Illustration of a man resembling James Joyce wearing a hat and glasses

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

by James Joyce

Start Free Trial

Is the protagonist in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man portrayed as a hero or something less?

Review in the context of Kenner, Hugh. “Joyce’s Portrait—A Reconsideration.”

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In this early and ostensibly autobiographic fictional work, James Joyce established several patterns that characterize his later fiction. The title itself indicates the self-consciously constructed persona that he is creating in Stephen Daedalus. The protagonist’s name, similarly, has a mythical connotation, suggesting that the author intentionally distances himself from prevailing realism present in much of modern-day literature.

Hugh Kenner's original essay about Portrait was published in 1948. He reads backward from the vantage point of Joyce’s later works, primarily Ulysses and the Wake. Joyce’s poetic vision tied to mythology (“mythopoetic”) includes the Daedalus-Icarus motif: fall, struggle, and redemption. Joyce chooses to focus on Daedalus rather than Icarus because Daedalus survives. Resisting the facile impulse to identify the protagonist wholly with the author, Kenner urges consideration of Joyce’s consummate craft in forging a hero/anti-hero who is not unitary. That is, Joyce deliberately makes Stephen seem like a different person at different points in the book. Radical change, not just incremental growth, is indicated, and this can only be shown through discordant elements of the character. Moving through the events and experiences in each chapter, Stephen falls and then rises again as a somewhat different person.

As the novel progresses, the differences between Stephen and Joyce become more pronounced so that the artistry of the author is recognized: “the artist as a young man” of the title is also Joyce himself, and the proof of his artistry is in creating a character who is very different from himself. Through writing this early novel, Joyce has declared himself an experienced, skillful writer.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial