has decided to become a writer, he reports that she is a normal girl and a far cry from the goddess-like figure he imagined her to be, indicating that Stephen has abandoned both sorts of extremism that he has experienced during the course of the novel: religious fanaticism and sinful promiscuity.

The woman of Ballyhoura Hills can be argued to be a symbol of a very different figure of Ireland. Stephen reports how Davin met a woman in Ballyhoura Hills who tried to tempt him to sleep with her. Note how he reports this and how this account is linked with his thoughts about Ireland:

How could he hit their conscience or how could he cast his shadow over the imaginations of their daughters, before their squires begat upon them, that they might breed a race less ignoble than their own? And under the deepened dusk he felt the thoughts and desires of the race to which he belonged flitting like bats, across the dark country lanes, under trees by the edges of streams and near the poolmottled bogs. A woman had waited in the doorway as Davin had passed by at night, and offering him a cup of milk, had all but wooed him to her bed, for Davin had the mild eyes of one who could be secret.

On the one hand, the woman's sexual promiscuity is something that stands in complete contrast to the idealised version of Mother Ireland as expressed through the character of Emma. On the other hand, as Stephen thinks about his role as a writer and how he can really impact his audience and "beget" a new kind of literature, he seems to find in this woman a symbol of freedom and lack of constraint that might be the kind of radical approach necessary to express the "thoughts and desires of teh race to which he belonged." The woman therefore could be argued to be a rejection of inherited and traditional forms of viewing Ireland as Stephen searches for a more apt and helpful metaphor to boost his creative endeavours.

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