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

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What genre is A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce?

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James Joyce is considered a master of the Bildungsroman, the German word for what is essentially equates to a coming-of-age story. However, when examining A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, there exists a more specific genre to explain the coming of age of Joyce’s young anti-hero, Stephen Dedalus: the Künstlerroman. Whereas a Bildungsroman deals more broadly in the coming of age of a young protagonist, typically ending with some marked character development or critical change, the Künstlerroman tracks the personal development of an aspiring artist.

A complex novel rich with numerous themes and motifs, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man easily fits into many other literary genres. The novel is often considered to be semi-autobiographical, where Joyce has injected some of his own life experiences and struggles as an artist into the character of Stephen Dedalus. Additionally, many would argue that although often considered as belonging in the general category of British Literature, the Irish experience is so unique as to necessitate its own, separate genre.

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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce is written in the genre known as "Bildungsroman", a German term meaning "formation novel". It is a genre in which the focus is not on plot action but on the character formation and education of a single protagonist. One of the most influential practitioners of the genre was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whose Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship and Sorrows of Young Werther were foundational works in the genre. As in the case of Joyce's novel, the protagonist is often an artistic or sensitive teenager or young adult, struggling against social conventions or familial pressures to live an ordinary bourgeois life. The novels often conclude with an epiphany, as when Joyce's Stephen says that:

I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

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