A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis
by James Joyce

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Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
The Director: at Belvedere College, asks Stephen to consider joining the priesthood

Dan Crosby: a tutor, who goes with Stephen’s father to find out about the university for Stephen

Dwyer, Towser, Shuley, Ennis, Connolly: acquaintances of Stephen’s; he sees them swimming near the strand

Stephen has now dedicated his life to the service of God—each day is structured around prayer, ritual, and religious devotions. He attends mass each morning, and offers ejaculations and prayers each day for the souls in purgatory. He sees his daily life now in terms of eternity, and senses an immediate connection between his acts on earth and their repercussions in heaven. Each of his three daily chaplets is dedicated to one of the “three theological virtues,” Father, Son and Holy Ghost; each day of the week is devoted toward gaining one of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, and toward driving out each of the seven deadly sins.

Stephen views every aspect of his life as a gift from God; the world now exists for him “as a theorem of divine power and love and universality.” He tries to mortify and discipline each of his senses. He keeps his eyes to the ground, doesn’t try to avoid loud or unpleasant noises, intentionally subjects himself to unpleasant smells, and is strict about his diet, making sure he does not enjoy his food. He goes to great efforts to remain physically uncomfortable, both while sleeping and awake.

He is discouraged that, despite his efforts, he continues to get angry or impatient with others for trivial reasons. However, he takes great pleasure in being able to avoid temptation, though he periodically doubts how completely he has changed his life. In confession, he sometimes has to repeat an earlier sin because he sins so infrequently now. Stephen is frustrated, because it seems that he will never be able to fully escape the sins which he had struggled to confess at the end of Chapter Three.

In the next section, Stephen is speaking with the director of Belvedere College. He has been summoned to the director’s office, and, while making friendly and respectful small-talk, Stephen wonders why he has really been sent there. They begin talking about the Dominican and Franciscan orders, and of their respective styles of dress.

Stephen begins to think about his experiences with the Jesuits at school. He continues to hold them in high regard, although they sometimes seem “a little childish” in their judgments.

The director soon comes to the point, however, asking if Stephen has ever felt a vocation to join the priesthood. Stephen starts to answer “yes,” but remains silent. He tells the priest that he has “sometimes thought of it.” The priest tells him that only one or two boys from the college will be the sort who will be called by God, and suggests that Stephen, with his intelligence, devotion, and leadership qualities, might be one. The priest begins to talk of the power and authority a priest has, which reminds Stephen of “his own proud musings” on the subject, when he had imagined himself as a priest. The idea seems to appeal to him—he is attracted to the secret knowledge and power the priesthood could give him.

The priest tells him that his mass the next morning will be specially dedicated so that God may reveal His will to Stephen. He cautions Stephen to be certain of his decision, because it is a final one, on which the salvation of his soul may depend.

As he leaves the director’s office, Stephen and the director shake hands. Stephen notes the gravity of the expression on the priest’s face. Walking home, he tries to imagine himself as a priest.
Remembering the “troubling odour” of Clongowes, he begins to feel restless and confused. He begins to imagine how restless and unhappy he would be, and quickly decides that he could not become a priest, that “he would fall,” and that “his destiny was to be elusive of social or religious orders.”

Stephen arrives at home, where...

(The entire section is 5,486 words.)