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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

by James Joyce

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Chapter 2 Summary

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Due to financial misfortunes, Stephen’s family moves to a new city. During the summer holidays, Stephen enjoys spending time with his great-uncle Charles, and he begins taking running lessons from his father’s friend Mike Flynn. Although he finds many aspects of his daily life boring, reading books like The Count of Monte Cristo allows Stephen to imagine thrilling adventures and romances in his mind. 

After summer ends, Stephen learns that he will not be returning to Clongowes Wood College. Instead, his family is moving to Dublin and selling off many of their belongings to cover Simon’s mounting debts. Stephen grows increasingly disillusioned with his father, whom he begins to regard as a failure. He turns his thoughts increasingly inward, comforted as he is by his own fantasies and romantic delusions. 

Simon arranges for Stephen to attend Belvedere College, and Stephen is dismayed to learn that the rector from Clongowes Wood College told his father about the incident with Father Dolan. Even more humiliating is the realization that the older men laughed about the incident that had once made such an emotional impact on young Stephen. 

The narrative then skips ahead several more years, with Stephen having established himself at Belvedere. He has gained a reputation as a model student and writer, and he has a leading role in the school play. However, he retains his feeling of agitation and isolation, and he is mocked before the show by two boys who deride his preference for the romantic poet Byron. 

As the Daedalus family faces further financial decline, Stephen becomes increasingly emotionally detached from his father. He mentally marks the end of his own childhood as he is forced to realize that he does not relate to the man who raised him any more. When Stephen wins a sizable cash prize in an essay contest, he spends it lavishly, briefly elevating his family’s lifestyle in the hopes of returning things to how they once were. However, the money quickly runs out, and Stephen must return to his more humble reality. 

Stephen’s feelings of alienation and frustration only continue to grow, and he begins to struggle with sexual impulses as well. One night, while out roaming the city, he is approached by a young prostitute. He is reluctant and unsure at first, but he then gives in and has his first sexual experience.

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Chapter 1 Summary

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Chapter 3 Summary