A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

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What is the narrative technique used in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?  

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Mike Rosenbaum eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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James Joyce uses mostly the third-person point of view in the narrative style of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but he keeps that viewpoint limited. Instead of being omniscient, as is often the case with the third person viewpoint, Joyce's outside narrator is limited in his scope. We are inside only Stephen's head, seeing and hearing only what Stephen does.

Joyce keeps us close to his protagonist , so close that the the narrator's own voice ages with Stephen. For example, in the very first lines, the narrator describes the "moocow" coming down the street, using language appropriate to the...

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kellyimagines | Student

Through using stream-of-consciousness to enhance an already intimate third-person narration, James Joyce employs a distinctive narrative style to tell the story of Stephen Dedalus's maturation in A Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man.

A first-person narrative often forces the reader to trust the narrator due to a lack of alternative sources. The first-person narrator, even if they aren’t portrayed in the story, is defacto a character with motive. A third-person narrator however, can lack bias due to their removal from the story’s confines.

In Joyce’s Portrait, the narrator allows the reader to access Stephen’s inner thoughts as if the filter was taken away. Stephen’s voice is looked at objectively without the bother of Stephen’s editing. While this may be akin to omniscience, Joyce limits the perspective to Stephen’s point of view, giving the reader an extremely personal look at Stephen’s voice from the academic perspective of an outsider looking in. The stream-of-consciousness narrative however pushes against the boundaries of this academia. The inevitable viceral nature of the human mind gives the reader what Stephen himself would call: “human pages” amidst the “sonorous[ly]” lectures of Roman history (Joyce 179).

When Stephen is limited in his vocabulary - as in the first chapter - made-up words like, “moocow” and “baby tuckoo” abound, because they are the only ones he knows. Yet as he grows we find that Stephen’s inner workings develop. As a child he grows repetitious. When he becomes obsessed with the conversation of a young group of men he refers to as the “fellows”, it is repeated vigorously in one paragraph, then lost as soon as his mind is focus on something else (Joyce 41). This pursuit of truth muddles any straight-forward narrative, but achieves a humanistic approach akin to hyperrealism.

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