In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, is Stephen the hero he presents himself as, or something less?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce is a type of novel known as a Bildungsroman or story of the coming of age of a protagonist. Although in some cases it can have a heroic protagonist, more typical the genre explores the interior life of sensitive, artistic young people filled with self-doubt, anxiety, and a certain degree of self-centeredness. Novels of this type are often assigned in university courses as their protagonists are similar in age and outlook to many students. It is unlikely that Stephen is meant to be considered a "hero" in the sense of a Beowulf or Odysseus. Rather, the novel presents a young man with some artistic pretensions realistically,  as an imperfect human being struggling with all the difficulties of growing up. When Stephen says:

I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can ...

it can be read as either a dramatic moment of intellectual liberation, or as adolescent rebellion; different readers will react in different ways.

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