Write an essay in which you analyze the use of color symbolism and how it relates to the book's theme in A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. Support your interpretation, with...

Write an essay in which you analyze the use of color symbolism and how it relates to the book's theme in A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. Support your interpretation, with reference to the theme and evidence from the work. Your purpose is to persuade your reader that you understand the connection between Joyce's use of color symbolism and the readers understanding of a theme. 

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

James Joyce's writing is influenced by his Irish roots and his understanding of the effects of poverty on a person's development. His literary purpose, he believes, was never to develop a moral ground or reveal historical or political information, but simply in the interests of expression and of being artistic. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce expounds on this theme as Stephen Dedalus, artistic and aware from an early age that he is different from his peers, struggles to find fulfillment. Green is a very prominent color all over Ireland and Joyce develops Stephen's character using this and other prominent colors to invoke various emotions. 

The "portrait" takes shape as Stephen changes from an inarticulate boy for whom simple words and phrases (and color) only allow him to define his surroundings in a confused manner, to a liberated young man who finally possesses the ability for rational thought through vivid color. It is interesting that the theme is abstract and relates to Stephen's personal journey of self rather than having any factual basis upon which it relies. The theme of God and religion is apparent but it is more about Stephen's consciousness of it and reaction to it, that forms this story.  

The "red rose" refers to the involvement of the English  who "won" in terms of Northern Ireland but Stephen usually relates red with other colors and prefers to consider colors in their capacity to relax and calm him. He recognizes white as a beautiful color for a rose but the thoughts of the school dining-room are unpleasant and so he associates the color with that feeling when he wonders whether " all white things were cold and damp." Stephen's confusion is obvious during these reflections, including his reference to the "wild rose blossoms on the little green place." Confusing the color of the rose seems random and unlikely, confounding his possible misunderstanding of situations. His pleasant thoughts of home are also associated with color as he affectionately remembers "red holly and green ivy round the old portraits on the walls." Green and red together always accompany pleasant thoughts and memories.

Stephen's interpretation of Fleming's choice of colors for the map in his desk - maroon and green- reveal Stephen's insular feelings as he sees the choices others make in terms of his own understanding, believing that Fleming has chosen those colors on purpose and therefore, Stephen attributes the same meaning as Dante to them. His attempts to denote politics in terms of color also reveals his simplified world but also his frustration because he knows that his understanding is over-simplified. He is beginning to see that there is so much more to life. Later, he will again associate maroon and green with Dante " in a maroon velvet dress with a green velvetmantle..." and the effect that Irish politics has on his family, such that, "He wondered which was right, to be for the green or for the maroon..."

The association of the wine with the color purple reminds Stephen of conflicting moments in his life. As Stephen uses color to help him interpret many situations, a reference to the "no colored eyes" of the priest recalls desperate moments for Stephen and expresses his sadness. The color yellow is used during moment of uncertainty, such as the yellow curtains and the yellow caravans and even the "yellow insolence." The “yellow drunk”  infers a lack of control whether over the situation or the person.

As Stephen matures, words take on more meaning as he can rationalize his thoughts through elegant speech. However when he suffers from extremes, words or colors no longer provide real clarity for him. Red. black and white are still dominant and even periods when there is a distinct lack of references to color , are significant as Stephen struggles to interpret his feelings or situation. Grey has been the color of certainty for Stephen – dull but also reassuring such as “the grey block of Trinity” and the bursar with his “cap of grey hair.”

The “rose” reference and the “roselike glow” create moments of calm in the turmoil that Stephen feels. “Scarlet” makes him “weary” and prevents any real passionate feelings and references to “dark” shades rather than colors confirm Stephen’s state of mind.

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