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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man  Artistic Development

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man had various themes which covered many areas. The
primary theme of the novel is the artistic development of the artist, Stephen, and this relates
specifically to the artist’s development in the life of a national language. Stephen experiences
many voices of Ireland as well as those of the writers of his education. Out of all these voices
emerges Stephen’s aesthetic theory and his desire to find his own manner of expression.
Stephen develops his own voice as a way of escaping these constraints.

One of the main constraints on the artist as Joyce depicts his life is the Roman Catholic Church.
However, it is both a constraint and an enabling condition for the artist’s development. First, the
Jesuit education Stephen receives, gives him a thorough grounding in the classical and
medieval thinkers. It also structures Stephen’s life in such a way that it provides him with a basis
for his own development as a moral and intellectual person. In relation to his eventual
development of a theory of art or an aesthetic theory, Stephen fully draws on this tradition. He
uses two central doctrines of the church in this theory. First, he revises the doctrine into a way
of imagining the relationship between art and the world it describes. When Stephen develops
his theory, he thinks of himself as taking on the role of a "priest of eternal imagination,
transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life." The second
use of Catholic doctrine or tradition relates to its creation of a priesthood, a class of men
separate from the world who act as intermediaries between the deity and the people. In
Stephen’s idea of the artist, he is priestlike, performing the miracle of turning life into art.

Joyce is in good company when he uses techniques to drive a wedge in the totalizing authority
of the church and in other forms of seriousness, even the artist’s own. When Stephen is
discoursing learnedly on his aesthetic theory, his friend Lynch critisizes him. He brings lust into
the picture of how and why art is created. He laughs at Stephen’s deadly serious use of the
scholastics to develop a theory of art. Earlier in the novel, when Mrs. Dante Riordan is
condemning Parnell and supporting his excommunication from the Catholic church, Mr.

The Development of Individual Consciousness
Perhaps the most famous aspect of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is Joyce's innovative
use of stream of consciousness, a style in which the author directly transcribes the thoughts and
sensations that go through a character's mind, rather than simply describing those sensations
from the external standpoint of an observer. Joyce's use of stream of consciousness makes A
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man a story of the development of Stephen's mind. In the first
chapter, the very young Stephen is only capable of describing his world in simple words and
phrases. The sensations that he experiences are all jumbled together with a child's lack of
attention to cause and effect. Later, when Stephen is a teenager obsessed with religion, he is able
to think in a clearer, more adult manner. Paragraphs are more logically ordered than in the
opening sections of the novel, and thoughts progress logically. Stephen's mind is more mature
and he is now more coherently aware of his surroundings. Nonetheless, he still trusts blindly in
the church, and his passionate emotions of guilt and religious ecstasy are so strong that they get
in the way of rational thought. It is only in the final chapter, when Stephen is in the university,
that he seems truly rational. By the end of the novel, Joyce renders a portrait of a mind that has
achieved emotional, intellectual, and artistic adulthood.
The development of Stephen's consciousness in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is
particularly interesting because, insofar as Stephen is a portrait of Joyce himself, Stephen's
development gives us insight into the development of a literary genius. Stephen's experiences
hint at the influences that transformed Joyce himself into the great writer he is considered today:
Stephen's obsession with language; his strained relations with religion, family, and culture; and
his dedication to forging an aesthetic of his own mirror the ways in which Joyce related to the
various tensions in his life during his formative years. In the last chapter of the novel, we also
learn that genius, though in many ways a calling, also requires great work and considerable
sacrifice. Watching Stephen's daily struggle to puzzle out his aesthetic philosophy, we get a
sense of the great task that awaits him.

The Pitfalls of Religious Extremism
Brought up in a devout Catholic family, Stephen initially ascribes to an absolute belief in the
morals of the church. As a teenager, this belief leads him to two opposite extremes, both of
which are harmful. At first, he falls into the extreme of sin, repeatedly sleeping with prostitutes
and deliberately turning his back on religion. Though Stephen sins willfully, he is always aware
that he acts in violation of the church's rules. Then, when Father Arnall's speech prompts him to
return to Catholicism, he bounces to the other extreme, becoming a perfect, near fanatical model
of religious devotion and obedience. Eventually, however, Stephen realizes that both of these
lifestyles—the completely sinful and the completely devout—are extremes that have been false
and harmful. He does not want to lead a completely debauched life, but also rejects austere
Catholicism because he feels that it does not permit him the full experience of being human.
Stephen ultimately reaches a decision to embrace life and celebrate humanity after seeing a
young girl wading at a beach. To him, the girl is a symbol of pure goodness and of life lived to
the fullest.

The Role of the Artist

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man explores what it means to become an artist. Stephen's
decision at the end of the novel—to leave his family and friends behind and go into exile in order
to become an artist—suggests that Joyce sees the artist as a necessarily isolated figure. In his
decision, Stephen turns his back on his community, refusing to accept the constraints of political
involvement, religious devotion, and family commitment that the community places on its
However, though the artist is an isolated figure, Stephen's ultimate goal is to give a voice to the
very community that he is leaving. In the last few lines of the novel, Stephen expresses his desire
to "forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race." He recognizes that his
community will always be a part of him, as it has created and shaped his identity. When he
creatively expresses his own ideas, he will also convey the voice of his entire community. Even
as Stephen turns his back on the traditional forms of participation and membership in a
community, he envisions his writing as a service to the community.
The Need for Irish Autonomy
Despite his desire to steer clear of politics, Stephen constantly ponders Ireland's place in the
world. He concludes that the Irish have always been a subservient people, allowing outsiders to
control them. In his conversation with the dean of studies at the university, he realizes that even
the language of the Irish people really belongs to the English. Stephen's perception of Ireland's
subservience has two effects on his development as an artist. First, it makes him determined to
escape the bonds that his Irish ancestors have accepted. As we see in his conversation with
Davin, Stephen feels an anxious need to emerge from his Irish heritage as his own person, free
from the shackles that have traditionally confined his country: "Do you fancy I am going to pay
in my own life and person debts they made?" Second, Stephen's perception makes him
determined to use his art to reclaim autonomy for Ireland. Using the borrowed language of
English, he plans to write in a style that will be both autonomous from England and true to the
Irish people.

Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform
the text's major themes.
Stream of Consciousness and
Epiphanies in A Portrait of the
Artist as a Young Man.

An omniscient narrative voice guides to the reader of A portrait

of the Artist as a Young Men through a continuous flow
(many times without following the chronological order of the
events) of thoughts, opinions, feelings or fantasies of the main
character Stephen Dedalus, in a discourse that is frequently
interrupted by dialogues. The speed of this flow changes during
the novel, slowing down as as it progresses and Stephen gains
more control over his thoughts. The first two chapters skip months
and years between paragraphs but in chapter three and onwards
the time length between paragraphs is shortened to hours and

James Joyce uses this form of narration (called “stream of

consciousness”) mixing associations, memories and others
digressions of Stephen about moral and ideological-politic issues,
strengthening and adding complexity to the central plot of the

During most of the book the voice used is the third person, except
on the final section, which is composed of Stephen’s diary entries,
that are narrated in the first person by him. This transition from
third-person narration to the first-person mark the end of the
novel, Stephen’s decides to break free of all nets that tied him and
once he has his own voice he chooses the only possible way to
maintain it: exile.
This is one of the modernist aesthetic elements that is present in A
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but not the only one.

he Modernist Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and the lawyer John Quinn (who defended the
publication of Ulysses in 1921) in Paris

Epiphany has also a particularly relevant presence in this novel, in

fact it is considered by many authors as an essential part of the
Joyce esthetic theory. Although there are many interpretations
about the last meaning of this term, we can associate it, in Joyce
works, with a sudden revelation, a moment when an ordinary
object is perceived in a way that reveals a deeper significance.

The meaning of this term and its relevance for writing is addressed
towards the end of Stephen Hero, the unfinished draft of the
autobiographical novel written by James Joyce near 1904. In it
Stephen Dedalus states that the function of writing is “to record
epiphanies with extreme care”…. In the same passage he defines
the epiphany as “a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the
vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the
mind itself” (211). He believed that it was the man of letters to
record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they are the
most delicate and evanescent of moments.

Epiphany term is nowhere mentioned literally in A Portrait of

the Artist as a Young Man, but it is present the
term claritas, identified in Stephen Hero as the moment in which
“the object achieves its epiphany” (213), a essential part of the
aesthetic of Stephen Dedalus who defined it saying that it is : “…
the instant wherein…the clear radiance of the esthetic image is
apprehended luminously by the mind which has been arrested by
its wholeness and fascinated by its harmony in the luminous silent
stasis of aesthetic pleasure” (231).
An instant out of time, that produces an “stasis” situation to who
has it, being this “supreme quality is felt by the artist when the
aesthetic image is first conceived in his imagination” (230).

Stephen’s epiphany has some things in common with other similar

experiences as for example a church epiphany or the moment of a
scientific recognition, that is related to the act of making manifest
as a kind of truth.