“Welcome, O life! 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.” Discuss the full implications of...

“Welcome, O life! 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.” Discuss the full implications of Stephen's invocation at the end of  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The implications of Stephen's invocation at the end of the narrative reflect how he rejects what he sees as external imposition upon his identity. Earlier in Chapter 5, Stephen had emerged to this point with his understanding of the world and his place in it:  

I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call 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, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use—silence, exile, and cunning.

Stephen had been fighting, in a sense, with these forces.  The nationalism told him to honor his country or religion, and even the filial bonds that demanded that he honor his mother were all aspects of being that sought to make him submissive to something larger than him.  Throughout the final chapter, Stephen moves to a point where he no longer wishes external reality to determine who he is and in what he believes:  "My ancestors threw off their language and took another, Stephen said. They allowed a handful of foreigners to subject them. Do you fancy I am going to pay in my life and person debts they made? What for?"  Stephen views his self- understanding as evolving. His admission that he was "a different person," when he believed in more conventional and traditional paths to be followed, is a distinctive feature in chapter five.

It is within this change that Stephen's invocation becomes significant.  It represents a break with these forces of his past.  The forces that govern how young men in Ireland must act are realties Stephen is going to shed.  Prior to his ending declaration, Stephen realizes that his non- serviam credo is held in check if he appropriates the paths that others have made for him:

The spell of arms and voices: the white arms of roads, their promise of close embraces and the black arms of tall ships that stand against the moon, their tale of distant nations. They are held out to say: We are alone — come. And the voices say with them: We are your kinsmen. And the air is thick with their company as they call to me, their kinsman, making ready to go, shaking the wings of their exultant and terrible youth.

Stephen seeks to "fight" these calls.  It is with this idea that he feels he has to leave.  Stephen's desire to embrace the "reality of experience" and to "forge in the smithy" of his soul are elements that will embrace his theory of beauty and aesthetics.  They are realities in which new epiphanies of self will emerge.  The last entry of "Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead," reflects the full implications of Stephen's change.  He has become one who embraces freedom and experience, ready to go and see what these realities will bring.  His "flight" is one from the traditionalist notions of the good.  The full implications of his invocation are ones that embrace freedom and self- determination in accordance to a notion of reality that is subjectively experienced.

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