A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis
by James Joyce

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Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Mr. Dedalus: Stephen’s father

Mrs. Dedalus: Stephen’s mother

Stephen Dedalus: the protagonist and focal character of the narrative

Uncle Charles: Stephen’s granduncle

Dante: Stephen’s governess

Brigid: the Dedalus’ maid

Rody Kickham: student at Clongowes

Nasty Roche: student at Clongowes

Wells: student at Clongowes who pushed Stephen into the ditch

Simon Moonan: student at Clongowes, caught “smugging”

Tusker Boyle: student at Clongowes, caught “smugging” with Simon

Jack Lawton: Stephen’s competitor in class

Father Arnall: Stephen’s math and Latin teacher

Fleming: student at Clongowes; Stephen’s friend

Father Dolan: prefect of studies at Clongowes

Brother Michael: medical attendant in the infirmary

Athy: student at Clongowes

Mr. Casey: friend of the Dedalus family

Eileen: Stephen’s friend, a Protestant

Cecil Thunder: student at Clongowes

Corrigan: older student at Clongowes

Mr. Gleeson: teacher at Clongowes, will flog Corrigan

Mr. Harford: Stephen’s writing teacher at Clongowes

Father Conmee: the rector at Clongowes

In the first brief section of the chapter, Stephen is very young. He remembers a story his father told him, and a song he likes to sing. He thinks about Dante, and her brushes (maroon for Michael Davitt, green for Parnell—both Irish nationalist leaders), and about their neighbors, the Vances.

Next, Stephen is at Clongowes Wood College. Stephen is playing football (soccer) with the others, but stays outside of the action because he is younger, smaller, and weaker. He remembers another student, Nasty Roche, questioning him about his name and his father. He remembers being left at school by his mother and father, his mother crying, and his father telling him to write if he wanted anything, and “never to peach on a fellow.” He remembers being pushed into a drainage ditch by a student named Wells. Stephen is cold and obviously homesick, and is counting the days until Christmas break.

The boys go inside, into a math class. The teacher, Father Arnall, has a game where the students are divided into teams, York and Lancaster (after the English War of the Roses), and Stephen is struggling with the difficult math. He and another student, Jack Lawton, are constantly competing for first place in these classroom games.

At dinner, Stephen is not hungry and only drinks tea. He feels ill, and thinks about being home. Later, in the playroom, he is teased by Wells about whether or not he kisses his mother before going to bed. In study hall, he changes the number on his desk from 27 to 26 days until the Christmas holiday. He tries to study geography but cannot concentrate. His mind wanders, and he thinks about his father, Dante, and Mr. Casey arguing about politics—Stephen does not understand politics, but wishes he did.

They go to chapel for night prayers, and then go to be. In bed, Stephen fantasizes about traveling home for the holidays. When he wakes up, he feels even more ill, and his friend Fleming tells him to stay in bed. Wells, worried that he has made Stephen ill by pushing him into the ditch, begs Stephen not to tell on him. The prefect comes, and, convinced that Stephen is really ill, tells him to go to the infirmary. In the infirmary, Stephen meets Brother Michael, and thinks once again of home and his parents. He is afraid he might die before he sees them again. He talks to an older boy, Athy, who tells him riddles. In the infirmary, Stephen thinks about his father and his grandfather, and about the death of Parnell.

In the next section, Stephen is home for Christmas dinner. His family, Dante, and Mr. Casey are there. The meal is lavish, prepared and served by servants. An argument erupts at the table between Mr. Dedalus, Mr. Casey, and Dante about the Catholic church and its role in political matters. Stephen’s mother and Uncle Charles try to end it, not taking sides and pleading that they not discuss politics at Christmas. The discussion continues, and moves to the more specific and recent...

(The entire section is 3,441 words.)