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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

by James Joyce

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Last Updated on May 19, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 652

Stephen Dedalus

Stephen Dedalus, a young man who is, like his creator, sensitive, proud, and highly intelligent, but often confused in his attempts to understand the Irish national temperament. He is bewildered and buffeted about in a world of political unrest, theological discord, and economic decline. In this environment, he attempts to resolve for himself the problems of faith, morality, and art. At the end, feeling himself cut off from nation, religion, and family, he decides to leave Ireland in order to seek his own fulfillment as an artist, the artificer that his name suggests.

Simon Dedalus

Simon Dedalus, an easygoing, talkative, patriotic Irishman who reveres the memory of nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell. During his lifetime he has engaged in many activities, as a medical student, an actor, an investor, and a tax-gatherer, among others; but he has failed in everything he has tried. Stephen Dedalus’ realization that his father is self-deluded and shiftless contributes greatly to the boy’s growing disillusionment and unrest. Simon is almost the stereotyped, eloquent Irishman who drinks much more than is good for him.

Mrs. Dedalus

Mrs. Dedalus, a worn, quiet woman who remains a shadowy background figure in the novel. She is a woman of deep faith; her son’s repudiation of religious belief becomes a source of anxiety and grief adding to her other cares.

Mrs. Dante Riordan

Mrs. Dante Riordan, Stephen Dedalus’ aunt. An energetic defender of anything Catholic, she despises anyone whose views are opposed to her own. Her special targets are certain Irish patriots, particularly Parnell, and all enemies of priests. Her violent arguments with Simon Dedalus on politics and religion make a profound impression on young Stephen.

Eileen Vance

Eileen Vance, Stephen Dedalus’ childhood love. He is not allowed to play with the little girl because she is a Protestant.

E——— C———

E——— C———, called Emma Clery in another manuscript but in this novel more the embodied image of Stephen Dedalus’ romantic fancies and fantasies than a real person. She is the girl to whom he addresses his love poems.


Davin, a student at University College and the friend of Stephen Dedalus. He is athletic, emotionally moved by ancient Irish myth, and obedient to the Church. To Stephen, he personifies country, religion, and the dead romantic past, the forces in the national life that Stephen is trying to escape.


Lynch, an intelligent but irreverent student at University College. During a walk in the rain, Stephen Dedalus tries to explain to Lynch his own views on art. Stephen’s explanation of lyrical, epical, and dramatic literary forms helps to illuminate Joyce’s own career as a writer.


Cranly, a student at University College. A casuist, he serves as an intellectual foil to Stephen Dedalus. To him, Stephen confides his decision not to find his vocation in the Church and the reasons for his inability to accept its rituals or even to believe its teachings.

Father Arnall

Father Arnall, a Jesuit teacher at Clongowes Wood School. While Stephen Dedalus is attending Belvedere College, during a religious retreat, Father Arnall preaches an eloquent sermon on the sin of Lucifer and his fall. The sermon moves Stephen so deeply that he experiences a religious crisis, renounces all pleasures of the flesh, and for a time contemplates becoming a priest.

Father Dolan

Father Dolan, the prefect of studies at Clongowes Wood School. A strict disciplinarian, he punishes Stephen Dedalus unjustly after the boy has broken his glasses and is unable to study. The beating he administers causes Stephen’s first feeling of rebellion against priests.

Uncle Charles

Uncle Charles, Stephen Dedalus’ great-uncle, a gentle,...

(This entire section contains 652 words.)

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hearty old man employed to carry messages. When Stephen is a small boy, he accompanies Uncle Charles on his errands.

Nasty Roche

Nasty Roche, a student at Clongowes Wood School. His mocking reference to Stephen Dedalus’ name gives Stephen his first impression of being different or alienated.

Character Development

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1078

Of all the characters in the novel, Stephen Dedalus is the only one whose portrait is fully realized. His most intimate thoughts, memories and sensations are revealed to us throughout; all the other characters exist for the reader only insofar as they matter to Stephen. Joyce's self-portrait is a complex one, inviting us to sympathize with Stephen while also causing us to regard him more critically, and even laugh at him. The little boy wrongly punished by Father Dolan for failing to copy out his Latin themes or falling ill after being shouldered into the ditch by Wells is likely to have our sympathy. Less sympathetic is the saintly youth whose absurd devotions betray a high degree of egotism and whose abstract meditations on the nature of love have no positive bearing whatsoever on his relationships with others; or the pretentious university student propounding his aesthetic theories at great length to poor Lynch, an unwilling and barely interested auditor, who makes jokes throughout, which the pedantic and humorless Stephen ignores.

Stephen tends to view his life in terms of a heroic struggle to free himself from the various confinements he feels his native city imposes upon him—the "nets" of politics, religion and family. Throughout, though, Stephen's inflated sense of himself is subtly undercut by Joyce, who provides many reminders of the flaws and inadequacies in Stephen's character that the young man himself fails to perceive.

Stephen identifies with the classical hero whose name he bears, but he is more like the son Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and came crashing down into the sea, than the father Daedalus, whose cunning enabled him to forge the wings that permitted his escape from Minos's prison. Stephen's actual father, Simon Dedalus, is an important figure in the early parts of the novel, and Stephen's gradual detachment from him reveals much about his growing emotional isolation from his place of birth. Simon Dedalus looms very large in the world of Stephen's youth as we see it in the novel's opening chapter: his story about the moocow opens the novel, and the advice he offers his son as he sends him off to Clongowes ("never peach on a fellow") is accepted by the son as all-important and beyond question. As Stephen grows older, though, his father stands in a less kindly light. During the disastrous Christmas dinner, Simon Dedalus breaks down in tears when he recalls the death of Parnell, the role of the Roman Catholic Church in his leader's downfall and the frustration of his republican hopes. By the time Stephen accompanies his father to Cork, Simon Dedalus appears bound to a nostalgic and alcohol-soaked vision of the past, while his life in the present gradually crumbles around him. By the end of the novel Stephen regards his father as little more than a vaguely interesting specimen.

Stephen's mother is a dim presence in the novel, but an important one for what she reveals about her son: his lack of basic kindness and his cruelty born of a sense of his own superiority. She also figures prominently in the beginning of the book; however, this, too, is a relationship that will fade, as Stephen grows older. The Catholic beliefs to which she faithfully adheres become a barrier between mother and son after Stephen vehemently rejects that faith. His education further distances him from her, making her mistrustful of him. However, while Stephen's father is portrayed in increasingly negative terms, his mother remains a sympathetic figure, whose attempts to keep the peace during the Christmas dinner battle between Simon, Dante and Mr. Casey are suggestive of her life-long struggle with a difficult husband in trying circumstances. Cranly says to Stephen at one point, "Your mother must have gone through a good deal of suffering." It is telling that this assessment does not come from Stephen himself.

As is the case with his parents, the fond portrait of Dante with which the novel begins is sharply revised later on. Stephen's earliest recollections are of a generous, motherly figure, but her two velvet-backed brushes, maroon for Michael Davitt and green for Parnell, foreshadow the religious and political strife that will disrupt the family's Christmas dinner a few years hence. In that scene, Dante appears cruelly inflexible in her rejection of the fallen Parnell and her adherence to the Church that helped bring him down. Stephen himself will demonstrate a similar inflexibility later on, during both his pious phase and his later refusal to make any concessions to the Church to which his mother remains devoted.

During Stephen's years at Clongowes, the figures who stand out most are the Jesuit priests who run the school, particularly the rector, Father Conmee, his Latin master, Father Arnall, and the authoritarian prefect of studies, Father Dolan, who punishes Stephen harshly and unjustly. This injustice appears more than compensated for by Stephen's experience of the benevolent authority of Father Conmee, which makes a profound impression upon the boy, certainly influencing his later consideration of the Roman Catholic priesthood.

As Stephen grows older and becomes more self-absorbed, the characters around him (his fellow students Cranly, Dixon, Davin, Lynch, Temple and MacCann) are left standing in a haze surrounding him, emerging only during occasional verbal exchanges. They do help reveal Stephen's character, though. Cranly offers the telling assessment of Stephen's mother's unhappy life while Stephen basks in his principled refusal to perform the Easter rituals of her church. Also serving as a foil to Stephen is Davin, a naive and artless nationalist who is often shocked and perplexed by his friend, but who is nonetheless clearly fond of him. Indeed, the apparent strength of these friendships suggests that the more positive dimensions of Stephen's personality have been slighted in this portrait.

Also inhabiting the haze around Stephen, but even more obscured by it, is the object of his youthful affections, a young woman identified only by her initials, E.C. We glimpse her first on the tram with Stephen, an experience he later condenses into an imagist poem. Her absence at the play at Belvedere is a great source of disappointment to him; years later, she inspires his villanelle and finds a place in his diary entry for April 1 at the end of the novel. Since E.C. is, supposedly, his principal source of inspiration, the fact that his poem tells us nothing whatsoever about her perhaps provides an indication that Stephen's artistic development is far from complete.

All Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2075

Father Arnall Father Arnall is a Jesuit priest who teaches at Clongowes Wood College, the first school that Stephen Dedalus attends.

Mr. John Casey Mr. Casey is a friend of Stephen Dedalus’s father, Simon Dedalus, in Chapter One. When Mr. Casey visits, young Stephen likes to sit near him and look at “his dark fierce face.” Stephen notices that “his dark eyes were never fierce and his slow voice was good to listen to.” He gets into the argument with Dante on Christmas, asserting that the Church should stay out of politics and leave Charles Stuart Parnell alone.

Uncle Charles Charles is Stephen Dedalus’s great-uncle. He is present at the family’s Christmas dinner in Chapter One but does not take part in the argument. Indeed, he seems somewhat bewildered and only mutters a few vague comments to try to calm things down. Uncle Charles is kindly but slightly eccentric and ineffectual. Later in the chapter readers learn that he has died.

Father Conmee A Jesuit priest who is the rector (principal) of Clongowes Wood College, the first school that Stephen Dedalus attends. In Chapter One, after Father Dolan pandies Stephen (punishes him by hitting his hands with a stick known as a pandybat), Stephen’s friends urge him to go to Father Conmee and report Father Dolan. Although he is afraid to do so, Stephen works up the necessary courage and goes to Father Conmee’s room. Although Stephen (and the reader) expects that Father Conmee will react angrily, he in fact receives Stephen in a kindly manner and listens to his complaint sympathetically. Stephen’s visit to the rector is his first act of independence and self-determination. Stephen’s fa- ther later reveals that Father Conmee has told him about this incident, and that the rector and Father Dolan had a good laugh over it.

Cranly A friend of Stephen Dedalus at University College, Dublin, Cranly appears in Chapter Five and is one of the four friends who tries to tempt Stephen. The opposite of Davin in many respects, Cranly is sophisticated and irreverent. Stephen finds Cranly’s accent and use of language dull; it reminds him of “an echo of the quays of Dublin given back by a bleak decaying seaport” and its energy “an echo of the sacred eloquence of Dublin given back flatly by a Wicklow pulpit.” He represents expedience, compromise, and hypocrisy. Beneath his bluster, Stephen also perceives a form of despair in him.

Davin Davin is a friend of Stephen Dedalus and a student at University College, Dublin. Davin appears in Chapter Five and is one of the four friends who tries to tempt Stephen. He is from the Irish countryside and is described as a peasant. His speech has both “rare phrases of Elizabethan English” and “quaintly turned versions of Irish idioms.” Strong and athletic, Davin is honest, straightforward, and without guile. He calls Stephen “Stevie.” In the book, he represents Irish nationalism, a viewpoint that Stephen rejects. Davin is a member of the Gaelic League, an organization that advocates a return to the Irish language and traditional Irish sports.

Dean of Studies Stephen Dedalus discusses his ideas of art and beauty with the unnamed Dean of Studies at University College, Dublin. The Dean, a Jesuit priest and an Englishman, is kindly and approachable. He also displays a dry sense of humor, remarking that “We have the liberal arts and we have the useful arts.” The Dean acknowledges that Stephen is an artist. He tells Stephen that “the object of the artist is the creation of the beautiful. What the beautiful is is another question.”

Mrs. Dedalus Stephen’s mother’s first name is never given, and although she appears on several occasions she remains a more shadowy character than her husband, Simon Dedalus, Stephen’s father. Like most of the other characters, she seems to exist only in relation to Stephen. The character is based largely on Joyce’s mother, Mary Jane Murray.

Mr. Simon Dedalus Simon is Stephen’s father. Based on Joyce’s own father, John, Mr. Dedalus appears in only a few scenes, but his presence is omnipresent. He is generally portrayed as an amiable man, but there is also a sense of failure about him. He is known as a storyteller. During the novel, Mr. Dedalus suffers some financial misfortune; to save money he has to take Stephen out of Clongowes Wood College and move the family to a smaller house. When he takes Stephen to visit his hometown, Cork, in southwest Ireland, he regales Stephen with tales that Stephen has heard before. In an attempt at a heart-to-heart talk, he advises Stephen to “mix with gentlemen.”

As Stephen grows older, he regards his father with some embarrassment and distances himself from the older man. In Chapter Five, while talking to his friend Cranly, Stephen “glibly” describes his father as “a medical student, an oarsman, a tenor, an amateur actor, a shouting politician, a small landlord, a small investor, a drinker, a good fellow, a storyteller, somebody’s secretary, something in a distillery, a taxgatherer, a bankrupt, and at present a praiser of his own past.” There is the implication that in rejecting Ireland and deciding to pursue a course of creative independence, Stephen is also rejecting his father and his father’s failure.

Stephen Dedalus Stephen Dedalus is the “artist” and “young man” of the title. It is impossible to consider him in the way that a reader would consider most characters in fiction, for his roles goes far beyond that merely of central character. He is the sole focus of the book, and the events of the novel are filtered through his consciousness. His presence is felt on every page.

The character is based largely on Joyce himself. The name “Stephen Dedalus” itself has symbolic significance. Saint Stephen was the first Christian martyr, put to death for professing his beliefs. In Greek mythology, Dedalus was an inventor who escaped from the island of Crete using wings that he had made; however, his son Icarus flew too near the sun, melting the waxen wings and crashing into the sea. From the novel’s opening page, it is clear that Stephen is sensitive, perceptive, intelligent, and curious. He also proves to be aloof and at times arrogant and self-important. Moreover, despite his intelligence, he is often the victim of his own self-deception.

Joyce’s narrative is not continuous, and there is no “plot” as such. Rather, the book is a series of “portraits” of Stephen at various important moments in his young life, from his introduction as an infant (“baby tuckoo”) through selected schoolboy experiences to his declaration of artistic independence as a student at University College, Dublin. The process of Stephen’s maturation is registered in his expanding awareness of the world and in the novel’s increasingly sophisticated use of language. His relationship to his family, schoolmates, teachers, friends, religion, and country as well as to his own language form the essence of this novel.

In a series of epiphanies and corresponding anti-epiphanies, Stephen alternately affirms and rejects different aspects of his existence. In so doing, he makes difficult moral and aesthetic choices that help to define his character. Perhaps the most telling characterization of him occurs during the episode set in Cork. Here, Joyce describes Stephen as “proud and sensitive and suspicious, battling against the squalor of his life and against the riot of his mind.” In the final chapter Stephen confides to his friend Cranly that he will henceforth rely on “the only arms I allow myself to use—silence, exile, and cunning.” Given the originality of James Joyce’s conception of this character, it is significant to note that the book ends not with Stephen himself but with excerpts from his diary that indicate his intention to “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.”

Father Dolan Father Dolan is a Jesuit priest who is the prefect of studies at Clongowes Wood College, the first school that Stephen Dedalus attends. He punishes Stephen. Believing he has been punished unfairly, Stephen later goes to see the rector, Father Conmee, and reports this injustice. Father Conmee listens sympathetically and promises that he will speak to Father Dolan. Stephen’s defiance of Father Dolan earns him the acclaim of his schoolmates and is seen as his first assertion of his independence. Later in the book, Stephen’s father reveals that Father Conmee and Father Dolan had a good laugh over this incident.

Vincent Heron Heron is a boy who is a friend of Stephen Dedalus and a fellow student at Belvedere College. The relationship between the boys is uneasy: as two of the top boys at the school, they are as much rivals as friends. There is a disturbing edge to Heron’s mockery of Stephen. Heron criticizes Stephen for saying that Byron is the greatest poet of all. Heron and his friends verbally and physically abuse Stephen, but Stephen refuses to give in to Heron’s insistence that Tennyson is the best poet. Heron also strikes Stephen twice on the leg with his cane to make him admit that he is interested in a particular girl. Stephen notices that Heron’s face is “beaked like a bird’s. He had often thought it strange that Vincent Heron had a bird’s face as well as a bird’s name.”

Lynch Lynch is a friend of Stephen Dedalus and a fellow student at University College, Dublin. Described by Joyce as appearing reptilian, he argues with Stephen about art and aesthetics. In this respect, he represents a foil for Stephen, allowing him (and, by extension, Joyce himself) to expound his own theory of art and beauty. Although he seems to be interested in Stephen’s long intellectual talk, Lynch is really unable to appreciate Stephen’s ideas or to contribute to the conversation on Stephen’s level. Whereas Stephen has high artistic aspirations, Lynch’s personal goals are much narrower. He will be satisfied with a job and a conventional life.

Mrs. Dante Riordan Dante is introduced on the first page of the novel, when she and Uncle Charles applaud young Stephen’s dancing. Dante introduces the theme of the Church and politics. Stephen is conscious of the fact that Dante has two brushes: “The brush with the maroon velvet back was for Michael Davitt and the brush with the green velvet back was for Parnell.” (The two brushes have symbolic significance.)

Dante later appears at Christmas dinner at the Dedaluses, where she has a furious argument with Mr. Casey. The argument centers around the Church’s denunciation of the Irish nationalist politician Charles Stuart Parnell, who had an affair with a married woman, Kitty O’Shea. Dante, a devout Catholic, argues that it was right for the Church to denounce the sinful Parnell, who she calls “a traitor, an adulterer!” She says that the Irish people should submit to the authority of the bishops and priests, even if this means losing a chance for independence. Mr. Casey, who is also a Catholic, bitterly resents the Church’s actions in the Parnell case. He argues that the clergy should stay out of politics. The argument escalates, and the chapter ends as Dante flies out of the room in a rage, slamming the door behind her. Stephen does not understand why Dante is against Parnell, but he has heard his father say that she was “a spoiled nun.”

Temple Temple is a friend of Stephen Dedalus at University College, Dublin. Temple appears in Chapter Five and is one of the four friends who tries to tempt Stephen. Described by Joyce as a “gypsy student … with olive skin and lank black hair,” he professes to be a socialist and to believe in universal brotherhood, but he does not present a strong intellectual argument for his beliefs. Temple admits that he is “an emotional man…. And I’m proud that I’m an emotionalist.”

Eileen Vance Eileen is the first girl Stephen knows. In his early childhood, Stephen imagines that “when they were grown up he was going to marry Eileen.” He particularly notices her “long white hands,” which feel cool to his touch and which he likens to ivory. Dante does not want Stephen to play with Eileen because she is a Protestant.