A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Suggested Essay Topics
by James Joyce

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Suggested Essay Topics

Chapter 1
1. Discuss Stephen’s relationship with language in his chapter. Why is his interest in language significant at this early age? Does this make him more or less engaged with the other students his age? Are there any political implications, in light of the Irish nationalist movement, to his identification of English as “his” language?

2. At various points in this chapter, Stephen proposes a theory of language based upon onomatopoeia—the idea that a word’s sound has a kind of concordance to its meaning. Examples of onamatopoeia would be “splat, bam, pow.” In what ways does Joyce’s narration in this chapter use the sound of language to achieve its effects? How would you characterize the tone of the narrator at the start of the chapter? At the end? Is there a thematic connection?

3. Stephen’s senses are very acute, and throughout the first chapter Joyce makes us aware of the color, smell, temperature, and sound of Stephen’s surroundings. Trace the language of the senses in this chapter. How does Joyce use repeating sense-images to characterize Clongowes or Stephen’s home in Dublin?

Chapter 2
1. Stephen’s attitude toward authority and authority figures undergoes some important changes in Chapter Two. Discuss some ways in which Stephen’s behavior in this chapter contrasts with his behavior in the first chapter. Examine specific scenes and passages where this contrast is evident.

2. Throughout Chapter Two, we learn much about Stephen’s attitude toward women. From the Mercedes-figure in the early pages to the prostitute at the end, we see his idea and ideal of women develop. Compare and contrast the female-figures in the novel (Mercedes, Emma, the prostitutes) and the place they hold in Stephen’s imaginative life.

3. In what ways does this narrator seem to undercut Stephen’s sense of uniqueness and singularity? Examine some scenes where it seems that the narrator takes an ironic view toward Stephen.

Chapter 3
1. In many ways, Chapter Three represents a reversal of some of the tendencies Stephen developed in Chapter Two. Discuss the changes in his attitude toward authority figures, his peers, and his identity as an individual. In what ways does Stephen seem to have changed as the chapter closes?

2. Stephen interprets Father Arnall's sermons as a personal message, sensing that "every word" of it was intended "for him." Reread the sermons carefully. What can you identify about the language and rhetorical strategy of the sermons that would appeal so strongly to Stephen? Some things to look for in the descriptions of hell might include: the descriptions of hell's torments, the language of exile use here; the poetic and metaphorical language; and the language of the senses and the body.

3. What is the effect of the narrator aligning us with Stephen Dedalus' perspective during the sermons? How does this color our perspective toward the sermons, which seem otherwise to be presented word-for-word? How would the chapter read differently if it were aligned with the perspective of Vincent Heron, for example? Does our awareness of Stephen's idiosyncratic character affect our understanding of the communion scene at the end?

Chapter 4
1. Consider the narrator’s description of Stephen’s daily religious devotions. What does the language used suggest about the nature of Stephen’s piety? Does it foreshadow in any way his ultimate rejection of religious life?

2. Compare Stephen’s artistic awakening in Chapter Four to...

(The entire section is 860 words.)