Uncovering James Joyce’s A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man Essay

“Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of my experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race. Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead”. James Joyce’s was one of novelist who led the literary bandwagon of the twentieth century (Phillips, 2007). He was one of the first to use forceful stream of consciousness, where the inner thoughts of the character is given emphasis than looking at the character from an objective point of view (Phillips, 2007).

Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a literary piece that has portrayed aspects, angles and issues in society that was found to have political, religious, social or cultural in its origin (Ellmann, 1982). Stephen Daedalus is the protagonist in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Stephen experienced a deep philosophical development that haunted his consciousness starting from the early stage of his life up to his adulthood. He was a product of an awakening – a religious, philosophical and intellectual awakening.

This awakening marked his desire to search for a new life, and explore his values and philosophies. He questioned and provided a fair share of literary contributions in opposition to the Catholic Church and Irish conventions he grew up with (Kershner, 1993). Through time, he was able to create a personal artistic theory rooted to Aristotle’s and Aquinas’s teachings and philosophies (Morris, 1962). Unwearyingly devoted to his belief, he held to his idea that to seek for his self, he ought to have complete isolation from the bonds of his faith, depart from his family and move away from his country (Phillips, 2007).

Stephen had evolved into a new individual, and his story ended abandoning Ireland to follow such calling. Stephen’s evolution to a person he chooses to be was not created overnight. He had undergone numerous critical transformations. And to fully understand and uncover Stephen’s evolution, one should look deeper beyond the picturesque image of the protagonist. His early experience in a Jesuit boarding school in Clongowes Wood College was the first incidence that he recognized himself different from the other boys his age (Kershner, 1993).

He normally does not mingle out with his peers and frequently intimidated by school bullies. One of his bully classmate, Wells, pushed the young Stephen in an open cesspool, and, subsequently, caught a fever. It was then he realized he was different, an “outsider” to the world that surrounds him. His first transformation was from a sheltered little child to a student who had to identify the various social relations in order to make sense of his world. His loss of faith to the Catholic religion was also rooted from his younger years when he was in his home during the Christmas holiday.

It was during Christmas dinner when a bitter political argument happened between his nurse, Dante Riordan, with Simon, Stephen’s father and a family friend, John Casey (Kershner, 1993). Charles Parnell was the issue of the disagreement. Being a devout Catholic, Dante supported the Catholic Church’s judgment of denouncing Parnell, an Irish nationalists hero, for infidelity. Simon and Casey, both a huge fan of Parnell, both argued that Ireland was the one betrayed by the Church. This heated incidence in their home had caused the confusion of the innocent Stephen on issues concerning politics and religion.

Thus, Catholicism and Irish nationalism marked the chief forces that molded Stephen’s perception at a very young age (Morris, 1962). He also experienced a sudden shift from a no one to some one with his simple success story that happened when he accidentally broke his glasses and end up not finishing his schoolwork. Stephen was punished and humiliated by Father Dolan who accused him of fabricating such story. With a friend’s encouragement, Stephen bravely went to the school rector to complain on the priest’s unjust behavior. He successfully obtained justice in the incident.

Such occurrence inculcated to him a better sense of confidence. He was for a moment, a hero to himself and his classmates. This also marked his first success over a priest – his first success over religion. Stephen’s adolescence stage significantly shaped his personality. When he transferred to Belvedere College, he became an award-winning essayist and an excellent theater performer and was admired by his peers (Borey, 2007). But above all the recognitions he received in his new scholastic home, an increased sense of alienation was seen in Stephen’s world.

He was occupied with ideas, reflections and emotions that he simply could not express to others. His world moved in a manner that he ought not to share and follow. Stephen’s cynicism in the Roman Catholic faith and his interest in literature and writing manifested when he was still at Belvedere (Borey, 2007). His teacher accused him of heresy through his essay; and such thought of heresy was happiness to him. In one of his conversation with his classmates, he even defended the heretic poet Byron over Tennyson.

Such religious independence of Stephen was characterized by his stubbornness and inadequate perception of Christian beliefs. Such growing sense of alienation was realized further by Stephen when he was on a trip with his father in Cork. He tried to recover his childhood memories but he could not, it was then he realized he was a changed person. When he was still in Dublin, he won in an essay contest and used the money he received to buy gifts for his family (Borey, 2007). But the feeling was same as ever – he felt isolated and disconnected.

Stephen saw himself poles apart from other people and even with his own family. With this, he had developed an indistinguishable formation of figures that he desired to understand. He restlessly sought for a change that he himself was unsure of. Stephen also suffered sexual longingness that puzzled him more. He was an intellectual and sensitive man but anxiety, burning sexuality and self-doubt occupied him (Borey, 2007). He experienced the awkward stage in the life where emotions are very much inconsistent. At a young age of 14, he had a sex with a prostitute.

He had lived an immoral life. But a three-day retreat, he was powerless to claim independence from Catholicism; he then evolved to be passionately pious and dedicated himself to prayer and masses every day. But before long, he’s old nature haunted him. He rejected priesthood for it would be contrary to his sexual desires and independence (Borey, 2007). Entering the university also molded his personality, where he gained a number of friends. Stephen had become productive with his theories on art and aesthetics (Phillips, 2007).

He looked at the world with his creative eyes and seeks to live a life without the boundaries and restrictions of Catholicism and Ireland’s politics (Borey, 2007). During his conversation with Cranly, he knew he would never want to compromise his integrity. He became strong-minded to move out of the shell and liberate himself from all the shackles imposed by the society. In the end, he simply ran away from Ireland. It is true that people are molded by his experiences and the world that surrounds him. And Stephen was not an exception. He evolved from a frightened little boy to a more independent Stephen.

He evolved from sensitivity and vague picture of beauty to a seriously obsessive consideration of aesthetics. A closer look at the Portrait would further provide a historical perspective of the early twentieth century religion and politics of Ireland. Since sixteenth century, Ireland was under the rule of the British flag and a heated tension existed between the two countries particularly during the 1845 potato blight (Phillips, 2007). More over, the political clash was coupled with religious pressure. The Catholics preferred independence while the Protestant favored Britain’s rule (Phillips, 2007).

The issue on Parnell’s death was also Ireland’s highlighted event during Joyce’s younger years, which was manifested also in the novel. It was in the 1900 when Ireland was united together in demanding autonomy from Britain’s hands (Phillips, 2007). Consequently, the novel was inspired and beautifully crafted with the political scenario between Ireland and England, which Joyce himself witnessed during his time. Stephen had served as the fictional double of Joyce (Kershner, 1993). As such, a sense of parallelism could be recognized when looking at the novelist’s life and that of the protagonist.

Such powerful scenes in the novel obtained from Joyce’s personal experiences include the Christmas dinner, his first sexual intercourse with a prostitute and his struggle with faith and nationality (Kershner, 1993). His novel epitomized his own life and his desire to getaway from the restrictive hands of Catholicism and nationalism, which seemed to impede his artistic career (Levin, 1960). The battle the protagonist faced was the same with that of the author’s battle; the battle that will not be won by a single caress but rather a lifetime venture of discovering, learning, and growing.

They were both fruit of their continuous struggle for discovering and learning. Indeed, they were a product of their own religious, philosophical and intellectual awakening. Escape was the theme impressively and carefully interwoven throughout the novel. And the idea of escape is most often to liberate oneself from the bounds of society. Stephen, like the mythological Daedalus, dreamed of having his own wings, escape all obstacles and live life as an artist. Both Stephen and Joyce wanted to serve Ireland through a life of artistic expression, as artists – as independent artists.

Stephen and Joyce have been in search of their true selves. It was when they discovered themselves that they realized, that their search has just begun. “Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of my experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race. Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead”. These marked the final words of the artist’s goodbye from his old life and the first words of a young man’s adventure.

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