Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9388
Temple: a gypsy socialist student, he is the instigator of the debate
Lynch: student at the university, to whom Stephen sounds off about his theory of aesthetics
Donovan: student whom Stephen dislikes; Stephen and Lynch see him on their walk
Father Moran: priest with whom Stephen thinks Emma flirts
Dixon: medical student at the library with Cranly
The Captain: a dwarfish old man, whom Stephen sees at the library
O’Keefe: student who riles Temple outside the library
Goggins: stout student outside the library
Glynn: young man at the library
At the start of the final chapter, Stephen is sitting at breakfast in his parents’ house. Pawn tickets for clothing are on the table next to him, indicating that the family had to sell more possessions. He asks his mother how fast the clock is, and she tells him he had better hurry. His sisters are asked to clear a spot for Stephen to wash at the sink, and his mother scrubs his neck and ears for him, remarking how dirty he is. His father shouts down to ask if Stephen has left yet, and his sister answers “yes.” Stephen makes a sarcastic remark and leaves out the back.
As he is walking, he hears a mad nun yelling in the madhouse, “Jesus! O Jesus! Jesus!,” which disturbs and angers Stephen. He is trying to forget about the “voices” of his parents, and religion. Walking alone, he thinks of plays and poems, and the aesthetic theories of Aristotle and Aquinas. He passes a clock that tells him it is eleven o’clock. He tries to remember the day of the week, thinks of the lectures he is scheduled to attend, and realizes that he is late for English. He thinks of that class, and begins to think about his close friend, Cranly. He composes nonsense verse idly in his head, and thinks of the etymology of the word “ivory.” He thinks of his Latin studies and Roman history. He sees Trinity, which depresses him, and he looks at the statue of Thomas Moore, the national poet of Ireland. He thinks with affection of his friend Davin, the peasant student, and of Davin’s nationalistic sympathies for Ireland. Stephen remembers a story Davin told him once, about encountering a woman alone at night while he was walking on the road, and being invited to her house to spend the night.
His reverie is interrupted by a flower seller, whom Stephen tells he has no money. He walks on and, when he arrives, he realizes it is too late for his French class, too. He goes in early to physics, instead. The physics hall is empty, except for the Dean of Studies, who is lighting a fire. The dean tells Stephen to pay attention, and learn the art of firestarting, one of the “useful arts.” Stephen watches silently. They begin comparing different conceptions of art and beauty. Stephen quotes Aquinas, and defines beauty as “that which, when seen, pleases us.” The priest asks Stephen when he plans to write his aesthetic theory, and Stephen humbly says he hopes to work up some ideas from Aristotle and Aquinas. Stephen begins to feel uncomfortable around the dean, and perceives the dean’s partial attention to what he is saying. They begin to casually debate the usage of the world “funnel,” which Stephen does not recognize because in Ireland it is called a “tundish.” The priest is English, and Stephen thinks his interest in the new word is feigned. Stephen tries to return to his original subject, and thinks with some distress that the language they are speaking is the dean’s national language, not his. Stephen becomes disheartened with their conversation, and the class begins to fill with students. The priest gives Stephen some conventional advice, and hurries away. Stephen stands at a distance and watches him greet the students.
When the professor comes in, the students respond with “Kentish fire”—a stomping of the feet which could represent either applause or impatience. The professor calls roll, and Stephen’s friend Cranly is not in class. A student named Moynihan sarcastically suggests that Cranly is at Leopardstown, a horse racing track. Stephen borrows a piece of notepaper from Moynihan, and idly begins to take notes. Moynihan whispers a ribald joke about “ellipsoidal balls,” which causes Stephen to imagine the faculty of the university playing and laughing like animals. A northern Irish student, MacAlister, asks a question, and Stephen thinks about how much he hates this student.
After class, as the students file into the hall, they encounter a student named MacCann who is gathering signatures for a political petition. Cranly, who is waiting outside for Stephen, says, in Latin, that he has signed the petition “for universal peace,” in support of Czar Nicholas II. He asks if Stephen is in a bad mood, and Stephen answers, “no.” When Moynihan walks by, makes a sarcastic comment about MacCann, and then proceeds to sign the petition, Cranly expresses his disgust. MacCann then sees and greets Stephen, gently teasing him for being late. Students begin to gather, anticipating a “war of wits.” MacCann asks Stephen to sign, and a “gipsy student” named Temple begins to talk about socialism and universal brotherhood. Stephen finally responds that he is not interested, and MacCann insults him by calling him a “minor poet.” Stephen tells then “keep your icon,” referring to the picture of the Czar, and begins to walk away with Temple following him. Cranly leads Temple and Stephen away.
As they talk, it is clear that Temple is annoying Cranly, who attacks him periodically, and pleads with Stephen to ignore Temple. They stop with Davin to watch handball, and Cranly becomes increasingly impatient with Temple. Though Temple appears undaunted by Cranly’s insults, he soon leaves. Stephen and Cranly then see their friend Lynch, and Cranly and Lynch begin to wrestle. Stephen asks Davin if he has signed the petition, and Davin nods yes. When Stephen says he hasn’t signed, Davin calls him a “born sneerer.” When Davin asks why he does not study Irish, Stephen implies that it is because Emma flirts with the teacher of the Irish course. They begin to discuss Stephen’s attitude toward Irish nationalism and culture. Stephen claims to want to “fly by” the “nets” of nationality, language, and religion.
Davin walks off to join Cranly and the handball players, and Stephen and Lynch walk away. They share a cigarette, and Stephen begins to explain his aesthetic theory to Lynch, who pretends to resist, claiming to be hung-over. Stephen defines “pity” and “terror” as they relate to tragedy, defining the “dramatic” and “esthetic” emotions as “static,” or arrested, “raised above desire and loathing.” Stephen feels that art should not excite “kinetic emotions” like desire, but should serve a more “detached” function, calling forth an “ideal pity” or “ideal desire.”
Lynch continues to listen to Stephen, although reluctantly, claiming that he doesn’t care about it. Stephen continues to define beauty, using Aquinas’ definition, as he did while speaking to the dean earlier. He then discusses the relation between beauty and truth, according to Plato and Aristotle. His discourse is interrupted first by a drag full of iron, then by another student, Donovan, who tells them about exam results, and the field club. As he leaves, Stephen continues to detail his concept of universal beauty, and its relation to perception, and artistic structure, with Lynch now egging him on. Stephen is concerned with what he calls the three basic forms of art: lyrical, epical and dramatic, and the interrelationship between them. Stephen’s picture of artistic creation is of the artist as a kind of God, indifferent to his creation, “paring his fingernails.”
As it starts to rain, they head to the library. Lynch tells Stephen that his “beloved” (presumably Emma) is there. He stands with the group silently, glancing at her from time to time. She ignores him, and soon leaves with her friends. Stephen is first bitter and resentful, but then wonders if he has judged her harshly.
As the next section begins, Stephen is waking up at dawn. He feels a seemingly divine inspiration, and begins almost spontaneously to compose lines of verse in his head. Fearing he may lose his inspiration, he gropes around and finds a pencil and cigarette pack, and writes down the first two stanzas of a villanelle. It is clear that he is thinking of Emma as he writes, and he begins to imagine himself singing songs to her. He recalls a brief exchange with her at a dance, and imagines himself as a heretical monk. He thinks of her flirting with a priest, and tells himself that he scorns her, though he admits that this is also a “form of homage.”
Having composed an entire villanelle, Stephen recalls writing a poem for her ten years before (in Chapter Two), after they rode the last tram home together. He imagines sending her the poem, and thinks of her family reading and mocking it over breakfast. He then corrects himself, and says that she is “innocent,” though still a “temptress.” The section ends with Stephen’s villanelle:
Are you not weary of ardent ways,
Lure of the fallen seraphim?
Tell no more of enchanted days.
Your eyes have set man’s heart ablaze
And you have had your will of him.
Are you not weary of ardent ways?
Above the flame the smoke of praise
Goes up from ocean rim to rim.
Tell no more of enchanted days.
Our broken cries and mournful lays
Rise in one eucharistic hymn.
Are you not weary of ardent ways?
While sacrificing hands upraise
The chalice flowing to the brim,
Tell no more of enchanted days.
And still you hold our longing gaze
With languorous look and lavish limb!
Are you not weary of ardent ways?
Tell no more of enchanted days.
In the next section, Stephen is standing on the library steps, watching birds in the sky. He is thinking about his mother, and his plans to leave the country. He thinks of a line from Yeats’ play The Countess Cathleen, and delights in the pleasurable sound of the words. He thinks with disgust of the opening night of the national theater, where the Dublin audience booed Yeats’ play.
Stephen goes inside and meets his friend Cranly, who is talking with a medical student named Dixon. A priest has gone to complain about their chatter, so they decide to leave. They encounter an old man they call “the captain,” who is known for his fondness for reading Sir Walter Scott. They encounter a group of students, with Temple at the center. They are joking around, for the most part, teasing Temple. Temple tries to engage Stephen into the discussion, asking if he believes in the law of heredity, while Cranly expresses his disgust. Temple says that he admits that he is a “ballocks,” but that Cranly is too, and won’t admit it. Emma walks past them, and greets Cranly casually. Stephen thinks of his friend Cranly, and wanders about, on the outskirts of the group thinking to himself. His reverie is interrupted as he picks a louse off his collar—his thoughts then revert to his despair about his impoverished state.
Stephen walks back to the group just as a student named Glynn has come out. They engage in further discussion, this time around the biblical phrase “suffer little children to come unto me.” Temple tries to engage the group in a theological debate, but they disregard him. He pursues this, until Cranly chases him away. Stephen tells Cranly he wants to speak with him, and they walk away together.
Cranly stops to say some parting words to the other students, and Stephen goes on ahead to wait. While waiting, he looks in the window of a hotel drawing room and thinks angrily of the “patricians” of Ireland. Stephen wonders how, with his art, he could “hit their conscience” or “cast his shadow over the imaginations of their daughters.”
He is soon joined by Cranly, and as they walk off arm in arm Cranly makes an angry remark about Temple. Stephen tells Cranly that he had an “unpleasant quarrel” with his mother over religion earlier that night. Mrs. Dedalus wants Stephen to observe his Easter duty, but he refuses to. Cranly calls Stephen an “excitable man” and warns him to “go easy.” Cranly ask Stephen if he believes in the Eucharist, and Stephen answers that he neither believes nor disbelieves, and does not wish to overcome his doubts. Cranly remarks that Stephen’s mind is “supersaturated” with the religion he professes to disbelieve.
When Cranly asks if Stephen was “happier” when he believed, Stephen responds by saying that he was “someone else” then. Cranly asks Stephen if he loves his mother, and Stephen says he does not understand the question. He says that he tried to love God, but is not sure if he succeeded. Cranly asks if Stephen’s mother has had a “happy life,” and Stephen responds, “how do I know?” Cranly asks about the Dedalus family’s economic history, and learns that they were once much wealthier than now. Cranly then supposes that Mrs. Dedalus has suffered much, and encourages Stephen to try to “save her from suffering more.” Cranly says that a mother’s love is the one sure thing in this world, and tells Stephen that this is more important than this “ideas and ambitions.”
Stephen counters by naming prominent intellectuals who placed their “ideas” before their mother’s love, and Cranly calls them all pigs. Stephen suggests that Jesus too treated his mother with “scant attention in public,” and Cranly replies that perhaps Jesus was “not who he pretended to be,” and that he was “a conscious hypocrite.” When Cranly asks if it shocked Stephen to hear him say this, Stephen admits that it did. Cranly asks him why a blasphemy would shock someone who professed not to believe, and Stephen replies that he is “not at all sure” that the Catholic religion is false. Stephen admits that part of the reason he will not take communion is because he fears that God might be real. Stephen then checks himself, saying that it is not the power of the Roman Catholic version of God that he fears, but the danger to his soul of committing false homage. When Cranly asks if he will now become a Protestant, Stephen replies dryly that he has not lost his self-respect.
They pass a servant singing in a kitchen as she sharpens knives, and they stop to listen. As they move on, Cranly asks Stephen if he considers the song she sang, “Rosie O’ Grady,” to be “poetry,” and Stephen replies that he would have to see Rosie before he could say. He then announces his plans to go away from Ireland. Cranly suggests that the church is not driving Stephen away, and that if he leaves he leaves of his own accord. He questions Stephen on some moral issues, and Stephen responds by saying that he will not serve any church or country, but will seek the freedom to express himself apart from these bonds. He says that he is not afraid to live alone, or to have made a “great,” eternal “mistake.” The section ends as Cranly asks Stephen how he could live with no friends at all. Stephen suspects that Cranly is thinking of himself, but when he asks Cranly does not answer.
The novel ends with excerpts from Stephen’s journal, beginning with an entry for the night following his conversation with Cranly. He writes about following women with Lynch, discussing religion with his mother (who claims he has a “queer mind” and that he reads too much), arguing about heresy with other students, and wondering what Emma is doing and thinking. He writes of his plans to leave, and he writes about a final encounter with Emma when he told her he was leaving. They shook hands, and Stephen concludes that it was “friendly.” He tells himself, however, that he is over his obsession. The journal ends as Stephen is about to depart—as he vows “to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of [his] soul the uncreated conscience of [his] race.”
If the novel had ended with Chapter Four, it would have been an unambiguous climax, an affirmation of Stephen’s artistic vision. Such an ending would, however, have left many important questions unanswered. How would Stephen reconcile his new vision for his life with the reality of his surroundings? After all, we might say, deciding to become an artist does not make you an artist. By including Chapter Five, Joyce makes Stephen’s vision more realistic. By showing the day-to-day reality the artist will still have to face, we are given a sense of how Stephen’s newly understood role will play out in his life—we can see how he attempts to live up to his new ideal. Though the tone of this chapter is harder to gauge perhaps than the ending of Chapter Four—there are many instances where we suspect that Stephen is being treated somewhat ironically by the narrator—Chapter Five represents the culmination of the main themes of the novel. In this chapter we read about Stephen’s developing aesthetic or artistic theory, we see the first example of his own artistic composition, and we hear of his preparation to leave Ireland for Europe.
In Chapter Five, Stephen fully articulates and defends his conception of what it takes to be an artist, and we see him progress further toward assuming and embracing the role of solitary exile which we have seen him tending toward all along. Though this chapter consists of a good deal of dialogue—Stephen speaks with others more than in any other chapter of the novel—these conversations serve to gradually set him further and further apart from his surroundings. In them, Stephen articulates his need to be alone, free of the “nets” of family, religion, and nation. As the chapter, and the novel, ends, we have Stephen’s voice all alone, addressing himself in the form of a journal, unmediated by any narrative presence. Over the course of this chapter Stephen moves closer to the solitude he deems necessary for artistic creation.
As with other chapters previously, the opening pages of Chapter Five serve as an abrupt anticlimax after the triumphant and inspired tone in which Chapter Four ended. We have already recognized that of all the potential climaxes of the novel, Stephen’s artistic awakening in Chapter Four seems least prone to the narrator’s irony. In Joyce’s novel, the ideal of a “climax” is not the same as in more conventional fiction, where the climax is defined by the progression and culmination of a plot. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, all the significant “action” is internal, and therefore the climax of the novel will be in the form of a significant moment for the protagonist—a moment of “epiphany.” The moment where Stephen decides he must reject his country and his religion in the name of art, when he begins to perceive his life in symbolic terms and therefore to “understand” the significance of his name, is clearly a pivotal and climactic moment in the novel—one on which our ultimate understanding of Stephen’s character rests. However, this tone of triumph is sobered dramatically as Chapter Five begins.
The language with which the narrator describes Stephen at breakfast is dismal and depersonalized:
He drained his third cup of watery tea to the dregs and set to chewing the crusts of fried bread that were scattered near him, staring into the dark pool of the jar. The yellow dripping had been scooped out like a boghole….
The way his eating is described makes it seem mechanical and numb—he “drains” the cup of tea, and “sets to chewing” the crusts of bread. The sense of images in this opening paragraph are all rather unpleasant—the “dark pool,” “yellow drippings,” and “boghole” are all distinctly unappetizing. We are reminded that the family is in dire economic shape by the pawning tickets on the table—Mr. Dedalus has made some of them out under false names, presumably out of shame. These first pages represent a marked drop in intensity from the previous chapter.
There is some suggestion in these opening pages that Stephen has perhaps not grown past the trappings of his surroundings at all, and that indeed he has regressed. In the first paragraph, we are told that the contents of the jar remind him of “the dark turfcoloured water of the bath in Clongowes, and we recall Stephen’s younger days in the first chapter. By pulling our attention backwards in this way, after the forward-looking ending of the previous chapter, the narrator reminds us of Stephen’s past, and how illusory some other “awakenings” have proven. This is further emphasized as Stephen’s mother must remind him of the time, chastise him for being late for class, and even wash his face and neck for him.
His lackadaisical attitude toward his classes might seem at odds with the “new adventures” the university represented to him in the previous chapter. While Stephen’s idleness and casualness at the start of the chapter might on the one hand seem like laziness or lack of energy, it also suggests a kind of patience, an attitude of inner peace and calm in the midst of his chaotic surroundings. For it is apparent that the effects of the previous chapter’s climax are still active in Stephen’s mind. There is a distinct sense, which Stephen shares, that his surroundings are holding him back, and this is the reason for the anticlimax in this chapter. It is not the case, as before, that we feel that Stephen is somehow deluded. When we saw how his religious fervor deteriorated into a dry and lifeless routine, our sense was that Stephen did not recognize this, and that the narrator was, through his choice of language, showing us that Stephen was deluded. The difference in Chapter Five is that Stephen understands that his surroundings are profoundly at odds with his conception of himself as an artist. The major substance of this chapter consists of Stephen attempting to change the squalid circumstances of his life by leaving. His daily existence then becomes a kind of challenge to his will, a test of his convictions.
That the ideals of his artistic awakening are still fully present in Stephen’s mind is made clear as he leaves his house. He hears a mad nun wailing in an insane asylum, and his reaction symbolically leaves religion and family behind:
—Jesus! O Jesus! Jesus!
He shook the sound out of his ears by an angry toss of his head and hurried on, stumbling though the mouldering offal, his heart already bitten by an ache of loathing and bitterness. His father’s whistle, his mother’s mutterings, the screech of an unseen maniac were to him now so many voices offending and threatening to humble the pride of his youth. He drove their echoes even out of his heart with an execration….
He can now reduce the effects of the “voices” of family and church to simple personal threats—threats to his freedom, which he attempts to shake away with an “angry toss of the head.” This chapter represents Stephen’s articulation and defense of his motives and methods for seeking to distance himself from all such obligations. The calmness and quite priestlike seriousness with which he conducts himself around his friends should not be understood as a lazy kind of idleness, but rather as an attitude of patience in preparation for his life’s calling. Stephen attempts to assume such a detached and disengaged posture because this is how he conceives of the proper attitude of artists in relation to their surroundings.
Stephen’s artistic conversion, as he understands it, means that he must try and set himself apart form national, political, religious, and familial concerns. We have such a clear understanding of Stephen’s conviction on this point because a large portion of this chapter consists of Stephen engaged in a series of significant conversations in which he defines and defends his understanding of art and its purpose, his attitude toward his country and toward political concerns, and his attitude toward his family and religion. Whereas he had been a silent observer for the greater part of the novel up to this point, now Stephen is portrayed as a relentless talker, sounding off about his developing theory of aesthetics to anyone who will listen. Four such significant conversations are the structuring principle of this chapter. We understand crucial aspects of Stephen’s point of view, as well as some serious objections to it, through the conversations he has with the dean of studies, Davin, Lynch, and, most importantly, Cranly.
Stephen’s conversation with the dean of studies reveals a marked change in his attitude toward authority figures once again. Priests have occupied a role of religious and practical authority for Stephen throughout the novel, though, as we observed in the last chapter, his attitude toward them had been changing of late. The subtle dissatisfaction he had felt with the Jesuits in general is now manifest in an almost condescending attitude toward the dean, who is for Stephen supposed to be a figure of academic as well as religious authority. As the dean promises to teach Stephen the art of lighting a fire, Stephen reflects to himself that the dean seems fawning and servile:
Kneeling thus on the flagstone to kindle the fire and busied with the disposition of the wisps of paper and candelbutts he seemed more than ever a humble server making ready the place of sacrifice in an empty temple, a levite of the Lord. …His very body had waxed old in lowly service of the Lord…and yet had remained ungraced by aught of saintly or of prelatic beauty.
Stephen now sees no value in such servitude—indeed, the theme of this chapter for him is an attempt to separate himself from all sorts of service to others. His disdain for the priest’s air of servitude recalls his reaction to the “droll statue” of the national poet of Ireland on his way to class, in which he detects “sloth of the body and of the soul,” and a “servile head…humbly conscious of its indignity.” Stephen is now eager both to judge, and to set himself apart from, figures of authority both in the artistic and religious realms.
Stephen’s attitude toward the dean during their brief discussion is one of polite impatience, almost condescension. While he sets the dean up in his mind as an example of all that is wrong with the priesthood, there is much about this man’s manner in particular which irritates Stephen. When the dean invites him to learn one of the “useful” arts, this sets up Stephen’s discourse about aesthetics perfectly, since his conception, as we will see, is that “usefulness” is not one of the proper purposes for art. The priest asks Stephen how he would define the “beautiful,” and Stephen quotes Aquinas—“beauty is that which, when seen, pleases us.” The dean encourages Stephen to pursue these questions, and to write something on them, but his responses to Stephen indicate that he is not especially interested. He is noncommittal and unconvincing in his remarks. When the dean says, “Quite so, you have certainly hit the nail on the head,” or, “I see. I quite see your point,” we are not at all convinced that he either understands or is interested. We can perhaps read his words of encouragement more as a somewhat perfunctory exercise of his duties as dean of the university. Stephen seems to perceive this, and eventually loses interest in the conversation. The dean does not function for Stephen here as an intellectual peer to engage and interact with in a discussion of ideas. Rather, Stephen takes this opportunity to speak about himself and his interests (an opportunity, as we will see, that he rarely passes up), and we can tell by his private responses to the dean that he is never seriously considering the dean’s remarks, but rather using him as an example of the priesthood in general.
Part of Stephen’s feeling of distance from the dean seems to come from the fact that the dean is English. When the dean uses the word “funnel,” Stephen says that he has not heard this word before. Stephen calls this a “tundish,” a word the priest claims not to have heard before. The priest concludes that “tundish” must be the Irish word for the English “funnel,” and he offers a halfhearted interest in the question, claiming, “That is a most interesting word. I must look that word up. Upon my word I must.” This marks a turning point in Stephen’s attitude toward the priest, as he becomes less patient, and effectively stops the conversation. This apparently is a nationalistic issue for Stephen, as he reflects to himself:
—The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language.
Stephen seems to be voicing his anxiety over the fact that the Irish people, as a whole, no longer speak the Irish language. The priest then would be a representative of the conquering country, England.
These quasi-nationalistic sentiments certainly seem uncharacteristic of Stephen. English, we might say, has not seemed “uncomfortable” for him before—it was the English language in fact which he found so beautiful and rhythmic at the end of Chapter Four. Rather than take this passage at face value, as representative of Stephen’s true feelings toward the language question, it is more likely that he is finding reasons to dislike the priest. The funnel/ tundish debate seems to bring the issue of nationality to the foreground, but Stephen had been getting impatient with the priest’s noncommittal politeness before this. The issue stays on his mind, however, as we learn in his journal that he has looked up “tundish,” and found it to be an English word after all. Stephen’s resentment toward the priest as it is expressed in the journal seems more personally than nationally motivated: “Damn the dean of studies and his funnel! What did he come here for to teach us his own language or to learn it from us? Damn him one way or the other.”
On the same day as this conflict with the dean, we see Stephen discussing this very question with his friend Davin. Davin comes from the country, in the west of Ireland, and represents Irish nationalism in the novel—he seeks both political and cultural independence for Ireland, and believes that it is people’s foremost responsibility to serve their country. In the brief conversation between Stephen and Davin, we get a clear and useful exposition of Stephen’s point of view on these issues, which is consistent with his intention to remain detached from all external responsibilities.
Stephen calls Davin a “tame little goose” for signing the petition, thus equating his nationalistic ideals with subservience. Stephen is especially prone to recognize and condemn subservience lately, as he implies that Davin’s enthusiasm for Irish independence is on the same scale as the bowing and fawning servitude he saw in the dean. Davin, on the other hand, criticizes Stephen as a “sneerer,” indicating his dissatisfaction with Stephen’s pose of detachment. A “sneerer” would not consider the issues at stake carefully, but would criticize from a safe distance. In Davin’s view, to be Irish is not merely hereditary or racial—it necessarily involves a responsibility to the cause of the Irish people, and a love for the Irish culture and language. He asks Stephen, “Are you Irish at all?” When Stephen offers to show him his family tree to prove it, Davin’s response is, “Then be one of us.” To be Irish means to demonstrate your affiliation through your actions. When he asks Stephen why he dropped out of a class on Irish language and culture, Stephen indicates that “one reason” is because Emma was flirting with the priest who teaches the class. His other remarks indicate, however, that his objections run much deeper—Stephen is not very interested in Irish culture, and especially Irish nationalism. Stephen expresses his view of the situation in the following exchange:
—This race and this country and this life produced me, he said. I shall express myself as I am.
—Try to be one of us, repeated Davin. In your heart you are an Irishman but your pride is too powerful.
—My ancestors threw off their language and took another, Stephen said. They allowed a handful of foreigners to subject them. Do you fancy I am going to pay in my life and person debts they made? What for?
Stephen perceives the Irish as “subjects” to another power—a situation that he cannot abide. He feels that his ancestors made the mistake, and that it should not be for him, as an individual, to pay for it. Stephen accepts the political (and therefore linguistic) circumstances of his birth and, far from feeling any responsibility on this count, seeks rather to escape the constraints these circumstances impose upon the individual:
When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.
We can read Davin’s response to this proclamation—“Too deep for me, Stevie”—in at least two ways: either as a “serious” expression of bafflement (which would fit into Stephen’s sentimental picture of him as a simple peasant), or as a critique of Stephen’s extreme pose of detachment. Perhaps Davin is saying that to be “deep,” in this case, is not necessarily good, if it causes one to avoid all immediate responsibilities.
Whereas Davin challenges Stephen, and provides a serious foil to his point of view, Stephen apparently finds a much more receptive audience in Lynch, whom he speaks with extensively just after his conversation with Davin. Though Lynch seems to be a more receptive audience, he is actually only a more appealing version of the dean. He playfully resists Stephen’s “lecture,” claiming that he has a hangover, and never seems particularly interested in the question of aesthetic value which Stephen is so fascinated by. His sarcastic commentary is his version of the dean’s polite pretensions of being interested. There is the sense that no one will argue extensively with Stephen on these points because aesthetic questions are not as important to anyone else as to him.
Stephen’s conversation with Lynch is more like a lecture, or a monologue, than a dialogue in earnest. Stephen is espousing his aesthetic theory, while Lynch serves as the opportunity for Stephen to talk. His contributions to the conversation are in the form of crude jokes, mock protestations, and halfhearted objections. Their long conversations, while they walk through Dublin on the way to the library, represents Stephen’s intellectual development up to this point—he gives a detailed exposition of his aesthetic theory, which is impressive in its scope and sophistication.
Stephen is seeking both to define beauty and the concept of the beautiful, and to define the proper place of the artist in relation to his or her creation. Stephen bases his definition of beauty mostly on the work of Aristotle and Aquinas. He describes it as a “static” emotion—the beautiful does not evoke the “kinetic” emotions of desire or loathing, but exists outside of this realm in a state of purity.
Stephen’s view emphasizes the structure, wholeness, and harmony of a piece of art, and asserts that we can in fact define the “necessary qualities of beauty” despite the fact that different people in different cultures perceive and appreciate different qualities as beautiful:
Though the same object may not seem beautiful to all people, all people who admire a beautiful object find in it certain relations which satisfy and coincide with the stages themselves of all esthetic apprehension.
Stephen identifies three essential forms of art: the lyrical, epical, and dramatic. Stephen values the dramatic most highly, in which the author is most removed from the work of art, when the “personality of the artist…finally refines itself out of existence.” Stephen’s ideal image of the artist is:
Like the God of the creation, [who] remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.
This passage is often cited as Joyce’s own credo of artistic creation, although, paradoxically, this would be used to warn us against identifying Joyce with his fictional self, Stephen Dedalus, too completely. Here we see how Stephen can justify his rejection of national and political concerns in favor of his pose of detachment. In his conception, the duty of the artist is first to the unity and beauty of the work of art itself—the less the personality (and therefore the political or religious agenda) of the artist comes into play, the better.
The seriousness with which Stephen’s sophisticated system of aesthetics is presented to undercut significantly, however, by Lynch’s persistently crude and sarcastic humor, and his only partial engagement with Stephen’s monologue. Stephen seems to like Lynch, however, perhaps because he will not challenge Stephen’s assertions the way Davin or Cranly will. As soon as their conversation begins, Stephen recognizes with pleasure evidence of Lynch’s “culture”:
—Damn your yellow insolence, answered Lynch.
This second proof of Lynch’s culture made Stephen smile again.
—It was a great day for European culture, he said, when you made up your mind to swear in yellow.
Apparently Lynch is more cultured than Davin, which encourages Stephen that he will be a better (less hostile) audience, although Stephen’s evidence for considering him cultured amounts to nothing more than the fact that he curses in a literary way.
Earlier, Stephen had been offended by the sound of Cranly’s accent, associating it with all that is ugly and unpleasant about Dublin:
Cranly’s speech, unlike that of Davin, had neither rare phrases of Elizabethan English nor quaintly turned versions of Irish idioms. Its drawl was an echo of the quays of Dublin given back by a bleak decaying seaport, its energy an echo of the sacred eloquence of Dublin given back flatly by a Wicklow pulpit.
Surely Davin’s speech, though “quaint,” is not “cultured,” and neither is Cranly’s. However, from what we can tell, Lynch’s “culture” amounts to a habitual repetition of stock literary phrases, in order to curse. Lynch’s appeal is as artificial as Cranly’s offense. In neither case is Stephen interested in the substance of the person, but in how good they sound. After Stephen remarks about how fond he is of Lynch “cursing in yellow,” almost every remark out of Lynch’s mouth involves some variation on “yellow.” Stephen exercises a certain amount of control over Lynch, and seems to have his respect. But the overall sense is that this is still something of a joke to Lynch; he still seems like little more than Stephen’s “yes man.” When Stephen finishes a long tirade, and Lynch does not reply right away, he imagines “that his words had called up around them a thought enchanted silence.” The narrator is clear to phrase this as Stephen’s perception of the scene; we may suspect, instead, that Lynch merely has not been paying attention.
In his conversation with Cranly, which marks the end of the narrative proper, Stephen finds a much more challenging audience. There is the distinct sense that Stephen values Cranly as a friend whose opinion is important. In their dialogue, there is none of the condescension which characterized Stephen’s attitude toward Davin, Lynch, and even the dean of studies. Cranly is not afraid to be directly critical of Stephen’s ideas and actions, and he raises significant and considerable objections to Stephen’s plan to forsake his country and family in favor of art. Stephen recognizes a certain connection between the two of them early in their conversation:
Their minds, lately estranged, seemed suddenly to have been drawn closer together, one to the other.
Cranly is perhaps the first person in the novel who Stephen seems to engage with on equal terms—earlier in the novel he had been intimidated by his peers and authority figures, and later in the novel he generally feels superior to both his peers and authority figures.
Cranly raises humanistic objections to Stephen’s plan, trying to show him how his rejection of church and family will cut him off from those close to him. For Cranly, it is not a matter of rejecting “religion” or “family” or “nation” in the abstract—he reminds Stephen of the real people who will be hurt by his actions. Cranly tries to turn Stephen’s attention away from the abstract principle (which Stephen expresses by quoting Lucifer, “I will not serve”) and toward a more practical and human level. Stephen does not view his quarrel with his mother in terms of her feelings—from his point of view, she is asking him to observe a false homage, a move which his integrity of soul cannot abide. Cranly urges him to consider how much she has suffered in her life, and how Stephen, by compromising and observing his Easter duty, can reduce her suffering a little. When Cranly asks him, however, if he loves his mother, Stephen claims not to understand the question. Just as Stephen tried and failed to love God, he has not been able to feel any meaningful connection with any people in his life, family or otherwise. His one-sided obsession with Emma can hardly be called “love,” and his relationship with his family is, by now, as distant and detached as can be. When Cranly asks Stephen if his mother has had “a happy life,” Stephen responds honestly “How do I know?” It is clear that her feelings do not come into play in his decision not to observe Easter—it is a personal matter, that has to do in his mind with his rejection of the Catholic church. Cranly’s sentimental language of human compassion provides a stark contrast to Stephen’s self-centered ethic of isolation and individualism:
—Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world a mother’s love is not. Your mother brings you into the world, carries your first in her body. What do we know about what she feels? But whatever she feels, it, at least, must be real. It must be. What are our ideas and ambitions? Play. Ideas! Why, that bloody bleating goat Temple has ideas. MacCann has ideas too. Every Jackass going the roads thinks he has ideas.
Cranly tries to appeal to Stephen’s (or the reader’s) sentimentality. He attempts to deflate Stephen’s emphasis on the unassailable virtue of an individual pursuing his destiny outside of all society by claiming that this is not so unique, that everyone thinks his or her ideas are most important. Stephen, however, appears unaffected, and quickly moves the discussion away from himself and to the subject of other famous intellectuals in history who have offended their mothers. Cranly, however, offers a perceptive critique of Stephen’s assumed pose of detachment, one which many readers will take to heart.
Cranly also challenges Stephen on the more abstract, theological and philosophical bases for his rejection of Catholicism. When Stephen assumes his pose of detachment, relishing the role of religious rebel by saying he “neither believe(s) nor disbelieve(s),” and “do(es) not want to overcome“ his doubts, Cranly points out that Stephen’s mind is “supersaturated” with the tenents of Catholicism. Stephen cannot set himself fully outside the structure of the church, because his pose of detachment is compromised by his long history in the church. His disbelief then is necessarily rebellious, and not disinterested and detached, since he very recently did believe. While Stephen claims that he “was someone else then,” there are many indications that he is perhaps not so changed from the days when he was a believer. His conception of himself and his “mission” as an artist uses the language of the priesthood. He admits that his intellectual interests make his mind a “cloister,” and cut him off from the outside world just as much as the priesthood would have.
The hold the Catholic church still has upon his mind, despite his rejection of its tenets, is made clear as Stephen admits that he is not “sure” that the religion is “false,” and this is part of the reason he refuses to take communion falsely. Stephen admits that he still has a certain fear of blasphemy, although he quickly checks himself and says, “I fear more than that the chemical action which would be set up in my soul by a false homage to a symbol behind which are massed twenty centuries of authority and veneration,” asserting his devotion to a personal ethic which would be morally superior to the church.
Stephen’s “supersaturation” with Catholicism, despite his apparent rejection of it, is demonstrated by his reaction to Cranly’s blasphemy. When Cranly suggests that Jesus was “a conscious hypocrite,” and “not what he pretended to be,” Stephen admits that he was “somewhat” shocked to hear Cranly say this. When Cranly asks if this is why he will not take communion, because he feels and fears that God might indeed be real, Stephen admits that this is true. It seems that Cranly is really affecting Stephen here. He seems to puncture Stephen’s pose of indifference and nonchalant rebellion, showing that Stephen is still profoundly affected by the religion he claims to reject. However, Stephen’s tone is difficult to gauge here. He quickly checks himself, claiming “I fear many things: dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, machinery, the country road at night.” He tries to lump his lingering fear of God in with other “irrational” fears.
When Stephen announces his plans to leave Ireland, Cranly is quick to point out that the church is not driving Stephen away, but that he is leaving of his own accord. When Stephen says that he “has to” go, Cranly replies, “You need not look upon yourself as driven away if you do not wish to go or as a heretic or an outlaw.” Cranly is saying that Stephen is assuming this role of exile himself, that he seems to want to be a heretic or outlaw. This, as we know, is largely true. Stephen’s conception of the artist is that he must live free of all familial, patriotic and religious obligations, and he now sees Europe as the place where this is possible. Near the end of their conversation, Stephen repeats his credo again:
I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use—silence, exile, and cunning.
Stephen’s emphasis is all on himself—he detaches himself from any obligation by dismissing his family, religion, and country as something which might “call itself” home, fatherland, or church. Stephen sees himself not necessarily as “driven away,” although it is clearly necessary, for him to fulfill his vision of art, to remove himself from the circumstance, the “nets,” of his birth. Cranly has pointed out, throughout their discussion, the ways this is selfish and insensitive. When he suggests that Stephen, by doing so, will alienate himself from others permanently, that he will “have not even one friend,” Stephen appears unaffected. As we know, he has been alone his whole life.
Although Cranly seems to raise some serious objections, and Stephen seems to respect his point of view profoundly, we can see from his first journal entry that he has not taken Cranly’s remarks to heart. Stephen’s account of the situation is superficial:
Long talk with Cranly on the subject of my revolt. He had his grand manner on. I supple and suave. Attacked me on the score of love for one’s mother.
Stephen describes it as if they both had been play-acting, rather than talking about issues of real consequence in both of their lives. He is more interested in Cranly’s “grand manner,” and proud of his own appearance of being “supple and sauve,” than any of the issues their discussion raised. Cranly’s passionate appeal in favor of Mrs. Dedalus’ suffering, and her love for her son, is reduced to a depersonalized move in a formal debate: “attacked me on the score of love for one’s mother.” Stephen shows no evidence that this conversation, which voices many reasonable and serious objections to Stephen’s plan of “revolt,” has had any affect on him whatsoever. It is as if his mind has been made up throughout the chapter, and it shows no tendency to change now.
Stephen in his journals appears superficial and affected. He is not afraid to be alone, and has by now embraced the role of exile fully. His brief and unemotional account of his conversation with Cranly shows how his perception is limited, and we may indeed wonder what kind of artist he will be if he has no conception of human affection or connection. His act of creation, the centerpiece of Chapter Five, bears this out. He wakes up, and almost spontaneously composes a villanelle. We have already seen him in the role of art critic, or aesthetic theorist. This is the first evidence of Stephen as artist in the novel.
Stephen’s artistic inspiration is presented in religious or spiritual terms—his mind is portrayed as “pregnancy” with inspiration that came from a mysterious, divine source:
In the virgin womb of the imagination the word was made flesh. Gabriel the seraph had come to the virgin’s chamber.
He imagines himself like the Virgin Mary, and while he continues to compose the poem in his head he imagines “smoke, incense ascending from the altar of the world.” As Cranly will suggest, Stephen’s mind is indeed still “supersaturated” with religion, and this language suggests that in some ways his new life may not be so radically transformed from his former life. He imagines himself “a priest of eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everlasting life”—his act of creation seems to give him the same kind of power he dreamed he would have as a priest.
The “subject” of his poem is presumably Emma, although the way he imagines her while he is composing suggests how much their “relationship” exists only in his mind. As with the poem he composed for her ten years earlier, the villanelle is highly abstract, and seems to be “about” or “for” her in only the most indirect way. In some ways, his composition is quite impressive. Stephen shows a definite sensitivity to the sounds of the words, and a villanelle is a rigid and strict form—using only two rhymes, repeating the lines in a regular pattern for five three-line stanzas and a quatrain. The villanelle requires discipline, skill, and control, and gains its effects more from the formal interplay of sound and repetition than it does from emotion or passion. Therefore, Stephen’s first poem is abstract, symbolic, and clearly removed from anything in his immediate life. Just as his first attempt, ten years earlier, had failed by being too far removed from the situation which had inspired it, this poem, too, is emotionally flat and detached from life. Stephen, it appears, has little conception of human love or emotion, and his art serves the purpose of removing him from daily life into the realm of fantasy and escape, sound without sense. While his poem is a somewhat impressive technical and formal achievement, we may wonder if Stephen’s rigid code of individualism will cause him to suffer as an artist.
In the journal entries at the end of the novel, we have Stephen’s voice directly, without the potentially ironic narrator. Over the course of the chapter we have seen him gradually become more and more alone, and this is emphasized by the univocal final pages, where Stephen is essentially “talking to himself.” His tone is somewhat dramatic, and it is clear that the defense mechanisms and affectations we recognized in his interactions with his peers tend to carry over into the journals, too. However, there is a definite eagerness in the passages where he anticipates his flight to Europe. At the end of the novel, we see the young man, whom we have followed since early childhood, now an “artist,” eager to leave his dreary homeland behind in favor of life, art and experience:
26 April: Mother is putting my new secondhand clothes in order. She prays now, she says, that I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the heart is and what it feels. Amen. So be it. Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.
27 April: Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.
The novel in Stephen’s voice, seems to end on an optimistic and forward-looking note. Most of the novel has been about rejection—Stephen has had to reject the “nets” which Dublin and Catholicism have laid upon him at birth. But his attitude now is of expectation and anticipation. Our sense is that “experience” and “life” lies elsewhere, in Europe, and that his art will feed on these. Although the narrator has been puncturing his “epiphanies” throughout, here we just have Stephen’s voice in what seems to be an unambiguous affirmation. But the narration’s ironies, and in particular Cranly’s objections, have not been forgotten by this point, giving us a complicated and multifaceted picture of the artist. We can see many of Stephen’s shortcomings, but we can also recognize in him a definite skill and ambition. We may feel, as the novel ends, that he will go off and succeed in Europe, experiencing life and creating life. Or, we may feel that this is the common delusion of youth, that, as Cranly puts it, “everyone has ideas,” and we have no reason to believe that Stephen Dedalus is special. If we are willing to look outside of the text, we will see that in Joyce’s next novel, Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus is back in Dublin—he has returned for his mother’s funeral and ended up staying in town for months. In light of this later novel, the ending of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man will perhaps seem to be “punctured” much as the climaxes of the individual chapters were. The symbolism he recognizes in his name suggests both the need for flight or escape, as well as the potential hazards—Icarus, Daedalus’ son, flew too high and his wings were melted by the sun. The ending of the novel is suggestively ambiguous—we may see Stephen in either, or indeed both, of these ways.
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