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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

by James Joyce
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What is the point of view and imagery in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?

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The limited third person narration allows the reader to see the thoughts and feelings of Stephen Dedalus alone as the novel progresses, and these emotions are expressed in the third person, giving the novel a focus on this central protagonist as the reader is only privy to Stephen's emotions. The imagery therefore focuses centrally on Stephen's developments and how he grows and develops as a character throughout this novel. An interesting aspect of this text is the way in which Stephen experiences a series of epiphanies that make him realise certain things about himself and his life. In Chapter 4, for example, he experiences the following epiphany when he chooses to dedicate his life to art: 

His throat ached with a desire to cry aloud, the cry of a hawk or eagle on high, to cry piercingly of his deliverance to the winds. This was the call of life to his soul not the dull gross voice of the world of duties and despair, not the inhuman voice that had called him to the pale service of the altar. An instant of wild flight had delivered him and the cry of triumph which his lips withheld cleft his brain.

The imagery in this quote is fascinating as it uses the imagery of a bird of prey in flight calling out to describe the feeling he feels as he imagines "life" calling out to his "soul." This epiphany is described as "an instant of wild flight" and is compared distinctly to the epiphany that led him to consort with prostitutes and the epiphany that led him to believe that he should dedicate his life to religion. The imagery in this quote perfectly captures the feeling of transcendence that Stephen is experiencing, as he feels the emotion is splitting his brain in two.

Ironically, of course, the point of view, imagery and irony are tied together with the epiphanies he experiences throughout the novel. When, for example, at the end of Chapter 3 Stephen experienced his religious epiphany, he never doubted that he would dedicate the rest of his life to religion, and the point of view that allows the reader to experience Stephen's emotions as they occur without indicating the future supports this view. This subsequent epiphany shows that plans change and however firm and decided one may feel about the course of one's life, it is possible that this can change.

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The point of view is an interesting one. Point of view is a way of identifying the voice through which the story is directed or focalized. In this case, the reader is directed to look at the story through the voice of a narrator who is not in the story but who is an observer of the story. This is called a third-person narrator as the narrative voice addresses characters in the third person as he, she, they, them, their, him, and her.

There are two kinds of third-person narrators. The first is an omniscient third-person narrator. This is a narrator who can access the thoughts, feelings, reactions, ambitions, and motives of any character at any time. The second is called a limited third-person narrator. This is a narrator who is limited to the thoughts, feelings, reactions, ambitions, and motives of one particular character.

Now we can identify the point of view. Since the focalizing third-person narrator in Joyce's story focalizes the story through Stephen's perceptions etc, this is a limited third-person narrator and point of view. In addition, Joyce adds the interesting element of filtering the point-of-view narration through the mind of Stephen, using language and ideas appropriate for the age Stephen is at any given moment.

this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo...

His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.

This narratorial technique colors the imagery as the book develops. Early subjects of imagery are expressed as Joyce supposes (or remembers) a toddler and young child would experience impressions. Later subjects of imagery are expressed as a grown person would experience impressions: since this is autobiographical, one supposes the imagery reflects how Joyce experienced impressions. For example, as a child, Stephen experienced impressions that were concrete, with poetic imagery that was also concrete: "[the footballers'] greasy leather orb flew like a heavy bird through the grey light." When he was grown, Stephen experienced impressions as abstractions expressed in concrete imagery:  

The lyrical form is ... an instant of emotion, a rhythmical cry such as ages ago cheered on the man who pulled at the oar or dragged stones up a slope.

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