A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a bildungsroman, a novel of education; in this case, it is the growth of the artist from his earliest childhood to his declaration of his proper role as an artist, a “priest of the eternal imagination.” The novel begins with the earliest experience of the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus. His world is a world of sensations, especially of touch and smell. Later those sensations will be connected to words, and by the end of the book he recognizes that words have an independent existence. He also recognizes the demands that he submit, to “apologize,” as his father and Aunt Dante demand. Throughout the novel, Stephen is continually evading most of the demands that are placed on him. An artist must be free.
The next section takes place at a Jesuit boarding school, Clongowes; the concluding incident in the chapter also takes place there. Stephen had lost his glasses and was, therefore, unable to do his lesson. Father Dolan, however, refuses to accept his explanation. Stephen goes to the rector, Father Conmee, to seek redress. Conmee at first suggests that Father Dolan did not know of the lost glasses, but Stephen insists that he did know. Finally, Conmee reluctantly agrees to order Dolan not to punish Stephen the next day. The chapter ends with Stephen declared a hero by his classmates; he now feels “happy and free.” Each chapter of the book ends in some kind of triumph for Stephen. The beginning of the following chapters, however, shows a decline.
The second chapter continues the development of Stephen as he experiences a change in his situation. His father’s finances decline and he leaves Clongowes and becomes a day student at another Jesuit school, Belvedere. He also begins to be interested in women. He is involved with the young Ellen and dreams about the fictional Mercedes, who will initiate and transform him. He imagines an encounter with Mercedes when “weakness and timidity and inexperience would fall from him.” Stephen’s initiation, however, is more sordid. He feels lust rather than love and wishes to fall into sin with a real woman and not an idealized figure from fiction. He goes to the red-light district of Dublin to seek that encounter. The chapter ends with Stephen and a prostitute. She embraces him, and he feels “joy and relief.” He will not, however, kiss her; he wishes to retain his aloof independence but finally surrenders and submits. It is, however, a necessary fall; Joyce’s artist must fall in order to create “life out of life.”
The beginning of the chapter is a decided decline. Stephen does not feel transformed but degraded by his sexual encounter. He feels like a beast instead of a man. Then a retreat is announced at school; Stephen is to hear powerful sermons by a Jesuit. He is immediately affected; he feels that the words are aimed directly at him. He also thinks of a way out; the Virgin will take his hand and that of an innocent young girl, Emma, and lead him to forgiveness and an innocent love. It will not, however, be that easy for Stephen; he is forced to confront his sin and his fate by the Jesuit preacher. The preacher speaks of hell and its terrible punishments. He cites the condemnation of Lucifer, who, like Stephen, will not serve...
(The entire section is 1335 words.)
When Stephen Dedalus goes to school for the first time, his last name soon gets him into trouble. It sounds too Latin, and the boys tease him about it. The other boys see that he is sensitive and shy, and they begin to bully him. School is filled with unfortunate incidents for Stephen. He is happy when he gets sick and is put in the infirmary away from the other boys. Just before the Christmas holidays, and again in the infirmary, he worries about dying and death. As he lay on the bed thinking, he hears the news of Charles Stewart Parnell’s death. The death of the great Irish leader is the first date he remembers—October 6, 1891.
At home during vacation time, he learns more of Parnell. Stephen’s father, Simon Dedalus, worships the dead man’s memory and defends him on every count. Stephen’s aunt, Dante Riordan, despised Parnell as a heretic and a rabble-rouser. The fierce arguments that they get into every day burn themselves into Stephen’s memory. He worships his father, and his father says that Parnell had tried to free Ireland, to rid it of the priests who were ruining the country. Dante insists that the opposite is true. A violent defender of the priests, she levels every kind of abuse against Simon and his ideas. The disagreement between them becomes a problem that, in due time, Stephen will have to solve for himself.
Returning to school after the holidays, Stephen gets in trouble with Father Dolan, one of the administrators of the church school he attends. Stephen has broken his glasses, and he cannot study until a new pair arrives. Father Dolan sees that Stephen is not working, and thinking that his excuse about the glasses is false, he beats the boy’s hands. For once, the rest of the boys are on Stephen’s side, and they urge him to complain to the head of the school. With fear and trembling, Stephen goes to the headmaster and presents his case. The head understands and promises to speak to Father Dolan about the matter. When Stephen tells the boys about his conversation, they hoist him in their arms like a victorious fighter and call him a hero.
Afterward, life is much easier for Stephen. Only one unfortunate incident marks the term. In the spirit of fun, one of his professors announces in class that Stephen has expressed heresy in one of his essays. Stephen quickly changes the offending phrase and hopes that the mistake will be forgotten. After class, however, several of the boys accuse him not only of being a heretic but also of liking Lord Byron, whom they consider an immoral man and therefore no good as a poet. In replying to their charges, Stephen has his first real...
(The entire section is 1075 words.)