Who is baby tuckoo in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Baby tuckoo is a character from children’s stories that Stephen’s father would tell him as a child. In the story, a mystical “moocow” would come up to the baby and take him to a magical land. This was a common myth from Irish folklore, where children would be spirited away by a magical cow to be trained and groomed into mythical heroes, returning to do incredible feats and deeds on Earth.

James Joyce was frequently called baby tuckoo as a child, and so he chose this familiar phrase for the baby in his book. It echoes the epic coming of age journey the character embarks upon, as if he was taken by the cow to learn to be a hero.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Baby tuckoo is Stephen Dedalus.

When Stephen is little, his father tells him a story about a nice little boy who meets a cow. He says it in the kind of language that many parents would use when talking to a child—a kind of affectionate babytalk. This is how the book opens, with a moocow coming down the road and meeting baby tuckoo.

Then the viewpoint switches, and Stephen remembers seeing his father as he told him the story. He remembers the beard on his face. He remembers the words his father spoke. He says that he, himself, was baby tuckoo.

This introduction takes the reader to the earliest memories that Stephen has. It helps to show the characteristics of his father before showing the rest of his family. It's clear that they're close and warm; his father and the stories he told were important to Stephen in his formative years.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Joyce’s penultimate novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, opens with a line from a story Stephen Dedalus remembers being told as a child:

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.

Stephen remembers quite well how his father would act out the part of baby tuckoo, as is exemplified by his use of “baby talk” (moocow, for example), and this gives readers their first impressions of Stephen’s father as a kind and involved figure in Stephen’s formative years.

The reason the name baby tuckoo was chosen is because it was a nickname for Joyce himself as a child, and the story itself is an interesting reference as well. As Don Gifford notes in his book Joyce Annotated, the story of moocow and baby tuckoo is rooted in traditional Irish folklore. According to legend, a magical cow takes certain children to an island realm where they are groomed to become heroes before being returned to their astonished parents. This snippet of a story alludes to the traditional “hero’s journey” that Stephen embarks on throughout the novel.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Baby tuckoo is a character in a story that Stephen Dedalus remembers being told by his father. It is one of his very first memories, and it is mentioned in the first sentence of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.

In the story, Stephen's father acts out the part of "baby tuckoo," which Stephen identifies with. This expression is an example of the kind of baby talk often spoken by parents to their young children. "Moocow" and "Nicens little boy" are other examples of this. The memory is clearly a very pleasant one for Stephen, as he remembers it so vividly. It also introduces us to the jolly, playful figure of Stephen's father, who will have an important role to play in his formative years.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial