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

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

by James Joyce
Table of Contents
1. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Introduction
2. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Overview
3. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: James Joyce Biography
4. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Summary

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis
5.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Quizzes
¨ Chapter 1 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 2 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 3 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 4 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 5 Questions and Answers
6.
7. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Characters
8. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Themes
9. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Style
10. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Historical Context
11. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Critical Overview
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Essays and Criticism
¨ Joyce's Hero: Absurd or Serious
¨ Myth and Identity in Joyce's Fiction: Disentangling the Image
¨ Three Young Men in Rebellion
12.
13. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Suggested Essay Topics
14. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Sample Essay Outlines
15. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Compare and Contrast
16. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Topics for Further Study
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man 1
17. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Media Adaptations
18. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: What Do I Read Next?
19. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Bibliography and Further Reading
20. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Pictures
21. Copyright
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Introduction
Published in 1916, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man established its then thirty-two-year-old author,
James Joyce, as a leading figure in the international movement known as literary modernism. The title
describes the book’s subject quite accurately. On one level, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man can be
read as what the Germans call a Bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel.
Set in Ireland in the late nineteenth century, Portrait is a semi-autobiographical novel about the education of a
young Irishman, Stephen Dedalus, whose background has much in common with Joyce’s. Stephen’s
education includes not only his formal schooling but also his moral, emotional, and intellectual development
as he observes and reacts to the world around him. At the center of the story is Stephen’s rejection of his
Roman Catholic upbringing and his growing confidence as a writer. But the book’s significance does not lie
only in its portrayal of a sensitive and complex young man or in its use of autobiographical detail. More than
this, Portrait is Joyce’s deliberate attempt to create a new kind of novel that does not rely on conventional
narrative techniques.
Rather than telling a story with a coherent plot and a traditional beginning, middle, and end, Joyce presents
selected decisive moments in the life of his hero without the kind of transitional material that marked most
novels written up to that time. The “portrait” of the title is actually a series of portraits, each showing Stephen
at a different stage of development. And, although this story is told in a third-person narrative, it is filtered
through Stephen’s consciousness. Finally, the book can be read as Joyce’s artistic manifesto and a
declaration of independence—independence from what Joyce considered the restrictive social background of
Catholic Ireland and from the conventions that had previously governed the novel as a literary genre. More
than eighty years after its publication, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man continues to be regarded as a
central text of early twentiethcentury modernism.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Overview
The Life and Work of James Joyce
James Joyce was born in Dublin, Ireland, on February 2, 1882. He was the oldest of ten children, and was
born into a comfortable and, by some standards, wealthy home. However, while Joyce was growing up, his
family’s economic situation became progressively worse.
He was able to attend Clongowes Wood College, an exclusive Jesuit boarding school, from age six to nine,
but was forced to leave in 1891 when his father, John Stanislaus Joyce, lost his position as collector of rates in
Dublin and could no longer afford to send James to school. After a brief stint at the Christian Brothers’
School, James was allowed to attend the Jesuit Belvedere College, thanks to a special arrangement by a
former rector at Clongowes, Father John Conmee. Father Conmee had become prefect of studies at Belvedere
and, remembering James’ ability as a student, arranged for him and his brothers to attend Belvedere without
fees.
Joyce was a distinguished student at Belvedere, winning several exhibitions (cash prizes for scholarship in
national competitions), and being elected, two years in a row, to the office of prefect of the Sodality of the
Blessed Virgin Mary, the highest honor at Belvedere. He became interested in poetry, drama, philosophy and
eNotes: Table of Contents 2
languages, and upon graduation in 1898, entered University College, Dublin at age 16.
Joyce gained a reputation as a radical thinker by reading a paper entitled “Drama and Life” before the
Literary and Historical Society. He published an essay in the Fortnightly Review entitled “Ibsen’s New
Drama,” defending the controversial playwright. In these and other essays and reviews he wrote during this
period, Joyce defended a realistic representation of life on stage, as opposed to what he took to be a
sentimental and moralistic nationalism. The trouble he faced getting permission from the president of the
university to read “Drama and Life” was the first of many struggles with censorship in Joyce’s career. He
graduated in 1902, with a degree in modern languages, having studied Italian, French, German, and literary
Norwegian as well as Latin.
The Joyce family during this time had been getting both larger and poorer—they had to move around
frequently, setting up temporary residences, and were forced to sell many of their possessions to keep
creditors at bay. Anxious to escape what he saw as a confining and restrictive environment in Dublin, Joyce
left in 1902 to live in self-imposed “exile” in Paris. He had to return, however, in April 1903, as his mother
was dying. Mary Jane Joyce died in August of that year, and James Joyce remained in Dublin for over a year,
during which time he wrote and published poetry, worked on short stories (some of which were eventually
published in the Dubliners collection), and began the initial draft of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,
then entitled Stephen Hero.
He left Dublin again in October 1904, with Nora Barnacle. Joyce never returned to Dublin, except for a few
brief visits (the last of which was in 1912), though his home city and country continued to dominate his
imagination. He lived and taught in Trieste and Rome until World War I, then moved with Nora, their son
Giorgio and daughter Lucia to neutral Zurich, where they stayed until 1920. The Joyces then moved to Paris,
where they lived until 1940. James and Nora then returned to Zurich, where James Joyce died on January 13,
1941.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was published in 1916, but the story of its composition covers a
ten-year span in Joyce’s life. At the end of the novel, we see the words “Dublin 1904—Trieste 1914.” This
does not mean, as we might expect, that Joyce spent these ten years working on the text as we have it. In
1904, he wrote a combination short story and autobiographical essay entitled “A Portrait of the Artist.” When
he could not get it published, he began to rewrite it as a novel with the working title Stephen Hero. Joyce
worked on Stephen Hero intermittently for four years, but became ultimately dissatisfied with his lengthy and
cumbersome method. He decided to rewrite the unfinished Stephen Hero in five long chapters, selecting and
condensing only the most significant episodes in Stephen Dedalus’ development. This novel, A Portrait of
the Artist as a Young Man, was finished in 1914, published serially in The Egoist during 1914 and 1915, and
finally published by B. W. Huebsch in New York in 1916. As with his other work, Joyce had considerable
trouble getting Portrait published, both because of the obscenity laws and because of his unconventional
literary form.
James Joyce’s literary reputation is remarkable when we consider his relatively scant output. Aside from his
play, Exiles, and a few books of poetry, which have not earned much attention, Joyce’s canon consists of a
collection of stories, Dubliners (1914), and three novels—besides Portrait, the mammoth Ulysses (1922) and
the even more mammoth Finnegans Wake (1939). Each of these represents a cornerstone of modernist fiction,
and in each work Joyce extends his innovative and experimental style to further limits, leaving a permanent
mark on the development of twentieth- century literature. His reputation and influence are as strong today as
ever—from high school classrooms to graduate seminars and international professional conferences, Joyce’s
work continues to generate a staggering degree of critical interest. As Richard Ellmann wrote, “We are still
learning to be James Joyce’s contemporaries.”
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Overview 3
Perhaps the first thing that will strike a first-time reader of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is the
initial strangeness of the language. Joyce’s technique is to have the language of the narration try to mirror the
linguistic and intellectual development of Stephen Dedalus—therefore, in the first chapter, the vocabulary and
sentence structure are more simplistic, limited, and childlike. The narrative is closely aligned with Stephen’s
consciousness and perspective—therefore, the narrative style could be said to mature along with young
Stephen. As the novel progresses, and Stephen becomes better acclimatized to his world, the language
expands and develops accordingly.
Whereas in the Stephen Hero stage of the novel’s composition Joyce was trying to cram every detail about
Stephen’s life into the narrative, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man he exercises much more
selectivity. The novel presents only the most important events in Stephen’s life, without as much attention to
chronological and temporal sequence as we would find in a traditional novel. The subject of the novel is
Stephen’s internal intellectual and artistic development, so the conflicts and climaxes which would motivate a
traditionally plotted novel are in this case a matter of internal relations. A conflict is important because it is so
for Stephen; a climax is such because of its importance in Stephen’s ultimate spiritual development Each
scene or episode in the novel, then, will be loaded with significance on a number of levels.
Fundamental to the technique and structure of this novel is Joyce’s conception of epiphany. An epiphany, as
Joyce conceives it, is a moment of intense perception, or a feeling of total understanding; one’s life is
punctuated by such moments. In Stephen Hero, Joyce defines his (and Stephen’s) conception of epiphany
thus:
By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech
or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man
of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the
most delicate and evanescent of moments.
The epiphany is a moment of extreme significance for the subject, or the beholder, and for the object which he
or she observes—the epiphany reveals something essential about the person or thing that is observed. Stephen
and Joyce understand that the purpose of the artist is to record and present these moments of privileged
spiritual insight. The religious source of Joyce’s conception (the feast day celebrating the revelation of the
infant Christ to the Magi) indicates that this is a spiritual, non-rational conception of knowledge.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man represents the growth and development of Stephen’s soul, and the
novel is structured around the epiphanies Stephen experiences while growing up. Thus, the narrator is less
concerned with dates, ages, time, and a clear chronological sequence. Joyce’s conception of epiphany allows
us to view time in the novel as a coalescence of past, present, and future. This means, then, for our reading
and interpretation of the novel, that each scene will be dense with significance, shedding light on past events
in the narrative as well as looking forward to future developments. Joyce is extremely selective—there are
many gaps in the story of Stephen’s life we must fill in while reading. But this means that we must pay extra
attention to the episodes we are given, and the language in which they are told.
Historical Background
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is an autobiographical novel—Stephen Dedalus is Joyce’s fictional
figure for himself in the early years of his life, and the events in the novel closely parallel those of Joyce’s
own life. We should be careful not to push this identification of Stephen with young Joyce too far, for the
author of a novel is certainly free to take creative liberties that the author of a strict biography would not take.
The novel should and does stand as an autonomous artifact in its own right. It is clear, however, that the
historical and cultural context of Dublin in the 1890s is as crucial toward our understanding of Stephen
Dedalus and his world as it is toward our understanding of Joyce and his world.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Overview 4
Though the novel is ambiguous when it comes to precise dates, the events in A Portrait of the Artist as a
Young Man cover the period from roughly 1890 through the end of the century. Ireland was then, as it indeed
is now, a country torn apart by politics and religion. The Republic of Ireland had not yet won its independence
from the British crown, though the liberation movement was fervent. Battle lines were drawn between
Protestants and Catholics. Institutionalized religious discrimination had long been used by the Protestant
British government as a means of division and control of the Irish-Catholic population, and this naturally
trickled down into day-to-day hostility and resentment between Protestant and Catholic people in Ireland. The
lines were not always quite this clear, however; there were many among the liberationists who criticized the
Catholic church for hindering the anti-British cause.
This anti-Catholic sentiment—which we hear voiced in the novel by Stephen’s father and Mr. Casey at
Christmas dinner in Chapter 1—is due in large degree to the downfall of Charles Stewart Parnell. Parnell was a
liberation leader who was extremely popular, powerful and influential; he was seen by many as the savior of
Ireland. However, a scandal erupted in 1889 and 1890, when Captain William Henry O’Shea filed for divorce
from his wife, Kitty, on grounds of her adultery with Parnell. The controversy surrounding this affair led
directly to the dissolution of Parnell’s party, and he died within a year. Parnell’s devotees then saw him as a
kind of tragic hero, and criticized the Catholic church for their role in condemning the Irish Nationalist leader.
They would argue that Parnell’s “sin” was a personal matter that should not have jeopardized what they saw
as their greatest hope for independence. Joyce, in particular, saw Parnell’s case as an apt illustration of what
was wrong with Ireland: he was persecuted and discredited, on moralistic grounds, by the same people he had
spent his life trying to liberate.
As the largest and most cosmopolitan city in Ireland, Dublin was a hotbed of political and religious conflict in
the 1890s. In the arts, too, there was fierce debate as to what direction Ireland should take. The poet and
playwright William Butler Yeats was instrumental in working toward an Irish literature, in English, that could
become a recognized and appreciated part of European culture. At the same time, however, a more
conservative nationalist element called for, along with a renewed interest in Irish folklore and a Gaelic
language, positive or “pure” representations of Irish culture in the arts. Therefore, much of the
groundbreaking dramatic work of Yeats and J. M. Synge was condemned loudly by many critics, reviewers,
and audiences. Joyce associated this kind of attitude with a puritanical orthodoxy which he dislikes intensely.
His personal literary development tended to move apart from the Irish literary revival.
It stands to reason, then, that Joyce would feel a need to “escape” from Ireland. He was more interested in
studying Italian or German than Gaelic, and was more interested in reading European literature than Irish
folktales. However, it is equally clear that the end of the nineteenth century in Dublin, and the political and
cultural conflicts which dominated the world into which Joyce grew, continued to have a profound grip on his
imagination. Dublin is the setting for all of his literary work, even though he was living in Europe while most
of it was written. These formative years, which are detailed in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, are the
only time Joyce really lived in Ireland. His self-imposed “exile,” however, should not be seen as a total
rejection of Ireland. He retained a profoundly ambivalent attitude toward his home city for the rest of his life;
he despised aspects of it, but remained fascinated by it.
The publication of Joyce’s work caused something of a scandal in Dublin. His portrayal of the city is not
always flattering, and he frequently incorporates real people from the city into his work. It is obvious why a
nationalistic reader, who thinks that Irish literature should be primarily concerned with representing Ireland in
a positive light, would think Joyce something of a national embarrassment. Initial reviews a A Portrait of the
Artist as a Young Man, both in Ireland and abroad, often alternated between recognition and praise of the
artistic skill of the novel, while balking at some of the offensive and crude realism in the novel.
For a first novel, Joyce’s Portrait got a substantial critical response, gaining the attention of contemporary
literary figures such as Ezra Pound, W. B. Yeats, H. G. Wells, and Wyndham Lewis. He did not gain his full
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Overview 5
reputation as an avant-garde innovator in the art of prose, however, until the publication of Ulysses, which is
more radical in its formal departures from literary conventions.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man will obviously have a strong appeal to young adults with a Catholic
upbringing or an artistic disposition. Such students will surely identify specifically with much of Stephen’s
experience. However, the more general theme of a young person coming of age, and the complex interplay of
rebellion and conformity which this involves—growing away from the world of parents and the church as well
as growing within it—has had and will continue to have a more universal appeal to younger readers from
various backgrounds.
Master List of Characters
Simon Dedalus—Stephen’s father, originally from the city of Cork, a friendly and humorous man, a strong
and vocal supporter of Parnell; his wealth declines throughout the novel.
Mary Dedalus—Stephen’s mother, a quiet, religious woman, who wants Stephen to observe his Easter duties
at the end of the novel.
Stephen Dedalus—The protagonist and focal character of the narrative; it is essentially “his” story we are
reading, following him from about age six until age eighteen, as he grows through and past the Catholic
church, deciding finally to leave Dublin for Europe to become an artist.
Uncle Charles—Simon’s uncle, Stephen’s granduncle, who lives with the Dedalus family in the early stage of
the novel; trying to preserve calm with Mrs. Dedalus, he remains noncommittal through the Christmas dinner
argument.
Dante—Stephen’s governess, a nickname for “aunt.” A well-read and intelligent woman who teaches Stephen
geography. She is vehement in her devotion to the Catholic church, and joins it in condemning Parnell despite
her desire for liberation.
Brigid—The Dedalus’ maid; she only appears in the first chapter, and stands as an indication of their relative
wealth as the novel begins.
Mr. Casey—A close friend of the Dedalus family, who attends Christmas dinner, and is instrumental in
provoking the argument with Dante. Mr. Casey, like Mr. Dedalus, is a devout supporter of Parnell.
Rody Kickham—A student at Clongowes, a good football player and, according to young Stephen,
a “descent fellow.”
Nasty Roche—A student at Clongowes, whose father is a magistrate. He questions Stephen about his own
father, and teases him about his unusual name. Stephen considers him a “stink.”
Wells—The student at Clongowes who pushes Stephen into the square ditch (the drainage for the outhouse).
He teases and intimidates Stephen, but when it is clear that he has made Stephen ill by pushing him into the
ditch, Wells begs him not to tell the rector.
Jack Lawton—Classmate of Stephen’s at Clongowes; he is Stephen’s “rival” in academic classroom
competitions.
Simon Moonan and Tusker Boyle—Students at Clongowes, in Stephen’s class, who were allegedly caught
“smugging” (a mild form of homosexual petting) with three older students. Stephen and the others discuss
how Moonan and Boyle will be flogged.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Overview 6
Father Arnall—Stephen’s math and Latin teacher at Clongowes; he excuses Stephen from his lesson since he
broke his glasses. He reappears in Chapter Three, and leads the retreat of St. Francis Xavier.
Fleming—A student at Clongowes, who is friendly and sympathetic to Stephen. He asks if Stephen is okay
when he wakes up ill, then urges him to stay in bed.
Father Dolan—The prefect of studies and disciplinarian at Clongowes, who comes in and interrupts Latin
class.
Brother Michael—The medical attendant at the infirmary when Stephen is ill.
Athy—The older student (in the third of grammar) who Stephen meets in the infirmary. He is friendly and tells
Stephen riddles.
Eileen—A friend of Stephen’s at home. She is a Protestant, and Stephen associates her white hands with the
tower of Ivory.
Cecil Thunder—A classmate of Stephen’s at Clongowes.
Corrigan—One of the older students involved in the smugging incident with Moonan and Boyle; given the
choice between expulsion and flogging, Athy claims that Corrigan opted for flogging by Mr. Gleeson.
Mr. Harford—Stephen’s writing teacher at Clongowes.
Father Conmee—The rector at Clongowes; Stephen goes to speak to him about Father Dolan; Father Conmee
is sympathetic and promises to speak to the prefect.
Mike Flynn—An old friend of Simon Dedalus, who is Stephen’s running trainer.
Aubrey Mills—Stephen’s childhood friend at home after Stephen leaves Clongowes; the two boys play
adventure games together.
Maurice—Stephen’s younger brother, who is sent with Stephen to Belvedere College.
Vincent Heron—Stephen’s friend, antagonist, and “rival” at Belvedere; he delights in Stephen’s acts of
“heresy,” yet condemns Byron, Stephen’s favorite poet, as a heretic.
Wallis—Heron’s sidekick; Stephen sees them together smoking outside of the play, and they, jokingly, make
him recite the Confiteor.
Mr. Tate—Stephen’s English teacher at Belvedere, who accuses Stephen of heresy in an essay.
Boland and Nash—Heron’s two friends; the “dunce” and “idler” of the class, respectively. They try to argue
with Stephen about poetry, mostly aping Heron’s opinion that Tennyson is the “best poet.” They condemn
Stephen’s favorite, Byron, as a heretic.
Doyle—The director of the play Stephen is in at Belvedere.
Johnny Cashman—An old man to whom Stephen and his father speak while visiting Cork; Johnny claims to
know many of Stephen’s ancestors.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Overview 7
E--- C--- / Emma—The girl to whom Stephen addresses his poems; she doesn’t actually appear in the novel,
except through Stephen’s memories (the “her” throughout Chapter 5).
Ennis—A classmate of Stephen’s at Belvedere.
Old Woman—Stephen meets her in the street. She directs him to the Church Street chapel.
Priest—The priest at the Church Street chapel to whom Stephen confesses, rather than the priest at the retreat.
The Director—At Belvedere College, he asks Stephen if he has considered joining the priesthood.
Dan Crosby—A tutor; goes with Simon Dedalus to find out about the university for Stephen.
Dwyer, Towser, Shuley, Ennis, Connolly—Acquaintances of Stephen; he sees them swimming as he walks
along the strand. They seem to him grotesque and immature.
Katey, Boody, Maggie—Stephen’s younger sisters.
Cranly—Stephen’s friend and confidant at the university; Stephen speaks to him about his plans to leave
Ireland, and Cranly urges Stephen to appease him mother and observe his Easter duties.
Davin—A friend of Stephen’s at the university; he is from a rural area of Ireland, a “peasant student,” the
other students tend to romanticize his accent and his “simple” ways.
Dean of Studies—An Englishman who talks with Stephen about his developing theory of aesthetics.
Moynihan—A fellow university student who tells ribald jokes during lecture.
Professor of Physics—Stephen attends his lecture, but is not engaged.
MacAlister—A fellow student from the north of Ireland whom Stephen dislikes intensely.
MacCann—A student at the university, a socialist and political activist who engages Stephen in a brief
public debate outside of the physics lecture.
Temple—A student at the university, a gypsy and a socialist, he admires Stephen immensely, much to the
chagrin of Cranly, who finds Temple repulsive.
Lynch—A student at the university, to whom Stephen talks about his theory of aesthetics and morality.
Donovan—A student who Stephen and Lynch encounter during their walk; Stephen dislikes him.
Father Moran—A priest with whom Stephen thinks Emma has been flirting.
Dixon—The medical student at the library with Cranly.
The Captain—A dwarfish old man who Stephen, Dixon, and Cranly see at the library.
O’Keefe—A student who riles Temple outside the library.
Goggins—A stout student, part of the crowd outside the library.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Overview 8
Glynn—A young man at the library.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: James Joyce
Biography
Joyce was born on February 2, 1882, in Dublin, Ireland. He was the eldest child of John Stanislaus and Mary
Jane Murray Joyce, who had, according to Joyce’s father, “sixteen or seventeen children.” Joyce’s
upbringing and education had much in common with that of the fictional Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the
Artist as a Young Man. Joyce’s parents were devout Catholics, and they sent him to Clongowes Wood
College, a Catholic boarding school in County Kildare, south of Dublin. Run by the Jesuit order, this was
considered the best Catholic school in Ireland. However, Joyce was taken out of Clongowes Wood a few
years later when his father suffered some financial losses and the family’s standard of living declined. After
his family moved to Dublin, Joyce enrolled at Belvedere College, a Jesuit day school, where he was especially
interested in poetry and languages.
By the time he entered University College, Dublin (also a Catholic institution), Joyce had become estranged
from the Catholic Church and from Irish society in general. However, Joyce gained the attention of the Irish
literary establishment with an undergraduate essay that he wrote on the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.
Joyce was soon introduced to W. B. Yeats, Ireland’s greatest poet, but he rejected Yeats’s offer of help.
After graduating from University College in 1902, Joyce went to Paris for a year. He was supposed to be
studying medicine but spent most of his time reading and writing, and decided to pursue a literary career. He
returned to Ireland briefly when his mother became terminally ill. In 1904 he met Nora Barnacle, a young
woman from the west of Ireland who worked as a chambermaid at a Dublin hotel. The two became lovers, and
in October of that year they left Ireland for good. They first settled in Trieste, Italy, where the multilingual
Joyce taught English at the local Berlitz school and worked on an autobiographical novel titled Stephen Hero.
Although he did not finish this novel, he later used some of the material from it in A Portrait of the Artist as a
Young Man.
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Joyce and Nora moved to Zurich in Switzerland. (Joyce’s most
famous comment about the war was that it interfered with the public reception of his first two books.) His
collection of short stories, Dubliners, was published in London in 1914 after a long dispute with the publisher,
Richards. With the help of the American poet Ezra Pound, A Portrait was serialized in The Egoist magazine in
London. It appeared in twenty-five installments from February 1914 to September 1915. Published as a
complete book in 1916, the novel established Joyce’s reputation as one of the most original authors of his
time.
Despite his growing fame, Joyce continued to live in relative poverty. He was also troubled by eye
problems—a theme that he touched on in A Portrait—and by his daughter Lucia’s mental illness. Although he
spent most of the rest of his life in Paris and never again lived in Ireland, his subsequent books were all set in
Ireland and their characters were Irish. Joyce refined the streamof- consciousness technique in Ulysses (1922),
generally considered his most important novel. In Finnegans Wake (1939), an extended mythic dream
sequence filled with obscure multilingual wordplay, private jokes, and arcane references, the streamofconsciousness
technique completely obliterated any trace of traditional narrative.
Joyce regarded himself as a genius and refused to make any compromises in his writing to achieve
commercial success. His difficult personality alienated many people who came into contact with him, but he
enjoyed the devotion of Nora, his brother Stanislaus, and a number of close friends and patrons who
recognized and helped to nurture his exceptional talent. Since his death in Zurich in 1941, readers, critics, and
scholars have continued to study his works. He is regarded today as one of the most important authors of the
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: James Joyce Biography 9
twentieth century and as a giant of literary modernism.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Summary
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man covers the childhood and adolescence of Stephen Dedalus. We see
him, over the course of the novel, grow from a little boy to a young man of eighteen who has decided to leave
his country for Europe, in order to be an artist.
At the start of the novel, Stephen is a young boy, probably about five-years-old. He is one of the younger
students at Clongowes Wood College for boys (a Jesuit elementary school, not a “college” in the American
sense). He had been pushed into an outhouse drainage ditch by a student named Wells a few days earlier, and
he wakes up ill. While in the infirmary, Stephen dreams of going home for the Christmas holidays. We then
see the Dedalus family at Christmas dinner, and a heated argument erupts between Stephen’s father and
Dante, Stephen’s governess, about Parnell and the Catholic church. Back at school, Stephen has broken his
glasses and has been excused from classwork by his teacher, Father Arnall. The prefect of studies, Father
Dolan, comes into class to discipline the students, and singles out Stephen as a “lazy idle little loafer.”
Stephen is pandied (his knuckles beaten with a bat) in front of the class, and feels the injustice of his
punishment deeply. The other students urge him to speak to the rector of the college. He gets up the courage
to do so, and the rector promises to speak to Father Dolan. Stephen is cheered by the other students.
In the second chapter, Stephen is a few years older. He is no longer at Clongowes but at Belvedere College.
He has started to become interested in literature, and tends to romanticize his life based on what he reads. He
tries to write a poem to the girl he loves, but cannot. He is in a play at Belvedere, and outside of the theater he
sees two other students, Heron and Wallis, who tease him about the play, and jokingly make him recite the
Confiteor. Stephen, while doing so, remembers a recent incident when his English teacher suspected him of
heresy. Stephen takes a trip to Cork with his father, and his father shows him the town where he was born and
raised, and the school he attended when he was Stephen’s age. Back in Dublin, Stephen wins a sum of money
for an essay competition, and, for a brief time, treats himself and his family to a “season of pleasure.” When
the money runs out, we can see him wandering the red light districts of Dublin, fantasizing about the
prostitutes. As the chapter ends, Stephen has his first experience with a prostitute.
In Chapter Three, it is apparent that Stephen has made a habit of soliciting prostitutes. He goes through the
motions in school and at church, and is not bothered by the duplicity of his life. He goes on a religious retreat
with his class, and the priest’s sermon about sin and damnation affects Stephen deeply. He repents, goes to
confession at the chapel across town, and takes communion.
Stephen has now dedicated his life to God. He prays constantly, and goes about mortifying his senses. He has
completely renounced his sinful relations with the prostitutes, and the director at Belvedere speaks to him
about becoming a priest. The idea first seems to appeal to Stephen, but he ultimately decides that he could not
become a priest.
His father is making plans for Stephen, now 16, to enter the university. Walking along the seashore one
afternoon, thinking about poetry, Stephen sees a young woman bathing. They stare at each other, but do not
speak. Stephen takes this as a spiritual sign, and he excitedly decides to dedicate his life to art.
In the final chapter, Stephen is at the university. He is lazy about his classes but vehement about his
developing theory of aesthetics. He refuses to sign a political petition, trying to set himself apart from the
concerns of his country’s politics or religion. Talking to his close friend, Cranly, Stephen announces that he
has decided to leave Ireland for Europe to pursue his artistic vocation. The novel closes with a few pages out
of Stephen’s diary, as he makes plans to leave for the continent.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Summary 10
Estimated Reading Time
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is broken up into five chapters—the first four are about equal in length;
the fifth is about twice as long as the others. Each chapter should take about an hour to read, though the
language and unconventional narration style may take some getting used to. Spending two separate hour-long
sittings on the fifth chapter, a student should be able to read the novel in six one-hour sittings.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Summary and
Analysis
Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Mr. Dedalus: Stephen’s father
Mrs. Dedalus: Stephen’s mother
Stephen Dedalus: the protagonist and focal character of the narrative
Uncle Charles: Stephen’s granduncle
Dante: Stephen’s governess
Brigid: the Dedalus’ maid
Rody Kickham: student at Clongowes
Nasty Roche: student at Clongowes
Wells: student at Clongowes who pushed Stephen into the ditch
Simon Moonan: student at Clongowes, caught “smugging”
Tusker Boyle: student at Clongowes, caught “smugging” with Simon
Jack Lawton: Stephen’s competitor in class
Father Arnall: Stephen’s math and Latin teacher
Fleming: student at Clongowes; Stephen’s friend
Father Dolan: prefect of studies at Clongowes
Brother Michael: medical attendant in the infirmary
Athy: student at Clongowes
Mr. Casey: friend of the Dedalus family
Eileen: Stephen’s friend, a Protestant
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Summary and Analysis 11
Cecil Thunder: student at Clongowes
Corrigan: older student at Clongowes
Mr. Gleeson: teacher at Clongowes, will flog Corrigan
Mr. Harford: Stephen’s writing teacher at Clongowes
Father Conmee: the rector at Clongowes
Summary
In the first brief section of the chapter, Stephen is very young. He remembers a story his father told him, and a
song he likes to sing. He thinks about Dante, and her brushes (maroon for Michael Davitt, green for
Parnell—both Irish nationalist leaders), and about their neighbors, the Vances.
Next, Stephen is at Clongowes Wood College. Stephen is playing football (soccer) with the others, but stays
outside of the action because he is younger, smaller, and weaker. He remembers another student, Nasty
Roche, questioning him about his name and his father. He remembers being left at school by his mother and
father, his mother crying, and his father telling him to write if he wanted anything, and “never to peach on a
fellow.” He remembers being pushed into a drainage ditch by a student named Wells. Stephen is cold and
obviously homesick, and is counting the days until Christmas break.
The boys go inside, into a math class. The teacher, Father Arnall, has a game where the students are divided
into teams, York and Lancaster (after the English War of the Roses), and Stephen is struggling with the
difficult math. He and another student, Jack Lawton, are constantly competing for first place in these
classroom games.
At dinner, Stephen is not hungry and only drinks tea. He feels ill, and thinks about being home. Later, in the
playroom, he is teased by Wells about whether or not he kisses his mother before going to bed. In study hall,
he changes the number on his desk from 27 to 26 days until the Christmas holiday. He tries to study
geography but cannot concentrate. His mind wanders, and he thinks about his father, Dante, and Mr. Casey
arguing about politics—Stephen does not understand politics, but wishes he did.
They go to chapel for night prayers, and then go to be. In bed, Stephen fantasizes about traveling home for the
holidays. When he wakes up, he feels even more ill, and his friend Fleming tells him to stay in bed. Wells,
worried that he has made Stephen ill by pushing him into the ditch, begs Stephen not to tell on him. The
prefect comes, and, convinced that Stephen is really ill, tells him to go to the infirmary. In the infirmary,
Stephen meets Brother Michael, and thinks once again of home and his parents. He is afraid he might die
before he sees them again. He talks to an older boy, Athy, who tells him riddles. In the infirmary, Stephen
thinks about his father and his grandfather, and about the death of Parnell.
In the next section, Stephen is home for Christmas dinner. His family, Dante, and Mr. Casey are there. The
meal is lavish, prepared and served by servants. An argument erupts at the table between Mr. Dedalus, Mr.
Casey, and Dante about the Catholic church and its role in political matters. Stephen’s mother and Uncle
Charles try to end it, not taking sides and pleading that they not discuss politics at Christmas. The discussion
continues, and moves to the more specific and recent issue of Parnell and the role of the church in his
downfall. Despite the urgings of Mrs. Dedalus and Uncle Charles, the conflict continues on a subtler level, as
Mr. Casey tells an “instructive” anecdote aimed to provoke Dante, about spitting in the eye of a woman who
was taunting him about Parnell. This brings the conflict to a boil, and the section ends with Mr. Casey and
Dante shouting at each other across the table, Mr. Casey saying “no God for Ireland,” and Dante calling him
a blasphemer. As Dante storms out of the room, Stephen notices that Mr. Casey and his father are crying for
Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis 12
Parnell.
In the next section, Stephen is back at Clongowes. He and the other students are talking about some boys who
were in trouble at the school—some say they stole cash, others that they drank the altar wine, and Athy says
they are all wrong, that the boys were caught “smugging,” a mild form of homosexual petting. The
conversation then moves to the question of what punishment the boys will receive. The younger of the five,
Simon Moonan and Tusker Boyle, will be flogged, while the three older boys can choose between expulsion
and flogging.
They are called in from the playground, and in writing class Stephen has trouble because he has broken his
glasses on the cinderpath. In Latin class, Father Arnall has exempted Stephen from work. The prefect of
studies comes in to intimidate and discipline the students. First, he punishes Fleming, who Father Arnall had
made kneel in the aisle for writing a bad theme and missing a question in grammar. He then singles out
Stephen, and punishes him for not working, thinking that Stephen has tricked Father Arnall. When he is gone,
Father Arnall lets them return to their seats, and Stephen is bewildered and upset at his unfair punishment.
Outside of the class, the other boys sympathize with Stephen, and urge him to go tell the rector. At lunch,
Stephen decides that he will go and speak to the rector, though he remains hesitant and unsure until the last
minute. As he leaves the refectory, he gets up the courage to turn and climb the stairs to the rector’s office.
After Stephen explains his case, the rector says that he is sure that Father Dolan made a mistake, and that he
will speak to him. Stephen hurries out to the other students, who loudly cheer his success, lifting him onto
their shoulders. The crowd dissipates, and at the end of the chapter Stephen is standing alone as the other
students play cricket.
Analysis
The novel begins with a cliched storytelling device: “Once upon a time…,” be we soon learn that this is not a
conventional narrative. The initially confusing and opaque first paragraph represents a story Mr. Dedalus had
told Stephen, who is very young in this first short section of the novel. Stephen is identified with the subject
of the story (“He was baby tuckoo”), and it quickly becomes clear that the narrative is closely aligned with
his perspective. The narrative is thus purposely limited by his immature vocabulary. For example, when we
read, “his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hair face,” we are to understand that Stephen does
not yet know the word “beard.” Stephen remembers a song he likes to sing, “O, the wild rose blossoms / On
the little green place,” but the narrator shows us that he is not yet old enough to pronounce it correctly: “O,
the green wothe botheth.” These first two pages are fragmentary and scattered, in order to represent the
associative and impressionistic mind of a young child. Even in these seemingly random and incoherent
fragments of his consciousness, the greater themes of the novel and the motivating forces of Stephen’s world
are represented in microcosm. The political world is represented by Dante’s two brushes. The world of his
family is shown to us. Sexuality is hinted at: (“when he was grown up he was going to marry Eileen”). Art is
represented through his father’s story and Stephen’s song.
In these early pages of the novel, we are being introduced to the world of the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, as
well as being shown Joyce’s original and unusual narrative style. Although it is not a first-person narrative,
the narrator is intimately engaged with Stephen’s consciousness throughout. This method has been called
“free indirect discourse,” a third-person narrator, with many first-person characteristics. The narrator does not
have a voice that is clearly distinct from Stephen’s, and he does not comment explicitly on the action. It is not
a detached or conventionally omniscient storyteller, but is rather closely aligned with Stephen’s
consciousness, mirroring his intellectual and linguistic development. It is not clear that the narrator knows
more than Stephen does. Can the narrator, then, like the young man, be mistaken or deluded? Throughout the
novel, there is the persistent possibility that we should not take the narrator’s words at face value, and that
Stephen is being treated by the author with a subtle irony.
Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis 13
Throughout the first chapter, Joyce is trying to recreate the impressionistic world of a young child. After the
first brief section, Stephen is older—probably about five or six years old. The novel is not always clear about
dates, ages, and chronological time. Months and years will pass without mention, and we must infer
Stephen’s age and maturity from various clues in the narration. A person’s life, as Joyce conceives it, is not
significant because of its events or the order and circumstances in which they occur. Rather, memories are
always colored by the present moment and expectations for the future; likewise, the present is always colored
by memories and past experiences. Joyce’s narrative tries to capture this more fluid conception of the
protagonist’s life, and is thus not concerned with establishing clear dates and times.
The narrative in the first chapter is highly impressionistic. Stephen’s senses are active—sight, smell, sound,
and touch are all emphasized throughout. He is sensitive to color, and especially to hot and cold. His
experience of being at school at Clongowes is characteristically cold and damp; his memories of home are
characteristically warm and dry. This betrays both a childlike sensitivity to simple sense perception, as well as
suggesting the early stages of Stephen’s developing artistic disposition. Stephen’s young imagination is
especially vivid, and his sense perceptions are often, in this chapter, closely associated with an imaginative
flight (such as when he dreams of going home).
Stephen’s reactions to his world are colored heavily by the influence of others—Dante, his father, and the
older students. When Wells is questioning Stephen about whether or not he kisses his mother before going to
bed, and then teases him when he says yes and when he says no, Stephen despairs: “What was the right
answer to the question? He had given two and still Wells laughed.” It is not that Stephen is concerned with
the true answer, but with the right one, the one that will allow him to fit into the social situation at hand.
Stephen is, throughout the first chapter, trying to acclimatize himself to the existing social, political, and
familial structures of his world. He is younger and smaller than the other students, and not at all
self-confident.
Another aspect of the older students’ influence on young Stephen is his tendency to use their slang to explain
things. When Stephen encounters some strange and ambiguous graffiti in the square, he confidently asserts,
“Some fellows had drawn it there for a cod.” He is using his classmates’ slang, but it is not clear that he is at
home with their language, that he either understands the joke itself, or even what a “cod” is at all. The words
seem somewhat uncomfortable to him, as if he is quoting someone else. He will use this, throughout the
chapter, as a way of “understanding” what is going on around him, but it is as if we don’t quite believe that
he does in fact understand.
It is important to recognize that Stephen’s way of making sense involves a particular specific concern with
language, here in the first chapter as throughout the novel. He is fascinated by words as names—his own name,
as well as others:
God was God’s name just as his name was Stephen. Dieu was the French for God and that
was God’s name too; and when anyone prayed to God and said Dieu then God knew at once
that it was a French person that was praying.
This passage represents an interesting and illustrative combination of Stephen’s early capacity for abstract,
complex, metaphysical thought, as well as the comically childlike simplicity of his understanding of language
and religion. Stephen is fascinated by language, by the very fact that a word can represent a person, or even
God.
Stephen is also intrigued by meaning, especially cases of double meaning: “He kept his hands in the
sidepockets of his belted grey suit. That was a belt round his pocket. And belt was also to give a fellow a
belt.” Note the confident simplicity of Stephen’s tone. Recognizing a new aspect of language is, for Stephen,
to have gained a new level of understanding.
Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis 14
Stephen’s life at Clongowes is presented as alternating between a hostile and unpleasant present and a more
desirable alternative. The strength of his young imagination contributes greatly to this—he is constantly
imagining, in vivid detail, his impending journey home for the holidays. While his impression of Clongowes
is constantly couched in terms of coldness and wetness, unfriendliness and unfamiliarity, he imagines his
home as warm, dry, familiar, and friendly. So it is appropriate that the next section, as Stephen is home at
Christmas, begins with this description:
A great fire, banked high and red, flamed in the grate and under the ivytwined branches of the
chandelier the Christmas table was spread.
The narrator, assuming Stephen’s level of associations, sets up the scene at home using language of warmth,
comfort, and tranquility. Stephen is more at ease there, though he is still an outsider. This is the first year he is
old enough to sit with the adults, so he feels a distance and alienation from them similar to what he felt at
Clongowes. He is a total stranger to the world of politics that dominates their discussion, and once again we
see him sit silently, observing and reacting rather than acting and speaking himself.
Stephen’s understanding of politics, as described in the earlier section, is typical in its binary construction:
He wondered if they were arguing at home about that. That was called politics. There were
two sides in it: Dante was on one side and his father and Mr. Casey were on the other side but
his mother and Uncle Charles were on no side. Every day there was something in the paper
about it. It pained him that he did not know well what politics meant…
The world which Stephen is growing into is highly politically charged—he is aware of this, but also aware that
he does not understand it and must remain, for the time being, outside of this dynamic.
The argument at Christmas dinner both confirms and alters the conception of politics Stephen had. The “two
sides,” at his house anyway, are clear. Mr. Casey and his father are devout supporters of Parnell, and spare no
words in their criticism and even condemnation of the Catholic church. Dante, though also a supporter of Irish
liberation, is foremost a Catholic, and condemns Parnell for his adulterous affair. We hear Stephen remember
her ripping the green velvet back from the Parnell brush when the scandal broke.
Stephen is, of course, silent during the argument, though Uncle Charles and Dante periodically refer to his
presence, scolding Mr. Dedalus for his language in front of the child. Although he is silent and passive, we are
aware that his mind, as ever, is active. As he tries to understand the conflict he has witnessed, he must
complicate some of the categories and binaries he has constructed:
Stephen looked with affection at Mr. Casey’s face which stared across the table over his
joined hands…. But why was he against the priests? Because Dante must be right then. But he
had heard his father say that she was a spoiled nun and that she had come out of the convent
in the Alleghanies when her brother had got the money from the savages for the trinkets and
the chainies. Perhaps that made her severe against Parnell.
Stephen clearly does not understand the terms of the conflict, and in a sense the specifics are not what are
important here. This is a significant, perhaps epiphanous, moment in Stephen’s life—not because of what he
learned about Irish politics at the dinner table, but because he is forced to consider his sources of authority. He
likes his father, Dante and Mr. Casey equally, and must come to terms with their radical disagreement. This
memory becomes significant for Stephen because of its more general implications for his understanding of
national and religious politics, which he eventually seeks to escape altogether. The stable world of Stephen’s
binaries—right, wrong; good, bad—seems threatened here.
Mr. Dedalus’ vocal and quite crass questioning of Catholic authority shocks Stephen, but influences him
profoundly. His father’s criticism of the church prefigures his own questioning of Jesuit authority at the end
Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis 15
of this chapter, and ultimately his rejection of the church as a young adult.
If we understand Stephen as a figure for the young artist, then we can see Clongowes and the Jesuit authority
as representing many of the forces active in Ireland that, in Joyce’s conception, repressed the artist. First, the
incident with Wells pushing him into the ditch places Stephen in the role of the righteous innocent victim,
which the other boys seem to support by agreeing that “it was a mean thing to do.” He comes to embrace this
image as the novel progresses. His alienation from the other students and his existence along the margins of
the social scene at the school prefigure his sense of the necessity of “exile” from his home country.
When Stephen, at the start of the final section of this chapter, hears the other students discussing Simon
Moonan and Tusker Boyle, he is primarily trying to figure out what they did wrong; he does not think to
question that they did wrong. It would never occur to him to question the school authorities here. It is clear
that Stephen is convinced that the students must have been doing something wrong for them to be punished so
severely.
When he is punished unjustly by Father Dolan, he seems immediately certain that the authority, in this case,
has made a mistake. Stephen never wavers in his moral indignation—he is certain that the punishment was
indeed “cruel and unfair.” The pain of his punishment is moral rather than physical—his ego and his integrity
are hurt more than his hand. Likewise, his hesitation when it comes to informing the rector is practical, not
moral—he thinks the rector might not believe him, in which case the other students will laugh at him. That
might just mean more pandying at the hands of Father Dolan. However, for the first time in the novel, Stephen
decides to act of his own accord, and his certainty is rewarded. His “success” in going to speak to the rector
is one of many “climaxes” in the novel. It represents an important moment in the development of Stephen’s
soul; this questioning of authority prefigures his later rebellions.
At the end of the chapter, the tone is triumphant. Stephen is cheered by his classmates, and carried on their
shoulders—symbolically centralized among them, rather than marginalized. However, the crowd soon
dissipates and Stephen is alone once again. He observes rather than participates in the cricket match, but this
time his isolation and distance seem different. Rather than feeling uncomfortably alienated, he feels good to
be alone—“He was happy and free.” This kind of “happy exile,” or willful alienation, will come to
characterize Stephen’s relationship with the politics and religion of his country as he gets older. He is still
outside of the game as the chapter ends, but he has achieved an apparently significant moral victory for
himself.
Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Mike Flynn: Stephen’s running coach
Aubrey Mills: Stephen’s friend in Blackrock
Maurice: Stephen’s younger brother
Vincent Heron: Stephen’s friend and “rival” at Belvedere
Wallis: Heron’s friend
Mr. Tate: Stephen’s English teacher at Belvedere
Boland and Nash: Heron’s two friends
Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis 16
Doyle: the director of the play Stephen is in at Belvedere
Johnny Cashman: an old friend of Simon Dedalus in Cork
E--- C--- / Emma: the girl Stephen secretly admires
Summary
In the first section, the narrator says that Uncle Charles smokes his morning pipe in the outhouse, because
Stephen’s father finds the tobacco smell unbearable. The Dedalus family has now moved to Blackrock, a
suburb of Dublin, and it is summer. Stephen is spending a lot of time with Uncle Charles, going around town
doing errands, and practicing track running in the park with Mike Flynn, a friend of Stephen’s father. After
practice, they often go to chapel, where Charles prays piously, while Stephen sits respectfully. He would go
on long walks every Sunday with his father and Uncle Charles, during which he would listen to them talk
about politics and family history. At night, he would read a translation of The Count of Monte Cristo. The
hero of this book, Edmond Dantes, appeals to Stephen, and he imagines his own life to be heroic and
romantic. He has become friends with a boy named Aubrey Mills. They have formed a gang, and play
adventure games together, in which Stephen, rather than dressing in a costume, makes a point of imitating
Napoleon’s plain style of dress.
In September, Stephen does not go back to Clongowes because his father cannot afford to send him. Mike
Flynn is in the hospital, and Aubrey is at school, so Stephen starts driving around with the milkman on his
route. His family’s wealth is declining, and Stephen begins to imagine a female figure, such as Mercedes in
The Count of Monte Cristo, who will transfigure and save him from the plainness of his life.
In the next section, the family has moved from Blackrock back to the city, and most of their furniture has just
been reposessed by Mr. Dedalus’ creditors. Stephen understands that his father is in trouble, but does not
know the details. Uncle Charles has gotten too old to go outside, so Stephen explores Dublin on his own. He
visits relatives with his mother, but continues to feel bitter and aloof. After a children’s party, he takes the last
tram home with the girl he admires. They stand near each other and, though they remain silent, Stephen feels a
kind of connection with her. He thinks that she wants him to hold and kiss her, but he hesitates. The next day,
he tries to write a poem to her. In the poem, he alters some of the details from the previous night—they are
under trees rather than on a tram, and at the “moment of farewell,” this time, they kiss.
One night, Stephen learns that his father has arranged for him and his brother, Maurice, to attend Belvedere
College, another Jesuit school. His father then recounts, at dinner, how Father Conmee told him about
Stephen going to speak to him about Father Dolan. Mr. Dedalus imitates Father Conmee saying they had a
“hearty laugh together over it.”
In the next section, Stephen is near the end of his second year at Belvedere. It is the night of the school play,
and Stephen has the leading role in the second section, playing a comical teacher. Stephen, impatient with the
first act, goes out of the chapel where the play is being staged. He encounters two of his classmates—Heron
and Wallis—smoking outside. Heron urges Stephen to imitate the rector of Belvedere in the play. Heron says
that he saw Stephen’s father going in, and teases him because Emma was with him. Their jesting makes
Stephen angry and uncomfortable, but this mood soon passes. As they jokingly implore him to “admit” that
he is “no saint,” Stephen plays along, reciting the Confiteor.
While doing so, Stephen’s mind wanders to a time, about a year back, when his writing teacher had found a
mild example of heresy in one of his essays. Stephen does not argue, but corrects his error. A few days later,
however, Heron and two others stop him and tease him about it, asking him who the “greatest writer” and
“best poet” are. When Stephen says that Byron is the best poet, Heron mocks him, calling Byron a heretic.
They hold Stephen and hit him with a cane and cabbage stump, telling him to “admit that Byron was no
Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis 17
good.”
Remembering the incident now, he is not angry. He is thinking of the fact that Emma will be in the audience,
and he tries to remember what she looks like. A younger student comes up and tells Stephen he’d better hurry
back and dress for the play.
He goes back in and gets his face painted for the part. He is not nervous, though he is humiliated by the
silliness of the part he has to play. The play goes well, and Stephen leaves in a hurry as soon as it is over.
Seeing his family outside, and noting that Emma is not with them, he leaves ahead of them—angry, frustrated,
and restless.
In the next section, Stephen is on a train to Cork with his father. Cork is the city where Simon Dedalus grew
up. They are traveling now because the Dedalus’ properties are going to be sold. His father tells stories about
his youth in Cork, but Stephen listens without sympathy or pity. In Cork, Mr. Dedalus asks just about
everyone they meet about local news, and people he used to know, which makes Stephen restless and
impatient. While visiting the Queen’s College, Stephen becomes depressed looking at the carvings on the
desks, imagining the lives of the students. His father finds his own initials, carved years ago, which only
depresses Stephen further.
Hearing his father tell more stories, Stephen thinks of his own position at Belvedere. His father gives him
advice, to “always mix with gentlemen,” and reminisces about his own father. Stephen is ashamed of his
father, and thinks that the people they meet are condescending and patronizing. He feels distant from the
world of his father, and the section ends with Stephen repeating to himself lines from Shelley’s poem, “To
The Moon.”
In the final section, Stephen has won 33 pounds in an essay competition. He takes his parents to dinner, telling
his mother not to worry about the cost. He orders fruits and groceries, takes people to the theater, gives gifts,
and spends his money generously, if unwisely. His “season of pleasure,” however, doesn’t last long, and
soon life returns to normal. He is dismayed that he was unable to stop the family’s decline, which causes him
so much shame.
He begins to wander the seedy parts of Dublin, this time searching for a woman to sin with, rather than for the
Mercedes-figure from the start of the chapter. At the close of the chapter, he has his first encounter with a
prostitute. She seduces him, and Stephen’s reaction is passive and submissive.
Analysis
After the dramatic ending of the first chapter, which closes with Stephen winning the approval of his
classmates, the beginning of this chapter might be something of a let-down. Rather than immediately
continuing Stephen’s story, the narrative spends the first page or so describing seemingly banal, incidental,
and trivial details about how Uncle Charles goes out to the outhouse to smoke his tobacco, because Stephen’s
father can’t stand the smell. The tone of this chapter, as it begins, suggests routinization, habit—rather than
presenting singular events, the narrator describes what Uncle Charles would do “every morning,” or what he
and Stephen would do “on week days.” The long and ultimately circular walks Stephen takes, every Sunday,
with his father and Uncle Charles, suggest how much his life has become a progression of routines, and how
much his freedom is limited by the adult world once again, Though he is no longer at Clongowes, he is still, to
some degree, at the disposal of adult authority. His literal, physical freedom is limited, and his means of
escape, throughout this chapter, becomes imaginative.
This juxtaposition of a dramatic moment at the end of one chapter, and a tone of routinization which tends to
deflate that climax at the start of the next chapter, initiates a pattern that will continue throughout the novel.
Each chapter will characteristically end with an energetic climax, a moment of enlightenment for Stephen,
Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis 18
while the next chapter, as it begins, will seem to show that this moment may not have been as significant as
we had thought. This might suggest that the narrator, despite his close engagement with Stephen’s
perspective, has a tendency to ironize or parody aspects of his youthful triumphs. It may be that we feel that
we can see or know more than Stephen, as Stephen is so young that he does not know all he thinks he does.
This is the case throughout the novel, though it is perhaps less obvious as he gets older. The narrator always
asks us to consider Stephen in a critical light, even when the language of the narration seems to be
wholeheartedly affirming him.
This point is made especially specific in the second chapter, as we (and Stephen) hear Mr. Dedalus recount,
over dinner, an encounter with Father Conmee, the rector at Clongowes. He retells the story, which had
seemed like such an unambiguous triumph for young Stephen at the end of the previous chapter, in a
patronizing, almost ridiculing tone:
…we were chatting away quite friendly and he asked me did our friend here wear glasses still
and then he told me the whole story.
—And was he annoyed, Simon?
—Annoyed! Note he! Manly little chap! he said.
Mr Dedalus imitated the mincing nasal tone of the
provincial.
Father Dolan and I, when I told them all at dinner about it, Father Dolan and I had a great
laugh over it. You better mind yourself, Father Dolan, said I, or young Dedalus will send you
up for twice nine. We had a famous laugh together over it. Ha! Ha! Ha!
Stephen’s great act of self-assertion, heroism and confidence is reduced here to a comic anecdote; the
champion of justice and the Roman people and senate is here reduced to a “manly little chap.” While this
passage is on the one hand, evidence of his father’s insensitivity to his son—we will tend to sympathize with
Stephen here—it will also cause us to reconsider the dramatic ending of the previous chapter in a different
light.
One important effect of this moment for Stephen, we imagine, is upon his trust in authority. The confidence
which he thought he shared with Father Conmee has been betrayed. Rather than reprimanding Father Dolan
for his unfair treatment, the two joked about Stephen together. Throughout the second chapter, Stephen
becomes more suspicious of authority figures. He has matured in many ways from the naive young boy of the
first chapter. He is older now, and living in a different place—Blackrock, a suburb of Dublin. The spatial and
temporal distance from Clongowes mirrors the other ways in which he has grown apart from his earlier life.
A telling example of this change in Stephen’s attitude occurs early in the chapter, as he is training with Mike
Flynn, an old friend of his father:
Though he had heard his father say that Mike Flynn had put some of the best runners of
modern times through his hands Stephen often glanced with mistrust at his trainer’s flabby
stubblecovered face, as it bent over the long stained fingers through which he rolled his
cigarette, and with pity at the mild lusterless blue eyes which would look up suddenly from
the task and gaze vaguely into the blue distance….
Contrast this mistrustful and suspicious attitude toward his father’s recommended running trainer with the
way Stephen asserts throughout the first chapter what “father said,” or “Dante said,” or “Uncle Charles
said.” There is a subtle sense of arrogance in the way Stephen looks “with pity” upon the man who is his
Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis 19
trainer, his elder, and a close friend of his father. However, we must remember that, despite these changes in
Stephen’s attitude, he is still at the disposal of adult authority—there is no indication that Stephen is enrolled
in track training because he wants to be. Although Mike Flynn’s style of running—“his head high lifted, his
knees well lifted and his hands held straight down by his sides”—seems antiquated and absurd to Stephen, he
complies nonetheless.
Stephen’s attitude toward religion, which is of course closely related to his attitude toward adult authority in
general, is also changing as he gets older. This too is evident early on in the chapter, as Stephen visits the
chapel with Uncle Charles. While Charles prays habitually and piously, Stephen is respectful, “though he did
not share [Charles’] piety”:
He often wondered what his granduncle prayed for so seriously. Perhaps he prayed for the
souls of purgatory or for the grace of a happy death or perhaps he prayed that God might
send him back a part of the big fortune he squandered in Cork.
Stephen not only does not understand his uncle’s religious belief, the familiar questioning tone which we
recognize from the first chapter has now a sharper, subtly sarcastic edge. By suggesting that Charles might be
praying for God to “send him back” the fortune he “squandered,” Stephen is not only making a critique of
Charles’ religious faith (equating the selfless prayers with the selfish), but expressing his dissatisfaction with
the family’s declining economic status. This suggests the extent to which he is beginning to blame his father
and Charles for being careless.
Stephen’s faith in authority has weakened. He assumes a highly critical, almost arrogant, attitude toward
those in a position of authority. His father is in serious economic trouble. Father Conmee has betrayed his
confidence. Stephen is at once betrayed by and disappointed in various figures of authority in his life, while at
the same time he begins to assume such roles himself. He is the leader of the boys’ gang in their adventure
games, fashioning himself after Napoleon. He is the leader of his class. He has been elected secretary of the
gymnasium. He even assumes the paternal role of economic provider when he distributes the prize money
from the essay contest.
Stephen is quick to set himself apart from his peers and to assume responsibility himself. As the day-to-day
circumstances of his life become more dreary, and as the family is continually forced to move and to sell its
property, Stephen’s hopes become pinned to some kind of deliverance. His attitude throughout the chapter is
a kind of restless expectation, an impatience with his prosaic surroundings, and a reliance upon his
increasingly poetic imagination. More than once we are told of his sense of destiny, how he feels greater
things are in store for him, and that his hardship is only temporary. While he listens to his father and Uncle
Charles talk about Irish politics, history, and folktales, Stephen is silent, but intrigued.
The life that has seemed so incomprehensible to him in the first chapter now seems like a world of
not-too-distant potential. However, it soon becomes clear that this is not a matter of following in his father’s
and Charles’ footsteps; Stephen’s sense of uniqueness and potential moves him away from his family’s
plight, and into the “intangible fantasies” of his own mind.
Stephen’s increasingly critical attitude toward authority does not lead to a spirit of conflict. Rather, he
assumes a pose of detachment. As when Uncle Charles was praying, and Stephen has an air of what we could
call “respectful” silence, he feels a disengaged dissatisfaction with his family’s declining wealth. When he
feels that his father expects his support, that he “was being enlisted for the fight” his family was going to
have with its creditors, Stephen’s reaction is to remain as detached as possible, to think again of the future.
Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis 20
The change in the family’s situation has clearly changed Stephen’s perception of the world: “For some time
he had felt the slight changes in his house; and those changes in what he had deemed unchangeable were so
many slight shocks to his boyish conception of the world.” This shaking of his faith in his father’s stability
results, in part, in a suspicion of his father, and in a sense that he must try to become more independent. He
begins to consciously assume and accept the role of the exile or pariah that he was uncomfortable with in the
first chapter.
Stephen’s pose of detachment, then, does not lead to any direct rebellion at this point. Unlike Heron, his
classroom rival who delights in bullying younger students and disrespecting the teachers (at least behind their
backs), Stephen does not sway from his “quiet obedience.” Amidst all the worldly voices surrounding him at
school and at home, Stephen pins his hopes on his imagination. He begins to look at his present surroundings
as temporary—he is trapped by circumstance, but feels that he will be able to be free soon. His longings are of
course heavily colored by the literature he reads. Literature, for Stephen, provides a means of escape from the
reality of his surroundings. While reading The Count of Monte Cristo, he fancies himself the dark romantic
hero, proud in his exile. He imagines his wanderings through the city as a “quest” for a figure like Mercedes,
who would have the power to “transfigure” him, at which time “weakness and timidity and inexperience
would fall from him.”
This idealized Mercedes—which of course doesn’t connect with anything in Stephen’s experience—forms his
attitude toward Emma, and women more generally, throughout the novel. Emma or “E--- C---,” is rarely
mentioned by name in the novel. She is most often referred to as “her” or “she,” which is significant because
it shows how Stephen reduces her to a symbolic, and highly literary, “woman-figure” rather than perceiving
her as a thinking and feeling person in her own right. She functions for Stephen, throughout the novel, more as
an idea than as an actual person. As he imagines her waiting in the audience at the play, and is anxious and
apparently in love, it is telling that he cannot even recall what she looks like: “He tried to recall her
appearance but could not. He could only remember that she had worn a shawl about her head like a cowl and
that her dark eyes had invited and unnerved him.” It is telling that, as Stephen tries to recall something about
her appearance, his mind reverts immediately to the effect she had on him.
Our perspective, as with everywhere else in the novel, is limited to Stephen, and in the case of Emma we
sense this acutely. How different, we imagine, would Emma’s account of their ride on the tram be? Whenever
Stephen is obsessing over her, we cannot but suspect that here, as elsewhere, his imagination is largely
responsible. It is significant that Emma is hard to distinguish from other female figures in the novel, such as
Eileen, his childhood friend, and Mercedes, for whom he searches the city. Stephen treats women as symbolic
and abstract figures in his life, and not as actualities. Therefore, this “image” will always be in conflict with
the actuality of her behavior. In the second chapter and throughout the novel, we suspect that Emma would be
surprised by Stephen’s descriptions and fantasies. We wonder, with him, whether he is present in her mind at
all. However, we hesitate to assign to her any “unfaithfulness” for this as he does. Given the scarcity of their
actual contact, it is quite reasonable that she doesn’t think of him.
This situation is illustrated nowhere better than in the poem Stephen composes for her. This is our first
glimpse at an attempt of artistic creation on Stephen’s part. The narrator mentions an attempt, after the
Christmas dinner in the first chapter, when Stephen tried to write a poem about Parnell, but couldn’t because
“his brain had then refused to grapple with the theme.” This time, Stephen succeeds in composing a poem,
though we do not get to see it. This suggests, given the selectivity of this narrative, that the circumstances
surrounding the act of creation are more important than the product of its labors. He is inspired by the incident
on the late night tram with Emma, and his poem is supposedly written for her.
Stephen’s composition is highly formal—he seems more enamored of the idea of writing a poem than of the
poem itself. He entitles it before he starts writing, and is sure to draw an “ornamental line” underneath the
title. His paper is headed with the Jesuit motto, “A.M.D.G.” (“Ad Majerum Dei Gloriam”), and at the foot of
Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis 21
the page he writes another motto, “L.D.S.” (“Laus Deo Semper”). His title shows how much he sees himself
as working within a tradition of English poetry. He titles it “To E--- C---,” asserting that “He knew it was
right to begin so for he had seen similar titles in the collected poems of Lord Byron.” The influence of Byron,
however, is as superficial as the Jesuit mottoes, which he includes “from force of habit.” It is as if all these
extraneous, decorative surroundings—the title, the ornamental line, the Jesuit mottoes, the new bottle of ink,
new pen, and new notebook—all get in the way of his creation.
It is no surprise, then, that once he is able to compose his poem (after a brief daydream), that it is as removed
as possible from the scene the night before which inspired it. Stephen uses his art to transform and obscure
reality, while improving on it. If he hesitates to kiss her in life, he doesn’t in the poem. Just as his way of
dealing with his family’s financial trouble is to detach himself, his way of escaping the “squalor” of his life
is to engage in imaginative fantasy. His poem serves just this purpose. Just as his interest in Emma is more in
the idea of a female-figure in his life, his interest in poetry, at this point, is more in the idea of being a poet. It
is personal and private—he hides the book, and as far as we know doesn’t show anyone. Art for Stephen, at
this point, is another means of escape and detachment from reality.
Language, throughout this chapter, continues to be fascination for Stephen, and a key aspect of the way his
mind works (and, consequently, of the way this narrative works). Consider how, when Heron and Wallis are
harassing him, it is the word “Admit!” which sets his mind off on the long digression about the time his
English teacher accused him of heresy. This memory is spurred by this “familiar word of admonition”—he
recalls how that time, too, Heron had tried to force him to “admit” that Byron is a heretic. The logic of this
narrative is associative, and such transitions and digressions are justified by the associations in Stephen’s
mind. As we noted in the previous chapter, these are frequently linguistic.
This capacity for a word to spawn a virtual mental flood for Stephen is not simply limited to cases of memory,
however. While visiting Queen’s College in Cork with his father, he sees the word Foetus carved into a desk.
Its effect on Stephen is instantaneous:
The sudden legend startled his blood: he seemed to feel the absent students of the college
about him and to shrink from their company. A vision of their life, which his father’s words
had been powerless to evoke, sprang up before him out of the word cut in the desk.
Words in their active application do not have this kind of force for Stephen—his father’s constant descriptions
and anecdotes about his school days had bored and annoyed Stephen. But this word, carved into a desk and
removed from any active or purposeful use, brings the scene immediately to life. It is as if this potential
resides somewhere in the word itself.
As we soon learn, the force of this experience is greater because this word and its associations—which for
Stephen are primarily sexual—resonate with his own life. Stephen experiences normal, adolescent, sexual
awakening as a profoundly singular, abnormal, “brutish and individual malady.” We learn that the reason that
the word Foetus has such an effect on him is because it shocks him that other boys would think about the
same “monstrous” things as he does. Again, Stephen tends to see his own experience as unique—he shies
from any deep connection with others, and thus assumes that he is the only one who feels as he does. We
could also read Stephen’s hyperbolic reaction as a critique of Catholic teaching on adolescent
sexuality—despite his pose of singularity and uniqueness, we know that Stephen did not get the idea that this is
“monstrous” on his own.
Stephen’s somewhat excessive reaction here is typical, especially in this chapter. As we have noted, he tends
to romanticize his life, and has begun to relish the role of the sensitive and misunderstood exile. If at times
Stephen seems to overdramatize himself, the narrator certainly has a role in this. As we saw earlier, this
narrator is trying to mirror, through language, aspects of Stephen’s personality as it develops. Throughout
Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis 22
Chapter Two, his language is often somewhat excessive and melodramatic, to mirror Stephen’s tendencies to
view himself in this light. The narrative participates, with a seemingly straight face, in Stephen’s posturings,
presenting them as it were at face value. But do we take Stephen seriously throughout this chapter? Or might
the narrator, by choosing such extreme language, be subtly parodying him?
When the narrator describes Stephen as answering Heron “urbanely,” “Might I ask what you are talking
about?,” are we to understand that 16-year-old Stephen was “really” more urbane and sophisticated than his
rude classmate, or that he was acting this way, putting on airs? His pretentious, elevated style of speech is not
lost on Heron, anyway, who responds, “Indeed you might.” Throughout this chapter, it seems that the
narrator will participate in Stephen’s posturings, using excessive or melodramatic language to describe his
stance or tone of voice, while subtly undercutting him, or inviting us to be critical of him.
Like Stephen’s poem, the narrator’s language, by “participating” in Stephen’s state of mind to this degree,
often renders it difficult to distinguish exactly what is happening. For example, near the end of the chapter,
after Stephen had squandered his money and has taken to wandering the seedy areas of Dublin at night, the
narrator tells of his “shameful” and “secret riots.” Only after a very close reading does it become clear that
these are only in his mind, and that his encounter with the prostitute at the close of the chapter is his first. The
narrator distorts the actuality in a similar way as Stephen himself does—we are to understand, after the Foetus
episode, that he experiences his sexuality and fantasies in this extreme manner. The narrator is attempting to
replicate and reflect the state of Stephen’s mind; by doing so, he often participates in the same kind of
distortions as Stephen.
Throughout this chapter, Stephen sets himself as far apart as possible from his surroundings. His family and
his city are a source of shame, and the binary between fantasy and reality is operative throughout the chapter.
Stephen begins to assume the role of the exile, modeling himself after Lord Byron and Edmond Dantes from
The Count of Monte Cristo. He has a vague sense of a “calling,” some “special purpose” for his life, though
it is not yet clear what this will be. He sets himself apart from the other students at the school, and from the
members of his family; he is convinced that he is unique. However, in many ways the narrative seems to
suggest that Stephen might not be as different as he thinks. The fact that other boys his age have and have
always had sexual fantasies comes as an absolute shock to him. He characterizes his sexuality in extreme,
abnormal terms but the narrator seems to suggest that it is not as strange as he might think. And, although he
criticizes his father and Uncle Charles for their irresponsibility with money, Stephen’s excess and
carelessness with his prize money shows us that he might not be as far from his father’s world as he would
like to think. He assumes the role of paternal provider, to try “to build a breakwater of order and elegance
against the sordid tide of life,” but realizes, of course, that he cannot sustain it. Alongside all of Stephen’s
assertions that he is a unique figure, the narrative continues to suggest ways he is not.
Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Ennis: a classmate of Stephen’s at Belvedere
Old Woman: in the street, who directs Stephen to the chapel
Priest: at the Church Street chapel where Stephen confesses
Summary
Stephen has now made a habit of visiting brothels. In school, he is bored and uninspired, and the narrative
details the wanderings of his mind while he sits in class. He is not plagued by guilt for his sins, but rather feels
a “cold lucid indifference.” He feels that he is beyond salvation, and can do nothing to control his lust. He
Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis 23
has begun to despise his fellow students, in part because of what he sees as an empty and hypocritical piety on
their part. He serves as prefecture of the sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary—a highly esteemed religious
organization at Belvedere—but feels no guilt at the “falsehood of his position.” He sometimes considers
confessing to the members of the sodality, but feels such contempt for them that he does not.
After the math class is over, the other students urge Stephen to try and stall the teacher of the next class by
asking difficult questions about the catechism. Before the religion class, Stephen enjoys contemplating the
theological dilemmas. When the rector comes in, he announces that a religious retreat in honor of St. Francis
Xavier will begin on Wednesday afternoon. He tells the class about Francis Xavier’s life—he was one of the
first followers of Ignatius, the Founder of the Jesuit order. He spends his career converting pagans in the
Indies, Africa and Asia, and is known for the great number of converts he amassed. Stephen anticipates the
coming retreat with anxiety and fear.
In the next section, Stephen is at the retreat. Father Arnall is giving an introductory sermon, which causes
Stephen to remember his days at Clongowes. Father Arnall welcomes the boys, and speaks of the tradition of
this retreat. He talks of the boys who have done it in years past, and wonders where they are now. He explains
the significance and importance of a periodic retreat from ordinary life, and says that during the retreat they
will be taught about the “four last things”: death, judgment, hell, and heaven. He encourages them to clear
their minds of worldly thoughts, and to attend to their souls. Father Arnall claims that this retreat will have a
profound impact on their lives.
After dinner, it is clear that the promise of the next four days has already had an effect on Stephen—he
perceives himself as a “beast,” and begins to feel fear.
This fear becomes “a terror of spirit” as the sermon makes Stephen think of his own death and judgment in
morbid detail. This leads him to consider Doomsday, the final judgment. The sermon affects Stephen deeply
and personally, and he feels how his “soul was festering in sin.”
Walking home, he hears a girl laughing, which causes him intense shame. He thinks of Emma, and is ashamed
as he imagines how she would react to his lifestyle. He imagines repenting, and her forgiving him, and he
imagines the Virgin Mary simultaneously marrying and forgiving the both of them. It is raining, and Stephen
thinks of the biblical flood.
Next, we hear a sermon which solidifies Stephen’s conviction that he must repent. Beginning with Creation
and Original Sin, the sermon reaches the story of Jesus and the importance of repentance and God’s
forgiveness. Then follows a lengthy and detailed description of the torments of hell and damnation—it is a
physical and geographical account of hell, and a graphic depiction of the bodily and psychological torments
hell inflicts on the damned.
As he leaves the chapel, Stephen is greatly upset by the sermon. He fears hell and death, and decides that there
is still time to change his life. In class, Stephen’s thoughts are saturated with the language of the sermon.
When confessions are being heard, Stephen feels that he must confess, but wonders if he can. He decides that
he cannot confess in the college chapel, but must go elsewhere.
That night, the sermon focuses upon the spiritual torments of hell. It details how the damned have a full
awareness of what they have lost, and that their conscience will continue to plague them with guilt. He
reminds the boys of the eternity of hell, and describes how the awareness of this would torment the damned.
He describes sin as a personal affront to Jesus, and the sermon ends with a prayer of repentance, which
Stephen takes to heart.
Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis 24
After dinner, Stephen goes up to his room to pray, still feeling the effects of the sermon. He thinks about his
sins, and feels surprised that God has allowed him to live this long. With his eyes closed, he has a vision of
hell—Stephen’s hell is a land of dry thistle and weed, solid excrement, dim light, and goat-like, half-human
creatures who mumble and circle around him. His vision of hell sickens and frightens him. He almost faints,
then vomits, and, weakened, he prays.
In the evening, he leaves the house, looking to confess his sins, but is scared that he won’t be able to. Seeing
some poor girls sitting on the side of the street, Stephen is ashamed at the thought that their souls are dearer to
God than his. He asks an old woman where the nearest chapel is, and she directs him.
Inside the Church St. Chapel, he kneels at the last bench. Once the priest arrives and the other people in the
chapel begin going in for confession, Stephen has second thoughts. When his turn comes, however, he goes in
almost automatically. Inside the confessional, he recites the Confiteor, and tells the priest that it has been eight
months since his last confession. First he confesses more minor sins—masses he missed, prayers not said—then
gradually reaches his “sins of impurity.” He tells the priest all the details. When the priest asks how old he is,
Stephen answers, “sixteen.” The priest implores Stephen to repent and to change his lifestyle, suggesting that
he pray to the Virgin Mary when he is tempted. The priest blesses him, and Stephen prays fervently.
On his way home, Stephen is ecstatic, feeling an inner peace in his life. In the morning, he takes communion
with his classmates. The ritual affects Stephen deeply, and he feels that a new life has begun for him.
Analysis
Once again, the chapter begins with a sense of dull routine. The excitement of his transgression, which had
ended Chapter Two is here deflated—there is no indication of any sense of thrill or danger in Stephen’s now
frequent visits to the brothels. Instead, they have become as dull and ordinary for him as the rest of the Dublin
society from which he seeks to distance himself. Stephen’s attempts to set himself apart from his
surroundings seem frustrated—the narrator is showing us, at the start of this chapter, that perhaps Stephen’s
experience with the prostitute was not the significant transformative experience that he had thought.
The verb tense throughout the opening paragraphs, as Stephen is in class thinking of the night to come,
suggests just how much of a habit this has become for him:
It would be a gloomy secret night. After early nightfall the yellow lamps would light up, here
and there, the squalid quarter of the brothels. He would follow a devious course up and down
the streets….
Clearly, this “gloomy secret night” will not differ greatly from any other night of the week for Stephen.
Visiting the brothels seems to have become as much a part of his daily routine as school.
However, the fact that this habit has lost its charge of excitement for Stephen is made clear by the narrator’s
use of light imagery, which characterizes Stephen’s present life as dull, dusky, and dim:
The swift December dusk had come tumbling clownishly after its dull day and, as he started
through the dull square window of the schoolroom, he felt his belly crave for its food.
The repetition of “dull” and “dusk” throughout the opening pages of the chapter suggests both habit and
stasis, while the metaphorical language of dusk and dullness suggests just how plain and unappealing
Stephen’s lifestyle has become for him.
In a sense, this first paragraph represents Stephen’s moral state at the start of this chapter. Chapter Three is
thematically concerned with Stephen’s moral and religious state, which undergoes a major transformation
Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis 25
over the course of the five days covered by the chapter. As the chapter opens, he is in class daydreaming about
dinner:
He hoped there would be stew for dinner, turnips and carrots and bruised potatoes and fat
mutton pieces to be ladled out in thick peppered flourfattened sauce. Stuff it into you, his
belly counselled him.
His intellect, or spirit, is subsumed in favor of his bodily appetites, a clear echo of the lustful nature of his sin.
That this sin has become dull and unappealing in itself is suggested by the quality of food Stephen expects:
bruised, fat, thick, and flourfattened. He does not indicate that there is something about the food itself which
appeals to him. Rather, its chief quality that is that it will satisfy a bodily need, evidenced by the crudity of the
phrase, “stuff it into you.” Stephen is now motivated by the physical and worldly—his “belly” is personified
as an entity separate from and dominant over his mind. His lust for food is clearly associated with his sexual
lust, as his mind seems to progress naturally from thinking about dinner to thinking about wandering the
brothel district. Both cravings are equally devoid of feeling.
As the novel’s central chapter, Chapter Three is the most temporally and thematically focused and
concentrated. Whereas the other chapters in the novel cover anywhere from a few months to a few years in
Stephen’s life, Chapter Three intensely focuses on five crucial days. Even within these five days, the
narrative excludes everything except what specifically concerns Stephen’s spiritual and religious status. We
have the impression that this retreat consists only of Stephen hearing sermons, then cowering in his room, and
eventually walking across town for confession. While he surely did many other things during these days, this
narrator is interested only in presenting the details essential to the development of Stephen’s soul. Therefore,
the focus of the narrative in this chapter is intensely concentrated.
John Blades describes it as a “chapter of excesses.” Father Arnall’s sermons are excessive in their scope, and
in their morbid and explicit attention to detail. The narrative is excessive in its unrelenting and comprehensive
presentation of these sermons. It shifts from direct quotation of the priest to the style of paraphrase that seems
to present Stephen’s reactions to the sermon at the same time, but our overall impression of this section of the
chapter is like sitting through these entire sermons. There is very little narrative presence interrupting the
relentless flow of the priest’s words. Stephen’s response is also somewhat excessive, feeling that “every
word was for him,” and fearing an immediate death at the hand of God on his way back to his room.
One important change in Stephen’s character in this chapter is in his attitude toward his peers. What we
recognize in Chapter Two as a pose of detachment has now become a more explicit “contempt” for his peers.
He perceives their acts of piety and religious devotion as hypocritical, easy and shallow, and feels no shame
about his “double life” around them. The pose of exile and detachment here takes on a distinctly sinful
quality—pride. This is an extreme manifestation of his feelings of uniqueness and exile in Chapter Two, and
one which suggests the sinful state of his soul. The restlessness and impatience with the world of his family
and his classmates, and the pervasive hope that some great calling awaits him, has now become a “cold lucid
indifference” toward his own soul, and toward the extent to which he continues to live in sin.
While Stephen tries to convince himself that he is indifferent to his sin, and feels no regret or discomfort with
“the falsehood of his position” as prefect of the sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is clear that he has
been not able to escape the influence of the Catholic church. First of all, his sinful lifestyle does to constitute a
rejection of or loss of belief in God:
What did it avail to pray when he knew that his soul lusted after its own destruction? A
certain pride, a certain awe, withheld him from offering to God even one prayer at night
though he knew it was in God’s power to take away his life while he slept and hurl his soul
hellward ere he could beg for mercy.
Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis 26
Stephen seems to fashion himself here after Milton’s Satan; we can sense a romantic pleasure in his defiance
of God’s power. For Stephen never expresses disbelief of or lack of faith in God, and he is still intimately
familiar with the tenents of the Catholic faith (evidenced by his role as resident expert in his class on obscure
questions about the catechism). Stephen seems to take both pride and morbid and masochistic pleasure in his
deep theological knowledge:
It was strange too that he found an arid pleasure in following up to the end of rigid lines of the
doctrines of the church and penetrating into obscure silences only to hear and feel the more
deeply his own condemnation.
His interest in the details of Catholic doctrine has a certain detached quality—as if religion were a series of
puzzling intellectual questions and obscure knowledge. At the same time, however, Stephen seems to find a
certain thrill in applying the consequences of these doctrines to his own sinful life. He is deeply aware of the
“letter of the law,” but this awareness never translates into a reaction to the “spirit of the law” until after the
retreat. His interest in theological questions bears a very limited connection to his daily life. Up to this point,
Stephen’s relationship to the church is both an idle intellectual game, and a useful romantic trope for his
imaginative construction of his own life.
Though he manages to remain detached to this degree, he is never outside of the structures of the church. He
always refers to his “sin” and to his “condemnation,” terms that have no application outside of the
framework of religious doctrine and belief. By identifying his behavior as a “sin,” and by dwelling on it to
this degree, we can see how much the language and beliefs of the Catholic church continue to have a hold on
him. We can see, from the start of the chapter, just how ripe Stephen is to be swayed by the sermon.
The centerpiece of this chapter is the pair of sermons Father Arnall gives concerning hell and damnation. He
quite literally puts “the fear of God” into Stephen, who, at the end of the chapter, repents, confesses, and
begins a new life in the service of God. The narrator, as a recognizable presence, all but drops out of the
picture in this section. Stephen speaks very little in this chapter, but listens and reacts internally to the sermon.
The narrator is able to illustrate this by recreating Stephen’s experience for the reader—we are made to listen
to the sermon almost word-for-word, which recreates Stephen’s experience in the congregation, continuing to
align us exclusively with his perspective.
Although the narrative starts by quoting large portions of the sermon, we soon are able to recognize many
characteristics of Father Arnall’s language in the narrator’s “own” narration, paraphrasing to the extent that
the narrator’s voice sounds like the priest’s:
At the last moment of consciousness the whole earthly life passed before the vision of the
soul and, ere it had time to reflect, the body had died and the soul stood terrified before the
judgement seat. God, who had long been merciful, would then be just….
Eventually, the narration starts to present the sermon directly, but without quoting, and without the marks of
paraphrase in its syntax. The two voices seem to have merged completely:
And this day will come, shall come, must come; the day of death and the day of judgment. It
is appointed unto man to die and after death the judgment. Death is certain. The time and
manner are uncertain…
The narrator no longer seems to be telling us what the priest said, so much as saying it directly. Our close
alignment with Stephen’s perspective allows us to “experience” this sermon more or less from his position
as an audience member in the congregation.
Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis 27
The priest’s rhetoric becomes the “action” of this chapter. Since Stephen is convinced that “every word was
for him,” when we read the narrator’s paraphrase of the sermon, we are able to gauge Stephen’s reaction at
the same time. Father Arnall, who presumably gives the sermon (since he is running the retreat), is named
initially before being reduced to “the priest.” He eventually recedes as a direct presence in the narrative
altogether. His language becomes, then, much less personalized, underscoring just how much Stephen is
tending to take this as God’s direct word, and as an unadulterated voice of absolute authority.
Stephen’s reaction to the sermon, then, represents a kind of regression. Throughout Chapter Two, as we
recognized, Stephen was becoming increasingly suspicious of authority figures. In the early section of Chapter
Three, as his classmates are encouraging him to stall the teacher with a series of obscure and difficult
theological questions, we are reminded of his lack of deep regard for authority. However, throughout Chapter
Three, he becomes less critical and more accepting of the authority of the clergy, represented by Father Arnall
at the retreat, and the old priest at the chapel to whom Stephen confesses. His relationship to religion here is
more emotional and simplistic. He does not question the authorities on the finer points of Catholic doctrine,
but fears and respects them, and takes their words and their power directly to heart.
This is one of several ways in which Stephen’s repentance represents a return to innocence. The reappearance
of Father Arnall in the novel, whom we last saw in Chapter One, at Clongowes, recalls us to the time when
Stephen was younger:
The figure of his old master, so strangely rearisen, brought back to Stephen’s mind his life at
Clongowes: the wide playgrounds, swarming with boys, the square ditch, the little cemetery
off the main avenue of limes where he had dreamed of being buried, the firelight on the wall
of the infirmary where he lay sick, the sorrowful face of Brother Michael. His soul, as these
memories came back to him, became again a child’s soul.
Whereas in Chapter Two, Stephen was eager to distance himself from those days, when “the memory of his
childhood [was] dim” and he could not “call forth…vivid moments” but “only names,” seeing Father Arnall
calls up vivid and detailed memories for Stephen. In a sense, these are “memories” for the reader, too, as they
cause us to recall how Stephen was then. The very appearance of Father Arnall symbolizes how this retreat
will be a return to a state of innocence for Stephen, who assumes a childlike openness as he listens to the
sermon. The narrator’s language at the end of the chapter, after Stephen has repented and confessed, recalls
the more childlike rhythms of Chapter One:
He had confessed and God had pardoned him. His soul was made fair and holy once more,
holy and happy. It would be beautiful to die if God so willed. It was beautiful to live if God so
willed, to live in grace a life of peace and virtue and forbearance with others.
The convention of the priest calling him “my child” takes on special significance, as Stephen’s confession
represents a revision to his more childlike submission to voices of authority.
If the effect of Stephen’s repentance is a seeming return to a state of lost innocence, then the priest’s sermon
certainly contributes to this. Stephen’s repentance and change of heart are motivated by fear more than
anything else. The sermon focuses solely on the threat of the tortures of hell; the method is to intimidate the
young boys into behaving according to the law of God. His reason for living a pious life never move beyond
intimidation. He spends a large portion of his sermon describing hell’s geographical and physical
characteristics with quasi-scientific exactness, comparing hell’s heat and fire to heat and fire on earth, trying
to impress upon the boys in earthly terms the inconceivable and unearthly extremity and eternity of hell’s
torments. The priest never offers a positive reason to believe in and follow God, but rests his argument solely
on the consequences of a sinful life.
Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis 28
His very poetic and imaginative reconstruction of hell appeals to Stephen’s artistic sensibility rather than to
his intellect. Stephen’s remorse, then, is not moral or intellectual in character—it is motivated primarily by
fear of hell, God’s wrath, and eternal damnation. Like the omnipresent threat of pandying or flogging at
Clongowes, hell functions as an intimidation tactic, divorced from any moral choice. In Chapter Three, Joyce
seems to be making his most explicit critique of the Catholic church. Although the church functions
throughout the novel as one of the primary fetters which Stephen Dedalus tries to free himself from, in this
chapter its mechanisms are portrayed most explicitly as coercive, simplistic, and reductive.
Stephen’s repentance and spiritual rebirth has an immediate effect on his attitude toward his peers. Walking
home from confession, he is pleased “to live in grace a life of peace and virtue and forbearance with others.”
At communion the next day, he partakes humbly of the communal spirit of the ritual:
The boys were all there, kneeling in their places. He knelt among them, happy and shy….
He knelt before the altar with his classmates, holding the altar cloth with them over a living
rail of hands.
Stephen seems to feel a connection with his peers for the first time in the novel. His alienation and insecurity,
which he felt as a child, and his proud exile, which developed as an adolescent, all seem to be abandoned in
favor of this feeling of brotherhood and connectedness.
Before his confession, however, Stephen’s sense of detachment and singularity is still present. His reaction to
the sermon is intensely personal—he interprets it as a personal message from God, and the narrator illustrates
how Stephen’s extreme reaction is unique among his classmates. After the first sermon, while Stephen is
vividly imagining his own death and damnation, the other students’ voices serve to undercut and deflate his
personal drama:
His flesh shrank together as it felt the approach of the ravenous tongues of flames, dried up as
it felt about it the swirl of stifling air. He had died. Yes. He was judged. A wave of fire swept
through his body: the first. Again a wave. His brain began to glow. Another. His brain was
simmering and bubbling within the cracking tenement of the skull. Flames burst forth from
his skull like a corolla, shrieking like voices:
—Hell! Hell! Hell! Hell! Hell!
Voices spoke near him:
—On hell.
—I suppose he rubbed it into you well.
—You bet he did. He put us all into a blue funk.
—That’s what you fellows want: and plenty of it to make you work.
The sound, like voices, in Stephen’s imagination is juxtaposed with the actual voices of Mr. Tate and Vincent
Heron. The colloquial chattiness of their reaction—“he rubbed it into you,” “you bet he did”—presents a
plainer reality next to Stephen’s imaginative life, suggesting that Stephen’s egotism results in an
overreaction on his part. Mr. Tate jokingly reduces the voice of God which has quaked Stephen’s soul to a
mere scare tactic to keep the students working. The narrator presents Stephen’s experience of these things
literally, physically, which furthers this sense of two separate realities here. Stephen’s skull is melting, flames
are shooting from his head, while Mr. Tate and Heron joke about the students being put into a “blue funk.”
We might sense a tone of elitism or superiority in Stephen’s reaction, if we keep in mind his attitude of
contempt toward the other students’ shows of piety earlier. It is easy to see how his reaction would seem, to
him, as the “real” or “righteous” one, while theirs is shallow and trivial. The same kind of operative
distinction between Stephen’s imaginative reality and ordinary life, which characterized Chapter Two, is at
Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis 29
work here. We can see, in this scene, Stephen’s poetic and dramatic imagination coloring his experience as
unique and incommunicable, participating in and contributing to his feeling of alienation.
His feelings of contempt and disdain for his peers might still be somewhat active as he decides that he must
confess his sins, “but not there among his school companions.” Ostensibly, his motive here is “shame” and
“abjection of spirit”—he feels he is not worthy to confess in the college chapel among their “boyish hearts.”
Implicit in this humility, however, is the same kind of feeling of exile, detachment, and superiority which
motivated his “contempt” for them earlier in the chapter. Stephen does not feel that he is a part of this
community. Before, he had seen their “boyishness” as a limiting and infuriating immaturity. Now, however,
he sees it as an innocence which he has lost.
As he is wandering the streets looking for a chapel, he sees “frowsy girls” along the side of the road. His
“humiliation” that their souls may be dearer to God than his has its root in an implicit feeling of superiority or
egotism. The implication, we suppose, is that he feels his soul should be dearer to God. Stephen’s confession
and repentance is motivated, in part, by a desire to change all this—while waiting his turn in the chapel, he is
inspired by thinking about Jesus, and his love for the “poor and simple people.” Before confession,
Stephen’s motivation is expressed thus:
He would be at one with others and with God. He would love his neighbor. He would love
God Who had made and loved him. He would kneel and pray with others and be happy. God
would look down on him and on them and would love them all.
This communally oriented spirit is uncharacteristic of the Stephen we know. He seeks to identify himself with
the group, to have his individual identity—which until now has been most important to him—subsumed under a
group identity, and under God.
This represents another important reversion of the tendencies we recognized in Chapter Two. Stephen is
trying to relinquish the role of exile he began to assume then. His confession and repentance is motivated by
and seems to result in a feeling of brotherhood and communion with humanity. His religious rebirth “sets
back the clock” in various ways. It represents a return to a state of innocence, reconciling his sins with God; it
represents a new, less critical attitude toward authority, and a less hostile attitude toward his peers. Up to this
point, Stephen’s individual identity was most important, and he sought only to find some means of escape
from ordinary Dublin life, but he now seems reconciled to his peers and to his environment. The image of
Stephen wandering the dark streets to find a chapel near the end of Chapter Three is a clear echo of the end of
Chapter Two, when he wanders the streets looking for a woman. Do we understand this as a kind of revision
of this earlier scene, an attempt at starting over, this time on the “right foot”? Or do we hear an ironic echo of
the earlier Stephen even here, suggesting that perhaps his change of heart is neither permanent nor desirable?
He seems to have changed profoundly as Chapter Three closes—he seems happy to be a part of a “living rail
of hands,” to have conformed to the authority of God and the church. However, we should be suspicious, by
now, of this novel’s climaxes, and wonder, as we begin Chapter Four, whether this transformation is really
for the better.
Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
The Director: at Belvedere College, asks Stephen to consider joining the priesthood
Dan Crosby: a tutor, who goes with Stephen’s father to find out about the university for Stephen
Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis 30
Dwyer, Towser, Shuley, Ennis, Connolly: acquaintances of Stephen’s; he sees them swimming near the
strand
Summary
Stephen has now dedicated his life to the service of God—each day is structured around prayer, ritual, and
religious devotions. He attends mass each morning, and offers ejaculations and prayers each day for the souls
in purgatory. He sees his daily life now in terms of eternity, and senses an immediate connection between his
acts on earth and their repercussions in heaven. Each of his three daily chaplets is dedicated to one of the
“three theological virtues,” Father, Son and Holy Ghost; each day of the week is devoted toward gaining one
of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, and toward driving out each of the seven deadly sins.
Stephen views every aspect of his life as a gift from God; the world now exists for him “as a theorem of
divine power and love and universality.” He tries to mortify and discipline each of his senses. He keeps his
eyes to the ground, doesn’t try to avoid loud or unpleasant noises, intentionally subjects himself to unpleasant
smells, and is strict about his diet, making sure he does not enjoy his food. He goes to great efforts to remain
physically uncomfortable, both while sleeping and awake.
He is discouraged that, despite his efforts, he continues to get angry or impatient with others for trivial
reasons. However, he takes great pleasure in being able to avoid temptation, though he periodically doubts
how completely he has changed his life. In confession, he sometimes has to repeat an earlier sin because he
sins so infrequently now. Stephen is frustrated, because it seems that he will never be able to fully escape the
sins which he had struggled to confess at the end of Chapter Three.
In the next section, Stephen is speaking with the director of Belvedere College. He has been summoned to the
director’s office, and, while making friendly and respectful small-talk, Stephen wonders why he has really
been sent there. They begin talking about the Dominican and Franciscan orders, and of their respective styles
of dress.
Stephen begins to think about his experiences with the Jesuits at school. He continues to hold them in high
regard, although they sometimes seem “a little childish” in their judgments.
The director soon comes to the point, however, asking if Stephen has ever felt a vocation to join the
priesthood. Stephen starts to answer “yes,” but remains silent. He tells the priest that he has “sometimes
thought of it.” The priest tells him that only one or two boys from the college will be the sort who will be
called by God, and suggests that Stephen, with his intelligence, devotion, and leadership qualities, might be
one. The priest begins to talk of the power and authority a priest has, which reminds Stephen of “his own
proud musings” on the subject, when he had imagined himself as a priest. The idea seems to appeal to
him—he is attracted to the secret knowledge and power the priesthood could give him.
The priest tells him that his mass the next morning will be specially dedicated so that God may reveal His will
to Stephen. He cautions Stephen to be certain of his decision, because it is a final one, on which the salvation
of his soul may depend.
As he leaves the director’s office, Stephen and the director shake hands. Stephen notes the gravity of the
expression on the priest’s face. Walking home, he tries to imagine himself as a priest.
Remembering the “troubling odour” of Clongowes, he begins to feel restless and confused. He begins to
imagine how restless and unhappy he would be, and quickly decides that he could not become a priest, that
“he would fall,” and that “his destiny was to be elusive of social or religious orders.”
Stephen arrives at home, where his brothers and sisters are having tea. He learns that his parents have gone to
look at another home. The family is moving again, under pressure from the landlord. The children start to
Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis 31
sing, and soon Stephen joins them. It pains him to hear the “overture of weariness” in their young voices, and
he thinks sadly of the “weariness and pain” of all generations of children.
In the next section, Stephen is pacing anxiously as his father and Dan Crosby, his tutor, have gone to find out
about the university for him. After an hour of waiting, he leaves for the Bull, a sandy island near the mouth of
the Liffey.
While walking, he thinks of the university. He knows his mother is hostile to the idea, which Stephen takes as
an indication of how their lives are drifting apart. He still feels that he has been born for some special purpose,
and he senses that the university will lead to new adventures.
As he crosses the bridge on the way to the Bull, he passes a squad of Christian Brothers, walking two by two.
He has a moment of shame or regret for refusing to join the priesthood, but reassures himself that their life is
not for him.
He thinks of a phrase he has read, “A day of dappled seaborne clouds,” and marvels at how the words seem
to capture the moment so perfectly. He muses about what it is that fascinates him about words.
Having crossed the bridge, he heads toward the sea. Looking at the clouds coming in from the sea, he thinks
of Europe, where they have come from. His reverie is interrupted, however, by a group of his classmates who
are bathing in the sea. They call to him, and he stops briefly to chat, impatient with their immaturity, and
repulsed by their adolescent nakedness. They call his name in Latinate and Greek forms, “Stephenos
Dedalos” and “Stephanoumenos,” which makes him think of his name as a prophecy. He understands
Daedalus, the mythical artificer, as a “symbol of the artist forging anew in his workshop out of the sluggish
matter of the earth a new soaring impalpable imperishable being,” and wonders if this is an indication of his
calling in life. He feels excited, and knows he must dedicate his life and soul to art.
He walks away from the boys, heading down the strand, along the sea. He sees a girl alone, wading in the sea,
with her skirts pinned up around her waist. She seems to him like a bird, and he takes her as a sign of his
newly chosen destiny. Their eyes meet, but they do not speak. Stephen wanders off, delirious with excitement.
He has lost track of time and, realizing it is late and he has wandered far out of his way, he runs back toward
the land. He lays down before long, and sleeps. When he awakes, it is evening, and the new moon has risen.
Analysis
In this crucial, climactic chapter, Stephen’s awareness of his artistic vision begins to crystallize. Over the
course of the chapter, he frees himself from the “nets” of the church, and from his family, embracing the role
of the exile figure more explicitly than before. As the chapter ends, Stephen is alone on the seashore, facing
away from Ireland, toward Europe. He has literally left his father behind, who had gone to see about the
university for him. And he has left the church behind, as he decides he cannot become a priest, and must
instead discover his destiny on his own, apart from the trappings of religion, family, or nation. Just as, over
the course of Chapter Three, Stephen had undergone an almost total religious transformation, over the course
of this chapter his outlook changes greatly. There is a progression in Chapter Four from the rigid order of
Stephen’s religious devotion and the promise of an even more rigid order in the priesthood, to uncertainty and
loss of faith, disorder and confusion, and back to a certainty in a different kind of calling, that of creative art.
Stephen’s religious devotion, at the start of this chapter, has none of the passion of his conversion. Stephen’s
piety is rigidly structured, almost monkish—the narrator’s language in this first section is prosaic, dry and
businesslike, cataloging Stephen’s tight and orderly schedule of religious devotion. Again, we see how what
had seemed a passionate and climactic epiphany—Stephen’s repentance and religious awakening at the end of
Chapter Three—seems to become, at the start of the next chapter, a dull and habitual routine.
Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis 32
Stephen’s religious devotion has a particularly mathematical and economical character, which tends to
undercut our sense of his seriousness. The weeks and even the days of his life are broken down into numbered
segments. His prayers for the souls in purgatory are described as a kind of transaction with God; Stephen is
anxious that he “could never know how much temporal punishment he had remitted by way of suffrage for
the agonizing souls.” He constantly frets that he has not been able to amass enough to make an appreciable
difference. The economic metaphors are made more explicit further on, as Stephen imagines the immediate
repercussions in heaven of his acts of devotion on earth:
At times his sense of such immediate repercussion was so lively that he seemed to feel his
soul in devotion pressing like fingers the keyboard of a great cash register and to see the
amount of his purchase start forth immediately in heaven.
Though Stephen is certainly adamant in his dedication to the religious life, the narrator seems to be subtly
parodying his piety in passages like this. When Stephen views his prayers in terms of “the amount of his
purchase,” imagining a “great cash register” in heaven, his religious dedication seems simplistic and
reductive.
While on the one hand this portrayal of Stephen’s faith seems rather ridiculous and simplistic, on the other
hand, it represents a vividly imaginative kind of belief. In a manner which is typical of Stephen, his religious
life colors his daily life in every aspect—he now understands his life in terms of eternity, and imagines
heaven’s response to his every action. His imagination is typically poetic and metaphorical in character. For
example, when he recites the rosary prayers while walking down the street, he imagines the beads
“transformed…into coronals of flowers of such vague unearthly texture that they seemed to him as hueless and
odorless as they were nameless.” His daily rituals, although certainly routine and habitualized to an extreme
degree, represent for Stephen an active and vivid imaginative life.
Religion, for Stephen, serves to keep him detached from ordinary Dublin life—its effect on his imagination can
be accurately compared to the effect of the Count of Monte Cristo in Chapter Two. Although it is imaginative,
however, his devotion becomes less and less passionate. He can comprehend minute theological details, but
cannot conceive of the notion of God’s eternal love:
The imagery through which the nature and kinship of the Three Persons of the Trinity were
darkly shadowed forth in the books of devotion which he read…were easier of acceptance by
his mind by reason of their august incomprehensibility that was the simple fact that God had
loved his soul from all eternity, for ages before he had been born into the world, for ages
before the world itself had existed.
It is not just God’s love which Stephen finds difficult to understand or to feel:
He had heard the names of the passions of love and hate pronounced solemnly on the stage
and in the pulpit, had found them set forth solemnly in books, and had wondered why his soul
was unable to harbour them for any time or to force his lips to utter their names with
conviction.
Books do not connect to life for Stephen, and his faith is more intellectual than emotional. Once the lust from
which he suffered has been effectively banished, his mind is left “lucid and indifferent.” The same kind of
indifference that had characterized Stephen’s spiritual life before his conversion is used to characterize him
now—the narrator suggests that in some sense maybe Stephen’s life has not charged as completely as it may
seem.
Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis 33
He is still cut off from other people, for example. There is a detached, intellectual quality to his religious faith.
He looks at the world as evidence of divine power, but in a way that does not necessarily reveal any
appreciation or love for the beauty in the world:
The world for all its solid substance and complexity no longer existed for his soul save as a
theorem of divine power and love and universality.
Stephen is certainly “otherworldly” in his religious devotion. It is as if his life is only a brief preparation for
eternity, part of some “divine purpose” that he “dared not question.” It is difficult for him to “understand
why it was in any way necessary that he should continue to live.”
The absurdities of his efforts to mortify his senses illustrate how his religious faith is cutting him off from the
world around him. This contrasts strongly with the extremely physical language which characterized Stephen
at the start of Chapter Three, and represents one way that he has changed in Chapter Four. One way he has not
changed, however, is how detached he is from life around him. In Chapter Three, it was as a result of this
physicality, and the nature of his sin, that he felt no sense of community with those around him. In this
chapter, after the communion scene with Stephen kneeling among his classmates, we might assume that he is
now on some common ground with them, and is a part of their community. Instead, however, he finds that
“To merge his life in the common tide of other lives was harder for him than any fasting or prayer.” Despite
his efforts, he is still isolated from his peers. Religion for Stephen is an intensely private, almost solipsistic
experience, and becomes only one more way that he feels alienated from those around him.
In some ways, we might suspect that Stephen’s religious transformation is incomplete. But his dedication is
so extreme that when the director of Belvedere asks him if he has considered joining the priesthood, we may
very well assume that he will accept the offer. His devotion is already very priestlike in its rigid
self-discipline, and in its effect of keeping him cut off from the flow of ordinary life. He indeed seems, as the
priest suggests, an ideal candidate.
At the same time, however, many aspects of the language used to describe this scene prefigure Stephen’s
rejection of the offer, and ultimately of the church and religious life altogether. The priest himself is described
in the language of death and stagnation:
The priest’s face was in total shadow but the waning daylight from behind him touched the
deeply grooved temples and the curves of the skull.
His face, which we would associate with a living individual, is not visible in the dim light. Only his skull,
which we associate with anonymity and death, can be perceived. His voice is described more than once as
“grave and cordial,” and the double meaning of “grave” resonates strongly. The hour of dusk suggests a
fading and waning life.
When they begin talking about the styles of dress of different orders of the priesthood, and how they are often
impractical and ridiculous, the extent to which a priest must remain detached from normal life is emphasized.
This, of course, should appeal to Stephen, as he has seen himself as detached from normal life for some time
now. But the wandering of Stephen’s mind as the priest is slowly leading up to his point suggests that perhaps
he is not ready for this kind of commitment:
The names of articles of dress worn by women or of certain soft and delicate stuffs used in
their making brought always to his mind a delicate and sinful perfume…. It had shocked him
too when he had felt for the first time beneath his tremulous fingers the brittle texture of a
woman’s stocking….
Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis 34
It is not an encouraging sign that Stephen is thinking, with no sign of guilt or regret, of his experiences with
the prostitutes while the priest is building up toward asking him to consider joining the priesthood.
Stephen’s attitude toward the priest is similarly suggestive of his eventual refusal. He is respectful, but also
somewhat impatient and indulgent as he waits for the priest to stop beating around the bush. This reflects his
overall attitude toward the Jesuits these days. He is respectful of the order, and all they have done for him, but
he is also subtly dissatisfied with them. He thinks fondly and without resentment of the way they ran the
schools he has attended—he has even forgiven the pandying incident from Chapter One. However, he
associates the Jesuits with a younger phase of his life, and it does not seem that he will continue among them:
Lately some of their judgments had sounded a little childish in his ears and had made him feel
a regret and pity as though he were slowly passing out of an accustomed world and were
hearing its language for the last time.
He remembers an incident where a priest was condemning Victor Hugo for turning against the church, which
incites an “unresting doubt” in Stephen’s mind. He associates Jesuit authority with his childhood, and it is
apparent that he has matured since then, and is beginning to feel superior to them in some ways.
Despite these numerous suggestions to the contrary, the idea of the priesthood does appeal to Stephen
initially. He has indeed thought of it before this, and the priest speaks directly to the aspects of the priesthood
that appeal most to Stephen: the privilege, power, and prestige of the office. His initial response is positive:
A flame began to flutter again on Stephen’s cheek as he heard in this proud address an echo
of his own proud musings. How often he had seen himself as a priest wielding calmly and
humbly the awful power of which angels and saints stood in reverence! His soul loved to
muse in secret on this desire. He had seen himself, a young and silent mannered priest,
entering a confession swiftly, incensing, genuflecting, accomplishing the vague acts of the
priesthood which pleased him by reason of their semblance of reality and of their distance
from it.
Both the priest’s description and Stephen’s response recall one of his earlier vices: pride. The appeal of the
priesthood for Stephen involves power, secrecy, and access to privileged knowledge. He pictures himself a
priest, in a highly dramatic and literary fashion. It represents for him a “secret desire,” a fantasy. There is an
unhealthy degree of sexual voyeurism and self-satisfied pride in his hope to “know the sins, the sinful
longings and sinful thoughts and sinful acts, of others, hearing them murmured into his ears in the
confessional under the shame of a darkened chapel by the lips of women and girls.”
Stephen imagines taking pleasure in hearing other people’s sins, and in the pride he would feel at being above
and beyond such a sinful existence: “no touch of sin would linger upon the hands with which he would
elevate and break the host.” It is almost as if the priesthood would afford an opportunity to vent the desires he
apparently is not free from, but in a “safe,” sinless environment.
His reasons for being attracted to the priesthood are all self-indulgent and proud. He has no thoughts of
helping others, of the benefits of his works on the world around him. The priest’s description of the power
and privilege, and Stephen’s fantasies, all glorify the priesthood for the wrong reasons. This suggests again
that Stephen is perhaps not as changed as it would seem.
Stephen’s picture of a priestly life is one of isolation, which is consistent with the role of exile which has
appealed to him in different forms throughout the novel. As he comes out of the director’s office, this
isolation from his peers is emphasized:
Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis 35
Towards Findlater’s church a quartet of young men were striding along with linked arms,
swaying their heads and stepping to the agile melody of their leader’s concertina.
Stephen stands apart, alone; we could never picture him strolling across campus in this manner. The students’
“linked arms” recall the “living rail of hands” of which Stephen is a part in the communion scene at the end
of Chapter Three. His aspiration to become a part of his community has been abandoned, and indeed his
imaginative visualization of himself as a priest emphasizes his singularity and detachment.
In fact, it is the thought of the community of the priesthood which changes his mind. He realizes that life as a
priest would cost him the individuality he has cultivated for so long:
The chill and order of the life repelled him. He saw himself rising in the cold of the morning
and filing down with the others to early mass and trying vainly to struggle with his prayers
against the fainting sickness of his stomach. He saw himself sitting at dinner with the
community of a college. What, then, had become of that deeprooted shyness of his which had
made him loth to eat or drink under a strange roof? What had come of the pride of his spirit
which had always made him conceive of himself as a being apart in every order?
Again, he imagines himself, pictures himself a priest, but this time in a more negative light. The idea of being
part of a community of priests, one among many, does not appeal to Stephen’s sense of pride or individuality.
He remembers that his sense of a special purpose for his life had always been rooted in the keen sense that he
is special, that he is unlike other people, a “being apart in every order”:
He would never swing the thurible before the tabernacle as a priest. His destiny was to be
elusive of social or religious orders…. He was destined to learn his own wisdom apart from
others or to learn the wisdom of others himself wandering among the snares of the world.
The commitment involved in joining the community of the priesthood threatens to stifle Stephen’s individual
ego. When he rejects the priesthood, he affirms the “snares of the world,” and accepts the idea that to fulfill
his destiny, he may have to sin in the eyes of the church:
The snares of the world were its ways of sin. He would fall. He had not yet fallen but he
would fall silently, in an instant. Not to fall was too hard, too hard….
Stephen accepts the idea that to sin is human, and that the rigid constraints of his religious faith will continue
to threaten his freedom to develop.
As he returns, the disorder of the Dedalus household symbolically contrasts with the “order” of the
priesthood. While earlier in the novel, the declining status of the family’s wealth had caused Stephen despair
and shame, he now embraces it. This represents his new perspective on his life: Stephen affirms disorder,
fluidity and change over the rigidity and commitment of the priesthood. As he joins his younger brothers and
sisters in song—probably the most notable example of familial love in the novel—he seems to feel more at
home with them than he would ever feel in the company of priests. As this section ends, Stephen is thinking
of the privileges he has had, which his younger siblings will not have. “All that had been denied them had
been freely given to him, the eldest: but the quiet glow of evening showed him in their faces no sign of
rancour.” In a rare selfless moment, Stephen seems to appreciate the opportunities he had despite his family’s
decline.
In the final section of the chapter, we have what is considered by most readers to be the major climax of the
novel. Stephen has gone off alone, along the seashore. Seeing a girl bathing alone, he has an intense vision of
his life as an artist. However, the narrative leaves open the possibility that this climax may be somewhat
Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis 36
ironic, and that Stephen might be under a delusion. After all, Chapter Three had ended with a spiritualclimax
of comparable energy—by now we are perhaps more suspicious.
Stephen’s artistic awakening is spawned initially by a poetic phrase, “A day of dappled seaborne clouds,”
which came to mind as he walked alone. Stephen has been fascinated by language since he was a young boy,
only here his enthusiasm is given a more complete expression, and more directly affects his conception of his
life. He turns this phrase over and over in his mind, fascinated by the sound and rhythm of the words
themselves.
His reverie is interrupted, however, as he comes across a group of his classmates bathing. Once again,
Stephen’s imaginative “voices,” in this case the European voices “from beyond the world” of Dublin, are
interrupted by literal, earthbound voices, those of the boys calling his name. This is similar to the moment
when, in his religious trance, Stephen heard the voices of hell and the narrator juxtaposed those against the
voices of Mr. Tate and Vincent Heron speaking in ordinary, casual voices. Here, the narrator creates a stark
contrast between the world of Stephen’s imagination and the reality that surrounds him. He is repulsed by the
sight and sound of these boys, and sets himself apart from them:
He stood still in deference to their calls and parried their banter with easy words. How
characterless they looked: Shuley without his deep unbuttoned collar, Ennis without his
scarlet belt with the snaky clasp, and Connolly with out his Norfolk coat with the flapless
sidepockets! It was a pain to see them and a swordlike pain to see the signs of adolescence
that made repellent their pitiable nakedness…. But he, apart from them and in silence,
remembered in what dread he stood of the mystery of his own body.
There is an interesting combination of identification and distance in this passage. Stephen is still clearly trying
to separate himself from the other boys his age—he stands apart, silent, and only engages with them in a
superficial and detached manner. He is pained by what he has in common with them, but in this pain he
recognizes a kind of common bond with his peers, a limit to his pose of detachment. The narrator shows us
both how distinct Stephen is from others his age, while at the same time suggesting that his dreams and
fantasies are primarily imaginative. He is perhaps not as different from other boys as he thinks.
When Stephen sees the girl bathing in the sea, he interprets every aspect of their wordless encounter in
symbolic terms—she seems to him like a bird, representing Ireland, sexuality, femininity and creation all at
once. The image of a bird suggests Stephen’s new desire for flight from Ireland, to be free of the “nets” of
religion, nation, and family. He interprets this encounter as an otherworldly visitation, a profound spiritual
experience that validates and christens his new conception of himself as an artist.
When he encounters the girl, we already know that Stephen is especially ripe to interpret things symbolically.
This new capacity is one manifestation of his artistic and poetic awakening, and stems directly from his
meditation on language and its mysterious appeal. When the boys interrupt his thoughts about language and
poetry, they call his name in pseudo-Greek and Latinate constructions. Stephen then recognizes an aspect of
his name that he had not considered before—he thinks of the mythological figure of Daedalus, the great
artificer, and Icarus his son, who escaped from Crete using wings which Daedalus created out of feathers and
beeswax. He takes this as a kind of “prophecy,” a sign that the role of creator is the special purpose he has
sensed since childhood. The figure of Daedalus also suggests the escape Stephen imagines his art will be able
to provide—an escape both from dull, ordinary life, and from Dublin and Ireland:
Now, at the name of the fabulous artificer, he seemed to hear the noise of dim waves and to
see a winged form flying above the waves and slowly climbing the air. What did it mean?
Was it a quaint device opening a page of some medieval book of prophecies and symbols, a
hawklike man flying sunward above the sea, a prophecy of the end he had been born to serve
Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis 37
and had been following through the mists of childhood and boyhood, a symbol of the artist
forging anew in his workshop out of the sluggish matter of the earth a new soaring impalpable
imperishable being?
The reference to a “hawklike man flying sunward” suggests Icarus rather than Daedalus, who disregarded his
father’s advice and flew too close to the sun, fatally melting his wings. This suggests the amount of risk
involved in Stephen’s imaginative bid for freedom, and how the pride that has been his vice in the past might
ultimately lead to his destruction.
Thinking about his name and the vision it inspires, Stephen immediately asks himself, “what did it mean?”
He now assumes that things around him can have symbolic import, and so when he encounters the girl in the
water, his immediate perception reveals a complex process of interpretation:
A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one
whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long
slender bare legs were delicate as a crane’s and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed
had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh.
This scene, like any in the novel, is mediated by Stephen’s consciousness. We observe him interpreting her as
a symbol, rather than reading her as one ourselves. Stephen is transforming everything about her as he
perceives it, and we are always aware that this is only a representation of how she “seemed” to him. And his
interpretive process is complex and multi-leveled: she is as a seabird, and both the sea and the potential for
flight suggest Stephen’s turn of attention away from Ireland and toward Europe. The “emerald” trail of
seaweed clearly suggests Ireland (the “emerald isle), and he interprets this immediately and without hesitation
“as a sign.”
This scene is richly suggestive in its symbolism in its own right, and can indeed inform and influence our
interpretation of the novel and Stephen’s artistic awakening. This double-leveled structure, by which we are
experiencing the symbol at a remove, seeing him make a symbol out of her, allows us a distinct distance from
the scene. We might feel that this is not “really” a symbol at all, but merely an example of the narrator
showing us the temper of Stephen’s mind at the time, which causes him to see his life in a symbolic light. We
might feel that the narrator is creating another “false climax,” as he has in every chapter so far, and that
Stephen is really deluded in his enthusiasm and certainty. By now we are certainly suspicious of Stephen’s
revelations; we might not be as sure as Stephen that his name is a “prophecy.”
The narrative artfully leaves all its options alive. The tone of these closing pages is genuinely triumphant, and
these symbols, which Stephen recognizes, are indeed richly suggestive and multivalent in their own right, and
really do offer some useful interpretive perspectives on the meaning of the novel as a whole. At the same
time, the pace of this narrative has fostered in us a suspicious and subtly ironic attitude toward Stephen. We
are not easily convinced, by this point in the novel, that Stephen’s epiphanies are genuine. Our experience of
this profound moment of significance in Stephen’s life remains contingent on the developments of the next
chapter. Either Stephen has had a spiritual awakening and will dedicate his life to artistic creation, and will
continue to distance himself from his religion and nation in an effort to serve this end, or, like his religious
awaking, this will prove to be another instructive delusion.
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Temple: a gypsy socialist student, he is the instigator of the debate
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis 38
Lynch: student at the university, to whom Stephen sounds off about his theory of aesthetics
Donovan: student whom Stephen dislikes; Stephen and Lynch see him on their walk
Father Moran: priest with whom Stephen thinks Emma flirts
Dixon: medical student at the library with Cranly
The Captain: a dwarfish old man, whom Stephen sees at the library
O’Keefe: student who riles Temple outside the library
Goggins: stout student outside the library
Glynn: young man at the library
Summary
At the start of the final chapter, Stephen is sitting at breakfast in his parents’ house. Pawn tickets for clothing
are on the table next to him, indicating that the family had to sell more possessions. He asks his mother how
fast the clock is, and she tells him he had better hurry. His sisters are asked to clear a spot for Stephen to wash
at the sink, and his mother scrubs his neck and ears for him, remarking how dirty he is. His father shouts down
to ask if Stephen has left yet, and his sister answers “yes.” Stephen makes a sarcastic remark and leaves out
the back.
As he is walking, he hears a mad nun yelling in the madhouse, “Jesus! O Jesus! Jesus!,” which disturbs and
angers Stephen. He is trying to forget about the “voices” of his parents, and religion. Walking alone, he
thinks of plays and poems, and the aesthetic theories of Aristotle and Aquinas. He passes a clock that tells him
it is eleven o’clock. He tries to remember the day of the week, thinks of the lectures he is scheduled to attend,
and realizes that he is late for English. He thinks of that class, and begins to think about his close friend,
Cranly. He composes nonsense verse idly in his head, and thinks of the etymology of the word “ivory.” He
thinks of his Latin studies and Roman history. He sees Trinity, which depresses him, and he looks at the statue
of Thomas Moore, the national poet of Ireland. He thinks with affection of his friend Davin, the peasant
student, and of Davin’s nationalistic sympathies for Ireland. Stephen remembers a story Davin told him once,
about encountering a woman alone at night while he was walking on the road, and being invited to her house
to spend the night.
His reverie is interrupted by a flower seller, whom Stephen tells he has no money. He walks on and, when he
arrives, he realizes it is too late for his French class, too. He goes in early to physics, instead. The physics hall
is empty, except for the Dean of Studies, who is lighting a fire. The dean tells Stephen to pay attention, and
learn the art of firestarting, one of the “useful arts.” Stephen watches silently. They begin comparing different
conceptions of art and beauty. Stephen quotes Aquinas, and defines beauty as “that which, when seen, pleases
us.” The priest asks Stephen when he plans to write his aesthetic theory, and Stephen humbly says he hopes to
work up some ideas from Aristotle and Aquinas. Stephen begins to feel uncomfortable around the dean, and
perceives the dean’s partial attention to what he is saying. They begin to casually debate the usage of the
world “funnel,” which Stephen does not recognize because in Ireland it is called a “tundish.” The priest is
English, and Stephen thinks his interest in the new word is feigned. Stephen tries to return to his original
subject, and thinks with some distress that the language they are speaking is the dean’s national language, not
his. Stephen becomes disheartened with their conversation, and the class begins to fill with students. The
priest gives Stephen some conventional advice, and hurries away. Stephen stands at a distance and watches
him greet the students.
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis 39
When the professor comes in, the students respond with “Kentish fire”—a stomping of the feet which could
represent either applause or impatience. The professor calls roll, and Stephen’s friend Cranly is not in class.
A student named Moynihan sarcastically suggests that Cranly is at Leopardstown, a horse racing track.
Stephen borrows a piece of notepaper from Moynihan, and idly begins to take notes. Moynihan whispers a
ribald joke about “ellipsoidal balls,” which causes Stephen to imagine the faculty of the university playing
and laughing like animals. A northern Irish student, MacAlister, asks a question, and Stephen thinks about
how much he hates this student.
After class, as the students file into the hall, they encounter a student named MacCann who is gathering
signatures for a political petition. Cranly, who is waiting outside for Stephen, says, in Latin, that he has signed
the petition “for universal peace,” in support of Czar Nicholas II. He asks if Stephen is in a bad mood, and
Stephen answers, “no.” When Moynihan walks by, makes a sarcastic comment about MacCann, and then
proceeds to sign the petition, Cranly expresses his disgust. MacCann then sees and greets Stephen, gently
teasing him for being late. Students begin to gather, anticipating a “war of wits.” MacCann asks Stephen to
sign, and a “gipsy student” named Temple begins to talk about socialism and universal brotherhood. Stephen
finally responds that he is not interested, and MacCann insults him by calling him a “minor poet.” Stephen
tells then “keep your icon,” referring to the picture of the Czar, and begins to walk away with Temple
following him. Cranly leads Temple and Stephen away.
As they talk, it is clear that Temple is annoying Cranly, who attacks him periodically, and pleads with Stephen
to ignore Temple. They stop with Davin to watch handball, and Cranly becomes increasingly impatient with
Temple. Though Temple appears undaunted by Cranly’s insults, he soon leaves. Stephen and Cranly then see
their friend Lynch, and Cranly and Lynch begin to wrestle. Stephen asks Davin if he has signed the petition,
and Davin nods yes. When Stephen says he hasn’t signed, Davin calls him a “born sneerer.” When Davin
asks why he does not study Irish, Stephen implies that it is because Emma flirts with the teacher of the Irish
course. They begin to discuss Stephen’s attitude toward Irish nationalism and culture. Stephen claims to want
to “fly by” the “nets” of nationality, language, and religion.
Davin walks off to join Cranly and the handball players, and Stephen and Lynch walk away. They share a
cigarette, and Stephen begins to explain his aesthetic theory to Lynch, who pretends to resist, claiming to be
hung-over. Stephen defines “pity” and “terror” as they relate to tragedy, defining the “dramatic” and
“esthetic” emotions as “static,” or arrested, “raised above desire and loathing.” Stephen feels that art should
not excite “kinetic emotions” like desire, but should serve a more “detached” function, calling forth an
“ideal pity” or “ideal desire.”
Lynch continues to listen to Stephen, although reluctantly, claiming that he doesn’t care about it. Stephen
continues to define beauty, using Aquinas’ definition, as he did while speaking to the dean earlier. He then
discusses the relation between beauty and truth, according to Plato and Aristotle. His discourse is interrupted
first by a drag full of iron, then by another student, Donovan, who tells them about exam results, and the field
club. As he leaves, Stephen continues to detail his concept of universal beauty, and its relation to perception,
and artistic structure, with Lynch now egging him on. Stephen is concerned with what he calls the three basic
forms of art: lyrical, epical and dramatic, and the interrelationship between them. Stephen’s picture of artistic
creation is of the artist as a kind of God, indifferent to his creation, “paring his fingernails.”
As it starts to rain, they head to the library. Lynch tells Stephen that his “beloved” (presumably Emma) is
there. He stands with the group silently, glancing at her from time to time. She ignores him, and soon leaves
with her friends. Stephen is first bitter and resentful, but then wonders if he has judged her harshly.
As the next section begins, Stephen is waking up at dawn. He feels a seemingly divine inspiration, and begins
almost spontaneously to compose lines of verse in his head. Fearing he may lose his inspiration, he gropes
around and finds a pencil and cigarette pack, and writes down the first two stanzas of a villanelle. It is clear
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis 40
that he is thinking of Emma as he writes, and he begins to imagine himself singing songs to her. He recalls a
brief exchange with her at a dance, and imagines himself as a heretical monk. He thinks of her flirting with a
priest, and tells himself that he scorns her, though he admits that this is also a “form of homage.”
Having composed an entire villanelle, Stephen recalls writing a poem for her ten years before (in Chapter
Two), after they rode the last tram home together. He imagines sending her the poem, and thinks of her family
reading and mocking it over breakfast. He then corrects himself, and says that she is “innocent,” though still
a “temptress.” The section ends with Stephen’s villanelle:
Are you not weary of ardent ways,
Lure of the fallen seraphim?
Tell no more of enchanted days.
Your eyes have set man’s heart ablaze
And you have had your will of him.
Are you not weary of ardent ways?
Above the flame the smoke of praise
Goes up from ocean rim to rim.
Tell no more of enchanted days.
Our broken cries and mournful lays
Rise in one eucharistic hymn.
Are you not weary of ardent ways?
While sacrificing hands upraise
The chalice flowing to the brim,
Tell no more of enchanted days.
And still you hold our longing gaze
With languorous look and lavish limb!
Are you not weary of ardent ways?
Tell no more of enchanted days.
In the next section, Stephen is standing on the library steps, watching birds in the sky. He is thinking about his
mother, and his plans to leave the country. He thinks of a line from Yeats’ play The Countess Cathleen, and
delights in the pleasurable sound of the words. He thinks with disgust of the opening night of the national
theater, where the Dublin audience booed Yeats’ play.
Stephen goes inside and meets his friend Cranly, who is talking with a medical student named Dixon. A priest
has gone to complain about their chatter, so they decide to leave. They encounter an old man they call “the
captain,” who is known for his fondness for reading Sir Walter Scott. They encounter a group of students,
with Temple at the center. They are joking around, for the most part, teasing Temple. Temple tries to engage
Stephen into the discussion, asking if he believes in the law of heredity, while Cranly expresses his disgust.
Temple says that he admits that he is a “ballocks,” but that Cranly is too, and won’t admit it. Emma walks
past them, and greets Cranly casually. Stephen thinks of his friend Cranly, and wanders about, on the outskirts
of the group thinking to himself. His reverie is interrupted as he picks a louse off his collar—his thoughts then
revert to his despair about his impoverished state.
Stephen walks back to the group just as a student named Glynn has come out. They engage in further
discussion, this time around the biblical phrase “suffer little children to come unto me.” Temple tries to
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis 41
engage the group in a theological debate, but they disregard him. He pursues this, until Cranly chases him
away. Stephen tells Cranly he wants to speak with him, and they walk away together.
Cranly stops to say some parting words to the other students, and Stephen goes on ahead to wait. While
waiting, he looks in the window of a hotel drawing room and thinks angrily of the “patricians” of Ireland.
Stephen wonders how, with his art, he could “hit their conscience” or “cast his shadow over the imaginations
of their daughters.”
He is soon joined by Cranly, and as they walk off arm in arm Cranly makes an angry remark about Temple.
Stephen tells Cranly that he had an “unpleasant quarrel” with his mother over religion earlier that night. Mrs.
Dedalus wants Stephen to observe his Easter duty, but he refuses to. Cranly calls Stephen an “excitable man”
and warns him to “go easy.” Cranly ask Stephen if he believes in the Eucharist, and Stephen answers that he
neither believes nor disbelieves, and does not wish to overcome his doubts. Cranly remarks that Stephen’s
mind is “supersaturated” with the religion he professes to disbelieve.
When Cranly asks if Stephen was “happier” when he believed, Stephen responds by saying that he was
“someone else” then. Cranly asks Stephen if he loves his mother, and Stephen says he does not understand
the question. He says that he tried to love God, but is not sure if he succeeded. Cranly asks if Stephen’s
mother has had a “happy life,” and Stephen responds, “how do I know?” Cranly asks about the Dedalus
family’s economic history, and learns that they were once much wealthier than now. Cranly then supposes
that Mrs. Dedalus has suffered much, and encourages Stephen to try to “save her from suffering more.”
Cranly says that a mother’s love is the one sure thing in this world, and tells Stephen that this is more
important than this “ideas and ambitions.”
Stephen counters by naming prominent intellectuals who placed their “ideas” before their mother’s love, and
Cranly calls them all pigs. Stephen suggests that Jesus too treated his mother with “scant attention in public,”
and Cranly replies that perhaps Jesus was “not who he pretended to be,” and that he was “a conscious
hypocrite.” When Cranly asks if it shocked Stephen to hear him say this, Stephen admits that it did. Cranly
asks him why a blasphemy would shock someone who professed not to believe, and Stephen replies that he is
“not at all sure” that the Catholic religion is false. Stephen admits that part of the reason he will not take
communion is because he fears that God might be real. Stephen then checks himself, saying that it is not the
power of the Roman Catholic version of God that he fears, but the danger to his soul of committing false
homage. When Cranly asks if he will now become a Protestant, Stephen replies dryly that he has not lost his
self-respect.
They pass a servant singing in a kitchen as she sharpens knives, and they stop to listen. As they move on,
Cranly asks Stephen if he considers the song she sang, “Rosie O’ Grady,” to be “poetry,” and Stephen
replies that he would have to see Rosie before he could say. He then announces his plans to go away from
Ireland. Cranly suggests that the church is not driving Stephen away, and that if he leaves he leaves of his own
accord. He questions Stephen on some moral issues, and Stephen responds by saying that he will not serve
any church or country, but will seek the freedom to express himself apart from these bonds. He says that he is
not afraid to live alone, or to have made a “great,” eternal “mistake.” The section ends as Cranly asks
Stephen how he could live with no friends at all. Stephen suspects that Cranly is thinking of himself, but when
he asks Cranly does not answer.
The novel ends with excerpts from Stephen’s journal, beginning with an entry for the night following his
conversation with Cranly. He writes about following women with Lynch, discussing religion with his mother
(who claims he has a “queer mind” and that he reads too much), arguing about heresy with other students,
and wondering what Emma is doing and thinking. He writes of his plans to leave, and he writes about a final
encounter with Emma when he told her he was leaving. They shook hands, and Stephen concludes that it was
“friendly.” He tells himself, however, that he is over his obsession. The journal ends as Stephen is about to
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis 42
depart—as he vows “to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of
[his] soul the uncreated conscience of [his] race.”
Analysis
If the novel had ended with Chapter Four, it would have been an unambiguous climax, an affirmation of
Stephen’s artistic vision. Such an ending would, however, have left many important questions unanswered.
How would Stephen reconcile his new vision for his life with the reality of his surroundings? After all, we
might say, deciding to become an artist does not make you an artist. By including Chapter Five, Joyce makes
Stephen’s vision more realistic. By showing the day-to-day reality the artist will still have to face, we are
given a sense of how Stephen’s newly understood role will play out in his life—we can see how he attempts to
live up to his new ideal. Though the tone of this chapter is harder to gauge perhaps than the ending of Chapter
Four—there are many instances where we suspect that Stephen is being treated somewhat ironically by the
narrator—Chapter Five represents the culmination of the main themes of the novel. In this chapter we read
about Stephen’s developing aesthetic or artistic theory, we see the first example of his own artistic
composition, and we hear of his preparation to leave Ireland for Europe.
In Chapter Five, Stephen fully articulates and defends his conception of what it takes to be an artist, and we
see him progress further toward assuming and embracing the role of solitary exile which we have seen him
tending toward all along. Though this chapter consists of a good deal of dialogue—Stephen speaks with others
more than in any other chapter of the novel—these conversations serve to gradually set him further and further
apart from his surroundings. In them, Stephen articulates his need to be alone, free of the “nets” of family,
religion, and nation. As the chapter, and the novel, ends, we have Stephen’s voice all alone, addressing
himself in the form of a journal, unmediated by any narrative presence. Over the course of this chapter
Stephen moves closer to the solitude he deems necessary for artistic creation.
As with other chapters previously, the opening pages of Chapter Five serve as an abrupt anticlimax after the
triumphant and inspired tone in which Chapter Four ended. We have already recognized that of all the
potential climaxes of the novel, Stephen’s artistic awakening in Chapter Four seems least prone to the
narrator’s irony. In Joyce’s novel, the ideal of a “climax” is not the same as in more conventional fiction,
where the climax is defined by the progression and culmination of a plot. In A Portrait of the Artist as a
Young Man, all the significant “action” is internal, and therefore the climax of the novel will be in the form of
a significant moment for the protagonist—a moment of “epiphany.” The moment where Stephen decides he
must reject his country and his religion in the name of art, when he begins to perceive his life in symbolic
terms and therefore to “understand” the significance of his name, is clearly a pivotal and climactic moment in
the novel—one on which our ultimate understanding of Stephen’s character rests. However, this tone of
triumph is sobered dramatically as Chapter Five begins.
The language with which the narrator describes Stephen at breakfast is dismal and depersonalized:
He drained his third cup of watery tea to the dregs and set to chewing the crusts of fried bread
that were scattered near him, staring into the dark pool of the jar. The yellow dripping had
been scooped out like a boghole….
The way his eating is described makes it seem mechanical and numb—he “drains” the cup of tea, and “sets to
chewing” the crusts of bread. The sense of images in this opening paragraph are all rather unpleasant—the
“dark pool,” “yellow drippings,” and “boghole” are all distinctly unappetizing. We are reminded that the
family is in dire economic shape by the pawning tickets on the table—Mr. Dedalus has made some of them out
under false names, presumably out of shame. These first pages represent a marked drop in intensity from the
previous chapter.
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis 43
There is some suggestion in these opening pages that Stephen has perhaps not grown past the trappings of his
surroundings at all, and that indeed he has regressed. In the first paragraph, we are told that the contents of the
jar remind him of “the dark turfcoloured water of the bath in Clongowes, and we recall Stephen’s younger
days in the first chapter. By pulling our attention backwards in this way, after the forward-looking ending of
the previous chapter, the narrator reminds us of Stephen’s past, and how illusory some other “awakenings”
have proven. This is further emphasized as Stephen’s mother must remind him of the time, chastise him for
being late for class, and even wash his face and neck for him.
His lackadaisical attitude toward his classes might seem at odds with the “new adventures” the university
represented to him in the previous chapter. While Stephen’s idleness and casualness at the start of the chapter
might on the one hand seem like laziness or lack of energy, it also suggests a kind of patience, an attitude of
inner peace and calm in the midst of his chaotic surroundings. For it is apparent that the effects of the previous
chapter’s climax are still active in Stephen’s mind. There is a distinct sense, which Stephen shares, that his
surroundings are holding him back, and this is the reason for the anticlimax in this chapter. It is not the case,
as before, that we feel that Stephen is somehow deluded. When we saw how his religious fervor deteriorated
into a dry and lifeless routine, our sense was that Stephen did not recognize this, and that the narrator was,
through his choice of language, showing us that Stephen was deluded. The difference in Chapter Five is that
Stephen understands that his surroundings are profoundly at odds with his conception of himself as an artist.
The major substance of this chapter consists of Stephen attempting to change the squalid circumstances of his
life by leaving. His daily existence then becomes a kind of challenge to his will, a test of his convictions.
That the ideals of his artistic awakening are still fully present in Stephen’s mind is made clear as he leaves his
house. He hears a mad nun wailing in an insane asylum, and his reaction symbolically leaves religion and
family behind:
—Jesus! O Jesus! Jesus!
He shook the sound out of his ears by an angry toss of his head and hurried on, stumbling
though the mouldering offal, his heart already bitten by an ache of loathing and bitterness. His
father’s whistle, his mother’s mutterings, the screech of an unseen maniac were to him now
so many voices offending and threatening to humble the pride of his youth. He drove their
echoes even out of his heart with an execration….
He can now reduce the effects of the “voices” of family and church to simple personal threats—threats to his
freedom, which he attempts to shake away with an “angry toss of the head.” This chapter represents
Stephen’s articulation and defense of his motives and methods for seeking to distance himself from all such
obligations. The calmness and quite priestlike seriousness with which he conducts himself around his friends
should not be understood as a lazy kind of idleness, but rather as an attitude of patience in preparation for his
life’s calling. Stephen attempts to assume such a detached and disengaged posture because this is how he
conceives of the proper attitude of artists in relation to their surroundings.
Stephen’s artistic conversion, as he understands it, means that he must try and set himself apart form national,
political, religious, and familial concerns. We have such a clear understanding of Stephen’s conviction on this
point because a large portion of this chapter consists of Stephen engaged in a series of significant
conversations in which he defines and defends his understanding of art and its purpose, his attitude toward his
country and toward political concerns, and his attitude toward his family and religion. Whereas he had been a
silent observer for the greater part of the novel up to this point, now Stephen is portrayed as a relentless talker,
sounding off about his developing theory of aesthetics to anyone who will listen. Four such significant
conversations are the structuring principle of this chapter. We understand crucial aspects of Stephen’s point
of view, as well as some serious objections to it, through the conversations he has with the dean of studies,
Davin, Lynch, and, most importantly, Cranly.
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis 44
Stephen’s conversation with the dean of studies reveals a marked change in his attitude toward authority
figures once again. Priests have occupied a role of religious and practical authority for Stephen throughout the
novel, though, as we observed in the last chapter, his attitude toward them had been changing of late. The
subtle dissatisfaction he had felt with the Jesuits in general is now manifest in an almost condescending
attitude toward the dean, who is for Stephen supposed to be a figure of academic as well as religious
authority. As the dean promises to teach Stephen the art of lighting a fire, Stephen reflects to himself that the
dean seems fawning and servile:
Kneeling thus on the flagstone to kindle the fire and busied with the disposition of the wisps
of paper and candelbutts he seemed more than ever a humble server making ready the place
of sacrifice in an empty temple, a levite of the Lord. …His very body had waxed old in lowly
service of the Lord…and yet had remained ungraced by aught of saintly or of prelatic beauty.
Stephen now sees no value in such servitude—indeed, the theme of this chapter for him is an attempt to
separate himself from all sorts of service to others. His disdain for the priest’s air of servitude recalls his
reaction to the “droll statue” of the national poet of Ireland on his way to class, in which he detects “sloth of
the body and of the soul,” and a “servile head…humbly conscious of its indignity.” Stephen is now eager both
to judge, and to set himself apart from, figures of authority both in the artistic and religious realms.
Stephen’s attitude toward the dean during their brief discussion is one of polite impatience, almost
condescension. While he sets the dean up in his mind as an example of all that is wrong with the priesthood,
there is much about this man’s manner in particular which irritates Stephen. When the dean invites him to
learn one of the “useful” arts, this sets up Stephen’s discourse about aesthetics perfectly, since his
conception, as we will see, is that “usefulness” is not one of the proper purposes for art. The priest asks
Stephen how he would define the “beautiful,” and Stephen quotes Aquinas—“beauty is that which, when
seen, pleases us.” The dean encourages Stephen to pursue these questions, and to write something on them,
but his responses to Stephen indicate that he is not especially interested. He is noncommittal and
unconvincing in his remarks. When the dean says, “Quite so, you have certainly hit the nail on the head,” or,
“I see. I quite see your point,” we are not at all convinced that he either understands or is interested. We can
perhaps read his words of encouragement more as a somewhat perfunctory exercise of his duties as dean of
the university. Stephen seems to perceive this, and eventually loses interest in the conversation. The dean does
not function for Stephen here as an intellectual peer to engage and interact with in a discussion of ideas.
Rather, Stephen takes this opportunity to speak about himself and his interests (an opportunity, as we will see,
that he rarely passes up), and we can tell by his private responses to the dean that he is never seriously
considering the dean’s remarks, but rather using him as an example of the priesthood in general.
Part of Stephen’s feeling of distance from the dean seems to come from the fact that the dean is English.
When the dean uses the word “funnel,” Stephen says that he has not heard this word before. Stephen calls
this a “tundish,” a word the priest claims not to have heard before. The priest concludes that “tundish” must
be the Irish word for the English “funnel,” and he offers a halfhearted interest in the question, claiming,
“That is a most interesting word. I must look that word up. Upon my word I must.” This marks a turning
point in Stephen’s attitude toward the priest, as he becomes less patient, and effectively stops the
conversation. This apparently is a nationalistic issue for Stephen, as he reflects to himself:
—The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words
home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words
without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an
acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul
frets in the shadow of his language.
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis 45
Stephen seems to be voicing his anxiety over the fact that the Irish people, as a whole, no longer speak the
Irish language. The priest then would be a representative of the conquering country, England.
These quasi-nationalistic sentiments certainly seem uncharacteristic of Stephen. English, we might say, has
not seemed “uncomfortable” for him before—it was the English language in fact which he found so beautiful
and rhythmic at the end of Chapter Four. Rather than take this passage at face value, as representative of
Stephen’s true feelings toward the language question, it is more likely that he is finding reasons to dislike the
priest. The funnel/ tundish debate seems to bring the issue of nationality to the foreground, but Stephen had
been getting impatient with the priest’s noncommittal politeness before this. The issue stays on his mind,
however, as we learn in his journal that he has looked up “tundish,” and found it to be an English word after
all. Stephen’s resentment toward the priest as it is expressed in the journal seems more personally than
nationally motivated: “Damn the dean of studies and his funnel! What did he come here for to teach us his
own language or to learn it from us? Damn him one way or the other.”
On the same day as this conflict with the dean, we see Stephen discussing this very question with his friend
Davin. Davin comes from the country, in the west of Ireland, and represents Irish nationalism in the novel—he
seeks both political and cultural independence for Ireland, and believes that it is people’s foremost
responsibility to serve their country. In the brief conversation between Stephen and Davin, we get a clear and
useful exposition of Stephen’s point of view on these issues, which is consistent with his intention to remain
detached from all external responsibilities.
Stephen calls Davin a “tame little goose” for signing the petition, thus equating his nationalistic ideals with
subservience. Stephen is especially prone to recognize and condemn subservience lately, as he implies that
Davin’s enthusiasm for Irish independence is on the same scale as the bowing and fawning servitude he saw
in the dean. Davin, on the other hand, criticizes Stephen as a “sneerer,” indicating his dissatisfaction with
Stephen’s pose of detachment. A “sneerer” would not consider the issues at stake carefully, but would
criticize from a safe distance. In Davin’s view, to be Irish is not merely hereditary or racial—it necessarily
involves a responsibility to the cause of the Irish people, and a love for the Irish culture and language. He asks
Stephen, “Are you Irish at all?” When Stephen offers to show him his family tree to prove it, Davin’s
response is, “Then be one of us.” To be Irish means to demonstrate your affiliation through your actions.
When he asks Stephen why he dropped out of a class on Irish language and culture, Stephen indicates that
“one reason” is because Emma was flirting with the priest who teaches the class. His other remarks indicate,
however, that his objections run much deeper—Stephen is not very interested in Irish culture, and especially
Irish nationalism. Stephen expresses his view of the situation in the following exchange:
—This race and this country and this life produced me, he said. I shall express myself as I am.
—Try to be one of us, repeated Davin. In your heart you are an Irishman but your pride is too
powerful.
—My ancestors threw off their language and took another, Stephen said. They allowed a
handful of foreigners to subject them. Do you fancy I am going to pay in my life and person
debts they made? What for?
Stephen perceives the Irish as “subjects” to another power—a situation that he cannot abide. He feels that his
ancestors made the mistake, and that it should not be for him, as an individual, to pay for it. Stephen accepts
the political (and therefore linguistic) circumstances of his birth and, far from feeling any responsibility on
this count, seeks rather to escape the constraints these circumstances impose upon the individual:
When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from
flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis 46
We can read Davin’s response to this proclamation—“Too deep for me, Stevie”—in at least two ways: either
as a “serious” expression of bafflement (which would fit into Stephen’s sentimental picture of him as a
simple peasant), or as a critique of Stephen’s extreme pose of detachment. Perhaps Davin is saying that to be
“deep,” in this case, is not necessarily good, if it causes one to avoid all immediate responsibilities.
Whereas Davin challenges Stephen, and provides a serious foil to his point of view, Stephen apparently finds
a much more receptive audience in Lynch, whom he speaks with extensively just after his conversation with
Davin. Though Lynch seems to be a more receptive audience, he is actually only a more appealing version of
the dean. He playfully resists Stephen’s “lecture,” claiming that he has a hangover, and never seems
particularly interested in the question of aesthetic value which Stephen is so fascinated by. His sarcastic
commentary is his version of the dean’s polite pretensions of being interested. There is the sense that no one
will argue extensively with Stephen on these points because aesthetic questions are not as important to anyone
else as to him.
Stephen’s conversation with Lynch is more like a lecture, or a monologue, than a dialogue in earnest. Stephen
is espousing his aesthetic theory, while Lynch serves as the opportunity for Stephen to talk. His contributions
to the conversation are in the form of crude jokes, mock protestations, and halfhearted objections. Their long
conversations, while they walk through Dublin on the way to the library, represents Stephen’s intellectual
development up to this point—he gives a detailed exposition of his aesthetic theory, which is impressive in its
scope and sophistication.
Stephen is seeking both to define beauty and the concept of the beautiful, and to define the proper place of the
artist in relation to his or her creation. Stephen bases his definition of beauty mostly on the work of Aristotle
and Aquinas. He describes it as a “static” emotion—the beautiful does not evoke the “kinetic” emotions of
desire or loathing, but exists outside of this realm in a state of purity.
Stephen’s view emphasizes the structure, wholeness, and harmony of a piece of art, and asserts that we can in
fact define the “necessary qualities of beauty” despite the fact that different people in different cultures
perceive and appreciate different qualities as beautiful:
Though the same object may not seem beautiful to all people, all people who admire a
beautiful object find in it certain relations which satisfy and coincide with the stages
themselves of all esthetic apprehension.
Stephen identifies three essential forms of art: the lyrical, epical, and dramatic. Stephen values the dramatic
most highly, in which the author is most removed from the work of art, when the “personality of the
artist…finally refines itself out of existence.” Stephen’s ideal image of the artist is:
Like the God of the creation, [who] remains within or behind or beyond or above his
handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.
This passage is often cited as Joyce’s own credo of artistic creation, although, paradoxically, this would be
used to warn us against identifying Joyce with his fictional self, Stephen Dedalus, too completely. Here we
see how Stephen can justify his rejection of national and political concerns in favor of his pose of detachment.
In his conception, the duty of the artist is first to the unity and beauty of the work of art itself—the less the
personality (and therefore the political or religious agenda) of the artist comes into play, the better.
The seriousness with which Stephen’s sophisticated system of aesthetics is presented to undercut
significantly, however, by Lynch’s persistently crude and sarcastic humor, and his only partial engagement
with Stephen’s monologue. Stephen seems to like Lynch, however, perhaps because he will not challenge
Stephen’s assertions the way Davin or Cranly will. As soon as their conversation begins, Stephen recognizes
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis 47
with pleasure evidence of Lynch’s “culture”:
—Damn your yellow insolence, answered Lynch.
This second proof of Lynch’s culture made Stephen smile again.
—It was a great day for European culture, he said, when you made up your mind to swear in
yellow.
Apparently Lynch is more cultured than Davin, which encourages Stephen that he will be a better (less
hostile) audience, although Stephen’s evidence for considering him cultured amounts to nothing more than
the fact that he curses in a literary way.
Earlier, Stephen had been offended by the sound of Cranly’s accent, associating it with all that is ugly and
unpleasant about Dublin:
Cranly’s speech, unlike that of Davin, had neither rare phrases of Elizabethan English nor
quaintly turned versions of Irish idioms. Its drawl was an echo of the quays of Dublin given
back by a bleak decaying seaport, its energy an echo of the sacred eloquence of Dublin given
back flatly by a Wicklow pulpit.
Surely Davin’s speech, though “quaint,” is not “cultured,” and neither is Cranly’s. However, from what we
can tell, Lynch’s “culture” amounts to a habitual repetition of stock literary phrases, in order to curse.
Lynch’s appeal is as artificial as Cranly’s offense. In neither case is Stephen interested in the substance of
the person, but in how good they sound. After Stephen remarks about how fond he is of Lynch “cursing in
yellow,” almost every remark out of Lynch’s mouth involves some variation on “yellow.” Stephen exercises
a certain amount of control over Lynch, and seems to have his respect. But the overall sense is that this is still
something of a joke to Lynch; he still seems like little more than Stephen’s “yes man.” When Stephen
finishes a long tirade, and Lynch does not reply right away, he imagines “that his words had called up around
them a thought enchanted silence.” The narrator is clear to phrase this as Stephen’s perception of the scene;
we may suspect, instead, that Lynch merely has not been paying attention.
In his conversation with Cranly, which marks the end of the narrative proper, Stephen finds a much more
challenging audience. There is the distinct sense that Stephen values Cranly as a friend whose opinion is
important. In their dialogue, there is none of the condescension which characterized Stephen’s attitude toward
Davin, Lynch, and even the dean of studies. Cranly is not afraid to be directly critical of Stephen’s ideas and
actions, and he raises significant and considerable objections to Stephen’s plan to forsake his country and
family in favor of art. Stephen recognizes a certain connection between the two of them early in their
conversation:
Their minds, lately estranged, seemed suddenly to have been drawn closer together, one to the
other.
Cranly is perhaps the first person in the novel who Stephen seems to engage with on equal terms—earlier in
the novel he had been intimidated by his peers and authority figures, and later in the novel he generally feels
superior to both his peers and authority figures.
Cranly raises humanistic objections to Stephen’s plan, trying to show him how his rejection of church and
family will cut him off from those close to him. For Cranly, it is not a matter of rejecting “religion” or
“family” or “nation” in the abstract—he reminds Stephen of the real people who will be hurt by his actions.
Cranly tries to turn Stephen’s attention away from the abstract principle (which Stephen expresses by quoting
Lucifer, “I will not serve”) and toward a more practical and human level. Stephen does not view his quarrel
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis 48
with his mother in terms of her feelings—from his point of view, she is asking him to observe a false homage,
a move which his integrity of soul cannot abide. Cranly urges him to consider how much she has suffered in
her life, and how Stephen, by compromising and observing his Easter duty, can reduce her suffering a little.
When Cranly asks him, however, if he loves his mother, Stephen claims not to understand the question. Just
as Stephen tried and failed to love God, he has not been able to feel any meaningful connection with any
people in his life, family or otherwise. His one-sided obsession with Emma can hardly be called “love,” and
his relationship with his family is, by now, as distant and detached as can be. When Cranly asks Stephen if his
mother has had “a happy life,” Stephen responds honestly “How do I know?” It is clear that her feelings do
not come into play in his decision not to observe Easter—it is a personal matter, that has to do in his mind with
his rejection of the Catholic church. Cranly’s sentimental language of human compassion provides a stark
contrast to Stephen’s self-centered ethic of isolation and individualism:
—Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world a mother’s love is not. Your
mother brings you into the world, carries your first in her body. What do we know about what
she feels? But whatever she feels, it, at least, must be real. It must be. What are our ideas and
ambitions? Play. Ideas! Why, that bloody bleating goat Temple has ideas. MacCann has ideas
too. Every Jackass going the roads thinks he has ideas.
Cranly tries to appeal to Stephen’s (or the reader’s) sentimentality. He attempts to deflate Stephen’s
emphasis on the unassailable virtue of an individual pursuing his destiny outside of all society by claiming
that this is not so unique, that everyone thinks his or her ideas are most important. Stephen, however, appears
unaffected, and quickly moves the discussion away from himself and to the subject of other famous
intellectuals in history who have offended their mothers. Cranly, however, offers a perceptive critique of
Stephen’s assumed pose of detachment, one which many readers will take to heart.
Cranly also challenges Stephen on the more abstract, theological and philosophical bases for his rejection of
Catholicism. When Stephen assumes his pose of detachment, relishing the role of religious rebel by saying he
“neither believe(s) nor disbelieve(s),” and “do(es) not want to overcome“ his doubts, Cranly points out that
Stephen’s mind is “supersaturated” with the tenents of Catholicism. Stephen cannot set himself fully outside
the structure of the church, because his pose of detachment is compromised by his long history in the church.
His disbelief then is necessarily rebellious, and not disinterested and detached, since he very recently did
believe. While Stephen claims that he “was someone else then,” there are many indications that he is perhaps
not so changed from the days when he was a believer. His conception of himself and his “mission” as an
artist uses the language of the priesthood. He admits that his intellectual interests make his mind a “cloister,”
and cut him off from the outside world just as much as the priesthood would have.
The hold the Catholic church still has upon his mind, despite his rejection of its tenets, is made clear as
Stephen admits that he is not “sure” that the religion is “false,” and this is part of the reason he refuses to
take communion falsely. Stephen admits that he still has a certain fear of blasphemy, although he quickly
checks himself and says, “I fear more than that the chemical action which would be set up in my soul by a
false homage to a symbol behind which are massed twenty centuries of authority and veneration,” asserting
his devotion to a personal ethic which would be morally superior to the church.
Stephen’s “supersaturation” with Catholicism, despite his apparent rejection of it, is demonstrated by his
reaction to Cranly’s blasphemy. When Cranly suggests that Jesus was “a conscious hypocrite,” and “not
what he pretended to be,” Stephen admits that he was “somewhat” shocked to hear Cranly say this. When
Cranly asks if this is why he will not take communion, because he feels and fears that God might indeed be
real, Stephen admits that this is true. It seems that Cranly is really affecting Stephen here. He seems to
puncture Stephen’s pose of indifference and nonchalant rebellion, showing that Stephen is still profoundly
affected by the religion he claims to reject. However, Stephen’s tone is difficult to gauge here. He quickly
checks himself, claiming “I fear many things: dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, machinery, the
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis 49
country road at night.” He tries to lump his lingering fear of God in with other “irrational” fears.
When Stephen announces his plans to leave Ireland, Cranly is quick to point out that the church is not driving
Stephen away, but that he is leaving of his own accord. When Stephen says that he “has to” go, Cranly
replies, “You need not look upon yourself as driven away if you do not wish to go or as a heretic or an
outlaw.” Cranly is saying that Stephen is assuming this role of exile himself, that he seems to want to be a
heretic or outlaw. This, as we know, is largely true. Stephen’s conception of the artist is that he must live free
of all familial, patriotic and religious obligations, and he now sees Europe as the place where this is possible.
Near the end of their conversation, Stephen repeats his credo again:
I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland
or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can
and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use—silence,
exile, and cunning.
Stephen’s emphasis is all on himself—he detaches himself from any obligation by dismissing his family,
religion, and country as something which might “call itself” home, fatherland, or church. Stephen sees
himself not necessarily as “driven away,” although it is clearly necessary, for him to fulfill his vision of art,
to remove himself from the circumstance, the “nets,” of his birth. Cranly has pointed out, throughout their
discussion, the ways this is selfish and insensitive. When he suggests that Stephen, by doing so, will alienate
himself from others permanently, that he will “have not even one friend,” Stephen appears unaffected. As we
know, he has been alone his whole life.
Although Cranly seems to raise some serious objections, and Stephen seems to respect his point of view
profoundly, we can see from his first journal entry that he has not taken Cranly’s remarks to heart. Stephen’s
account of the situation is superficial:
Long talk with Cranly on the subject of my revolt. He had his grand manner on. I supple and
suave. Attacked me on the score of love for one’s mother.
Stephen describes it as if they both had been play-acting, rather than talking about issues of real consequence
in both of their lives. He is more interested in Cranly’s “grand manner,” and proud of his own appearance of
being “supple and sauve,” than any of the issues their discussion raised. Cranly’s passionate appeal in favor
of Mrs. Dedalus’ suffering, and her love for her son, is reduced to a depersonalized move in a formal debate:
“attacked me on the score of love for one’s mother.” Stephen shows no evidence that this conversation,
which voices many reasonable and serious objections to Stephen’s plan of “revolt,” has had any affect on
him whatsoever. It is as if his mind has been made up throughout the chapter, and it shows no tendency to
change now.
Stephen in his journals appears superficial and affected. He is not afraid to be alone, and has by now
embraced the role of exile fully. His brief and unemotional account of his conversation with Cranly shows
how his perception is limited, and we may indeed wonder what kind of artist he will be if he has no
conception of human affection or connection. His act of creation, the centerpiece of Chapter Five, bears this
out. He wakes up, and almost spontaneously composes a villanelle. We have already seen him in the role of
art critic, or aesthetic theorist. This is the first evidence of Stephen as artist in the novel.
Stephen’s artistic inspiration is presented in religious or spiritual terms—his mind is portrayed as
“pregnancy” with inspiration that came from a mysterious, divine source:
In the virgin womb of the imagination the word was made flesh. Gabriel the seraph had come
to the virgin’s chamber.
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis 50
He imagines himself like the Virgin Mary, and while he continues to compose the poem in his head he
imagines “smoke, incense ascending from the altar of the world.” As Cranly will suggest, Stephen’s mind is
indeed still “supersaturated” with religion, and this language suggests that in some ways his new life may not
be so radically transformed from his former life. He imagines himself “a priest of eternal imagination,
transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everlasting life”—his act of creation seems
to give him the same kind of power he dreamed he would have as a priest.
The “subject” of his poem is presumably Emma, although the way he imagines her while he is composing
suggests how much their “relationship” exists only in his mind. As with the poem he composed for her ten
years earlier, the villanelle is highly abstract, and seems to be “about” or “for” her in only the most indirect
way. In some ways, his composition is quite impressive. Stephen shows a definite sensitivity to the sounds of
the words, and a villanelle is a rigid and strict form—using only two rhymes, repeating the lines in a regular
pattern for five three-line stanzas and a quatrain. The villanelle requires discipline, skill, and control, and
gains its effects more from the formal interplay of sound and repetition than it does from emotion or passion.
Therefore, Stephen’s first poem is abstract, symbolic, and clearly removed from anything in his immediate
life. Just as his first attempt, ten years earlier, had failed by being too far removed from the situation which
had inspired it, this poem, too, is emotionally flat and detached from life. Stephen, it appears, has little
conception of human love or emotion, and his art serves the purpose of removing him from daily life into the
realm of fantasy and escape, sound without sense. While his poem is a somewhat impressive technical and
formal achievement, we may wonder if Stephen’s rigid code of individualism will cause him to suffer as an
artist.
In the journal entries at the end of the novel, we have Stephen’s voice directly, without the potentially ironic
narrator. Over the course of the chapter we have seen him gradually become more and more alone, and this is
emphasized by the univocal final pages, where Stephen is essentially “talking to himself.” His tone is
somewhat dramatic, and it is clear that the defense mechanisms and affectations we recognized in his
interactions with his peers tend to carry over into the journals, too. However, there is a definite eagerness in
the passages where he anticipates his flight to Europe. At the end of the novel, we see the young man, whom
we have followed since early childhood, now an “artist,” eager to leave his dreary homeland behind in favor
of life, art and experience:
26 April: Mother is putting my new secondhand clothes in order. She prays now, she says,
that I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the heart is and what it
feels. Amen. So be it. Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of
experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.
27 April: Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.
The novel in Stephen’s voice, seems to end on an optimistic and forward-looking note. Most of the novel has
been about rejection—Stephen has had to reject the “nets” which Dublin and Catholicism have laid upon him
at birth. But his attitude now is of expectation and anticipation. Our sense is that “experience” and “life” lies
elsewhere, in Europe, and that his art will feed on these. Although the narrator has been puncturing his
“epiphanies” throughout, here we just have Stephen’s voice in what seems to be an unambiguous
affirmation. But the narration’s ironies, and in particular Cranly’s objections, have not been forgotten by this
point, giving us a complicated and multifaceted picture of the artist. We can see many of Stephen’s
shortcomings, but we can also recognize in him a definite skill and ambition. We may feel, as the novel ends,
that he will go off and succeed in Europe, experiencing life and creating life. Or, we may feel that this is the
common delusion of youth, that, as Cranly puts it, “everyone has ideas,” and we have no reason to believe
that Stephen Dedalus is special. If we are willing to look outside of the text, we will see that in Joyce’s next
novel, Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus is back in Dublin—he has returned for his mother’s funeral and ended up
staying in town for months. In light of this later novel, the ending of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis 51
will perhaps seem to be “punctured” much as the climaxes of the individual chapters were. The symbolism he
recognizes in his name suggests both the need for flight or escape, as well as the potential hazards—Icarus,
Daedalus’ son, flew too high and his wings were melted by the sun. The ending of the novel is suggestively
ambiguous—we may see Stephen in either, or indeed both, of these ways.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Quizzes
Chapter 1 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Through which characters’ consciousness is the narrative focused?
2. Who is “baby tuckoo”?
3. What is the significance of Dante’s maroon and green brushes?
4. What advice does Stephen’s father give him as they leave him off at Clongowes?
5. Why did Wells push Stephen into the ditch?
6. How does Mrs. Dedalus respond to the argument at the Christmas dinner table?
7. What is the story Mr. Casey tells at dinner?
8. According to Athy, why are Simon Moonan and Tusker Boyle in trouble?
9. Why was Stephen exempt from classwork by Father Arnall?
10. What do Stephen’s classmates encourage him to do after Father Conmee pandies him?
Answers
1. The narrative is focused, in the style of “free indirect discourse,” through Stephen Dedalus’
consciousness.
2. “Baby Tuckoo” is the “nicens little boy” in the story Stephen’s father tells him when he is very young. It
is a figure for Stephen himself.
3. The maroon brush stands for Michael Davitt, and the green brush stands for Parnell, the famous Irish
nationalist leaders.
4. He tells him to write home if he wanted anything, and “whatever he did, never to peach on a fellow.”
5. Wells pushed Stephen into the ditch because Stephen refused to swap his snuffbox for Wells’ “seasoned
hacking chestnut.”
6. Mrs. Dedalus does not take sides in the debate. She wants them to refrain from discussing politics, if only
on this one day of the year, Christmas.
7. Mr. Casey tells a story, designed to provoke Dante, about being harassed by a woman who was condemning
Parnell’s affair with Kitty O’Shea. He says that he heard her call Kitty O’Shea a name that he won’t repeat,
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Quizzes 52
and so he spit his mouthful of tobacco juice in her face.
8. He says that they were caught in the square with three older students “smugging.” Since homosexual
activity is against the rules at Clongowes, they are to be flogged.
9. Stephen was exempted from classwork until his new glasses arrive; he accidentally broke them when he fell
on the cinderpath, and cannot see well enough without them to participate.
10. Stephen’s classmates urge him to go speak to the rector, since his punishment was cruel and unfair.
Chapter 2 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Where is the Dedalus family living at the start of the chapter?
2. What does Stephen read alone in his room at night?
3. Why does Stephen not return to Clongowes in September?
4. When the family has moved back to Dublin, why does Stephen spend so much time alone?
5. Why does Stephen feel it is appropriate to entitle his poem, “To E--- C---”?
6. Where does Stephen go to school after Clongowes?
7. Why does Heron mock Byron, who Stephen says is “the best poet”?
8. What word does Stephen see carved on a desk at Queen’s College in Cork?
9. Where does Stephen get the money for his “season of pleasure”?
10. How does Stephen react to the prostitute at the end of the chapter?
Answers
1. The family has moved to Blackrock, a suburb on the coast southeast of Dublin.
2. Stephen reads a translation of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.
3. Stephen is unable to return to Clongowes because his father can no longer afford to send him.
4. Stephen spends so much time alone in Dublin because he has few friends, and his Uncle Charles has gotten
too old to go outside.
5. Stephen imitates the titles of some poems he has seen in the collected works of Lord Byron, the English
Romantic poet.
6. Stephen is sent to Belvedere College by special arrangement by Father Conmee, Stephen’s former rector at
Clongowes. Conmee is now at Belvedere, and arranges for Stephen and his brother Maurice to attend the
Jesuit academy.
Chapter 1 Questions and Answers 53
7. Heron says that Byron was a heretic.
8. Stephen sees the word “Foetus” carved in the desk in the lecture hall at Queen’s College.
9. Stephen wins 33 pounds in an essay competition, which he spends lavishly and generously, if quickly and
irresponsibly.
10. Stephen’s reaction to the prostitute is passive and submissive.
Chapter 3 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. What is Stephen’s attitude toward his sinful lifestyle as Chapter Three opens?
2. What religious office does Stephen hold at Belvedere?
\3. What is important about St. Francis Xavier, according to the rector?
4. What are the “four last things” the sermons will cover during the retreat?
5. What effect does seeing Father Arnall have upon Stephen?
6. Why does Stephen feel he cannot confess at the college chapel?
7. Describe Stephen’s vision of hell.
8. What effect does seeing the “frowsy girls” on the side of the road have on Stephen?
9. How old is Stephen in Chapter Three?
10. What does the priest tell Stephen after confession?
Answers
1. Stephen claims to be indifferent; he does not feel shame or guilt around his classmates, and is too proud to
pray to God and repent.
2. Stephen is prefect of the sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
3. The rector tells the boys that St. Francis Xavier was one of the original Jesuits, one of the first followers of
Ignatius. He was known for converting people in the Indies, Africa, and Asia. According to the rector, he once
converted 10,000 in one month.
4. The “four last things” are death, judgment, hell, and heaven. The topic of the sermons never reach heaven,
as promised.
5. Seeing Father Arnall recalls Stephen to his Clongowes days, making his soul “become again a child’s
soul,” symbolizing how this retreat signifies a return to innocence for him.
6. Stephen does not want to confess along with his classmates out of shame for the extent of his sins.
Chapter 2 Questions and Answers 54
7. Stephen imagines hell as peopled with goat-like, half-human creatures who encircle him, mumbling
incoherently. It is a land of dry thistle and weeds, solid excrement, and dim light.
8. When Stephen sees the poor girls, he is ashamed and humiliated at the thought that their souls are dearer to
God than his.
9. Stephen tells the priest during confession that he is 16 years old.
10. The priest tells Stephen to resist the Devil’s temptation, to repent, and to give up his life of sin. He tells
Stephen to pray to the Virgin Mary when he is tempted.
Chapter 4 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Describe Stephen’s daily life at the start of Chapter Four.
2. Why does Stephen have trouble mortifying his sense of smell?
3. What is Stephen’s opinion of the Jesuits now?
4. How does Stephen reply when the director of Belvedere asks him if he feels he may have a vocation for the
priesthood?
5. What appeals to Stephen about the priesthood?
6. What repels Stephen about the priesthood?
7. Why aren’t Stephen’s parents at home when he gets in?
8. What phrase comes to Stephen’s mind as he crosses the bridge to the Bull?
9. What symbolic import does Stephen recognize in his name?
10. How does Stephen interpret his encounter with the bathing girl along the strand?
Answers
1. Stephen’s day is structured around religious devotions—he attends morning Mass each day, carries his
rosary in his pocket, and prays systematically throughout the day. He says three chaplets a day for the three
theological virtues, while dedicating each day toward gaining one of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, and
toward driving out each of the seven deadly sins.
2. Stephen has trouble mortifying his sense of smell because he finds that he has little natural repugnance to
odor, and it is difficult for him to find a smell unpleasant enough to disturb him. He ultimately finds that the
smell of “longstanding urine” does the trick.
3. Stephen still respects the Jesuits, and is grateful for all they have done for him, but he admits that their
judgments and opinions now seem “a little childish” to him. It is clear that Stephen feels that he is
outgrowing a phase of his life that the Jesuits represent.
4. Stephen replies that he has “sometimes thought of it,” but he remains noncommittal.
Chapter 3 Questions and Answers 55
5. Stephen is attracted to the power, privilege, and secret knowledge that the priesthood would offer. He is
eager to learn the theological secrets, and to hear people’s secret confessions.
6. Stephen realizes that to become a priest would be to sacrifice an important degree of his individuality. The
idea of being an anonymous member of a community of priests ultimately causes Stephen to reject the
director’s offer.
7. His younger sister tells him that they have gone to look at another house. Apparently, the family will have
to move again, under pressure from the landlord.
8. Stephen thinks of the phrase “A day of dappled seaborne clouds,” and is fascinated by the way it seems to
capture the moment perfectly. Stephen is fascinated by the sound and rhythm of the words as much as their
sense.
9. Stephen reads his name, Dedalus, as a “prophecy.” Daedalus was the mythical artificer who escaped from
Crete with his son Icarus, using wings built from wax and feathers. Stephen sees Daedalus as a symbol of both
art and flight.
10. Stephen interprets her as a symbol, an affirmative sign of his new understanding of his destiny as an artist.
She seems to him like a seabird, who represents art, sexuality, femininity, and Ireland.
Chapter 5 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Describe Stephen’s attitude toward school at the start of Chapter Five.
2. What does Davin call Stephen?
3. What is the “useful art” the dean of studies promises to teach Stephen?
4. What are the two primary influences on Stephen’s artistic theory?
5. What is Davin’s objection to Stephen’s “revolt” against religion, family, and nation?
6. What characteristic of Lynch’s speech does Stephen identify with “culture”?
7. What, according to Stephen, are the three basic forms of art?
8. What kind of poem does Stephen compose in the middle of Chapter Five?
9. Describe the attitude which the other students take toward Temple.
10. When Lynch asks Stephen if he loves his mother, what does Stephen say?
Answers
1. Stephen has a casual, even lackadaisical attitude toward his schoolwork at the start of Chapter Five. He is
late for lecture, and has to borrow a scrap of notepaper from Moynihan.
2. Davin calls Stephen “Stevie.”
Chapter 4 Questions and Answers 56
3. The dean of studies promises to teach Stephen the “useful art” of starting a fire in a fireplace.
4. Stephen’s artistic theory is based heavily on the work of Aristotle and Aquinas.
5. Davin feels that an individual’s primary responsibility is to his or her country, and feels that Stephen is
betraying Ireland in favor of abstract, selfish aims—a view with which Stephen does not disagree.
6. Stephen recognizes Lynch’s use of “yellow” as an expletive to be an example of his “culture.”
7. Stephen recognizes the three basic forms of art as the lyrical, the epical, and the tragic. The tragic is the
most important, since it is when the artist is able to remove himself or herself from the creation as completely
as possible.
8. Stephen composes a villanelle, a strict form which consists of only two rhymes (“ways” and “rim”), five
three-line stanzas, a final quatrain, and a pattern of repetition.
9. The other students tease Temple constantly, and don’t take his ideas seriously.
10. Stephen replies that he does not understand the question.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Characters
Father Arnall
Father Arnall is a Jesuit priest who teaches at Clongowes Wood College, the first school that Stephen Dedalus
attends.
Mr. John Casey
Mr. Casey is a friend of Stephen Dedalus’s father, Simon Dedalus, in Chapter One. When Mr. Casey visits,
young Stephen likes to sit near him and look at “his dark fierce face.” Stephen notices that “his dark eyes
were never fierce and his slow voice was good to listen to.” He gets into the argument with Dante on
Christmas, asserting that the Church should stay out of politics and leave Charles Stuart Parnell alone.
Uncle Charles
Charles is Stephen Dedalus’s great-uncle. He is present at the family’s Christmas dinner in Chapter One but
does not take part in the argument. Indeed, he seems somewhat bewildered and only mutters a few vague
comments to try to calm things down. Uncle Charles is kindly but slightly eccentric and ineffectual. Later in
the chapter readers learn that he has died.
Father Conmee
A Jesuit priest who is the rector (principal) of Clongowes Wood College, the first school that Stephen Dedalus
attends. In Chapter One, after Father Dolan pandies Stephen (punishes him by hitting his hands with a stick
known as a pandybat), Stephen’s friends urge him to go to Father Conmee and report Father Dolan. Although
he is afraid to do so, Stephen works up the necessary courage and goes to Father Conmee’s room. Although
Stephen (and the reader) expects that Father Conmee will react angrily, he in fact receives Stephen in a kindly
manner and listens to his complaint sympathetically. Stephen’s visit to the rector is his first act of
independence and self-determination. Stephen’s fa- ther later reveals that Father Conmee has told him about
this incident, and that the rector and Father Dolan had a good laugh over it.
Cranly
A friend of Stephen Dedalus at University College, Dublin, Cranly appears in Chapter Five and is one of the
Chapter 5 Questions and Answers 57
four friends who tries to tempt Stephen. The opposite of Davin in many respects, Cranly is sophisticated and
irreverent. Stephen finds Cranly’s accent and use of language dull; it reminds him of “an echo of the quays of
Dublin given back by a bleak decaying seaport” and its energy “an echo of the sacred eloquence of Dublin
given back flatly by a Wicklow pulpit.” He represents expedience, compromise, and hypocrisy. Beneath his
bluster, Stephen also perceives a form of despair in him.
Davin
Davin is a friend of Stephen Dedalus and a student at University College, Dublin. Davin appears in Chapter
Five and is one of the four friends who tries to tempt Stephen. He is from the Irish countryside and is
described as a peasant. His speech has both “rare phrases of Elizabethan English” and “quaintly turned
versions of Irish idioms.” Strong and athletic, Davin is honest, straightforward, and without guile. He calls
Stephen “Stevie.” In the book, he represents Irish nationalism, a viewpoint that Stephen rejects. Davin is a
member of the Gaelic League, an organization that advocates a return to the Irish language and traditional
Irish sports.
Dean of Studies
Stephen Dedalus discusses his ideas of art and beauty with the unnamed Dean of Studies at University
College, Dublin. The Dean, a Jesuit priest and an Englishman, is kindly and approachable. He also displays a
dry sense of humor, remarking that “We have the liberal arts and we have the useful arts.” The Dean
acknowledges that Stephen is an artist. He tells Stephen that “the object of the artist is the creation of the
beautiful. What the beautiful is is another question.”
Mrs. Dedalus
Stephen’s mother’s first name is never given, and although she appears on several occasions she remains a
more shadowy character than her husband, Simon Dedalus, Stephen’s father. Like most of the other
characters, she seems to exist only in relation to Stephen. The character is based largely on Joyce’s mother,
Mary Jane Murray.
Mr. Simon Dedalus
Simon is Stephen’s father. Based on Joyce’s own father, John, Mr. Dedalus appears in only a few scenes, but
his presence is omnipresent. He is generally portrayed as an amiable man, but there is also a sense of failure
about him. He is known as a storyteller. During the novel, Mr. Dedalus suffers some financial misfortune; to
save money he has to take Stephen out of Clongowes Wood College and move the family to a smaller house.
When he takes Stephen to visit his hometown, Cork, in southwest Ireland, he regales Stephen with tales that
Stephen has heard before. In an attempt at a heart-to-heart talk, he advises Stephen to “mix with gentlemen.”
As Stephen grows older, he regards his father with some embarrassment and distances himself from the older
man. In Chapter Five, while talking to his friend Cranly, Stephen “glibly” describes his father as “a medical
student, an oarsman, a tenor, an amateur actor, a shouting politician, a small landlord, a small investor, a
drinker, a good fellow, a storyteller, somebody’s secretary, something in a distillery, a taxgatherer, a
bankrupt, and at present a praiser of his own past.” There is the implication that in rejecting Ireland and
deciding to pursue a course of creative independence, Stephen is also rejecting his father and his father’s
failure.
Stephen Dedalus
Stephen Dedalus is the “artist” and “young man” of the title. It is impossible to consider him in the way that
a reader would consider most characters in fiction, for his roles goes far beyond that merely of central
character. He is the sole focus of the book, and the events of the novel are filtered through his consciousness.
His presence is felt on every page.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Characters 58
The character is based largely on Joyce himself. The name “Stephen Dedalus” itself has symbolic
significance. Saint Stephen was the first Christian martyr, put to death for professing his beliefs. In Greek
mythology, Dedalus was an inventor who escaped from the island of Crete using wings that he had made;
however, his son Icarus flew too near the sun, melting the waxen wings and crashing into the sea. From the
novel’s opening page, it is clear that Stephen is sensitive, perceptive, intelligent, and curious. He also proves
to be aloof and at times arrogant and self-important. Moreover, despite his intelligence, he is often the victim
of his own self-deception.
Joyce’s narrative is not continuous, and there is no “plot” as such. Rather, the book is a series of “portraits”
of Stephen at various important moments in his young life, from his introduction as an infant (“baby tuckoo”)
through selected schoolboy experiences to his declaration of artistic independence as a student at University
College, Dublin. The process of Stephen’s maturation is registered in his expanding awareness of the world
and in the novel’s increasingly sophisticated use of language. His relationship to his family, schoolmates,
teachers, friends, religion, and country as well as to his own language form the essence of this novel.
In a series of epiphanies and corresponding anti-epiphanies, Stephen alternately affirms and rejects different
aspects of his existence. In so doing, he makes difficult moral and aesthetic choices that help to define his
character. Perhaps the most telling characterization of him occurs during the episode set in Cork. Here, Joyce
describes Stephen as “proud and sensitive and suspicious, battling against the squalor of his life and against
the riot of his mind.” In the final chapter Stephen confides to his friend Cranly that he will henceforth rely on
“the only arms I allow myself to use—silence, exile, and cunning.” Given the originality of James Joyce’s
conception of this character, it is significant to note that the book ends not with Stephen himself but with
excerpts from his diary that indicate his intention to “go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of
experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”
Father Dolan
Father Dolan is a Jesuit priest who is the prefect of studies at Clongowes Wood College, the first school that
Stephen Dedalus attends. He punishes Stephen. Believing he has been punished unfairly, Stephen later goes to
see the rector, Father Conmee, and reports this injustice. Father Conmee listens sympathetically and promises
that he will speak to Father Dolan. Stephen’s defiance of Father Dolan earns him the acclaim of his
schoolmates and is seen as his first assertion of his independence. Later in the book, Stephen’s father reveals
that Father Conmee and Father Dolan had a good laugh over this incident.
Vincent Heron
Heron is a boy who is a friend of Stephen Dedalus and a fellow student at Belvedere College. The relationship
between the boys is uneasy: as two of the top boys at the school, they are as much rivals as friends. There is a
disturbing edge to Heron’s mockery of Stephen. Heron criticizes Stephen for saying that Byron is the greatest
poet of all. Heron and his friends verbally and physically abuse Stephen, but Stephen refuses to give in to
Heron’s insistence that Tennyson is the best poet. Heron also strikes Stephen twice on the leg with his cane to
make him admit that he is interested in a particular girl. Stephen notices that Heron’s face is “beaked like a
bird’s. He had often thought it strange that Vincent Heron had a bird’s face as well as a bird’s name.”
Lynch
Lynch is a friend of Stephen Dedalus and a fellow student at University College, Dublin. Described by Joyce
as appearing reptilian, he argues with Stephen about art and aesthetics. In this respect, he represents a foil for
Stephen, allowing him (and, by extension, Joyce himself) to expound his own theory of art and beauty.
Although he seems to be interested in Stephen’s long intellectual talk, Lynch is really unable to appreciate
Stephen’s ideas or to contribute to the conversation on Stephen’s level. Whereas Stephen has high artistic
aspirations, Lynch’s personal goals are much narrower. He will be satisfied with a job and a conventional
life.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Characters 59
Mrs. Dante Riordan
Dante is introduced on the first page of the novel, when she and Uncle Charles applaud young Stephen’s
dancing. Dante introduces the theme of the Church and politics. Stephen is conscious of the fact that Dante
has two brushes: “The brush with the maroon velvet back was for Michael Davitt and the brush with the
green velvet back was for Parnell.” (The two brushes have symbolic significance.)
Dante later appears at Christmas dinner at the Dedaluses, where she has a furious argument with Mr. Casey.
The argument centers around the Church’s denunciation of the Irish nationalist politician Charles Stuart
Parnell, who had an affair with a married woman, Kitty O’Shea. Dante, a devout Catholic, argues that it was
right for the Church to denounce the sinful Parnell, who she calls “a traitor, an adulterer!” She says that the
Irish people should submit to the authority of the bishops and priests, even if this means losing a chance for
independence. Mr. Casey, who is also a Catholic, bitterly resents the Church’s actions in the Parnell case. He
argues that the clergy should stay out of politics. The argument escalates, and the chapter ends as Dante flies
out of the room in a rage, slamming the door behind her. Stephen does not understand why Dante is against
Parnell, but he has heard his father say that she was “a spoiled nun.”
Temple
Temple is a friend of Stephen Dedalus at University College, Dublin. Temple appears in Chapter Five and is
one of the four friends who tries to tempt Stephen. Described by Joyce as a “gypsy student … with olive skin
and lank black hair,” he professes to be a socialist and to believe in universal brotherhood, but he does not
present a strong intellectual argument for his beliefs. Temple admits that he is “an emotional man…. And I’m
proud that I’m an emotionalist.”
Eileen Vance
Eileen is the first girl Stephen knows. In his early childhood, Stephen imagines that “when they were grown
up he was going to marry Eileen.” He particularly notices her “long white hands,” which feel cool to his
touch and which he likens to ivory. Dante does not want Stephen to play with Eileen because she is a
Protestant.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Themes
Consciousness
In literary terms, one of the revolutionary aspects of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is the fact that
there is no actual plot to the book. Instead, the progress of the novel is organized around the growing
consciousness of the central character, Stephen Dedalus. His consciousness of the world around him is an
ongoing theme and is developed differently in each of the book’s five chapters. He experiences many types
and levels of consciousness. Moreover, Joyce uses a highly original “stream-of-consciousness” technique to
render Stephen’s thoughts and experiences.
Stephen’s initial consciousness comes through his five senses, a theme that is introduced on the first page.
Here Joyce reports Stephen’s awareness of how his father’s face looks, how the wet bed feels, the “queer
smell” of the oilsheet and the nice smell of his mother. He sings a song and listens to his mother’s piano
playing.
From the beginning, Stephen is conscious of words as things in themselves. When he goes to Clongowes
Wood College, he becomes conscious of what words mean—and of the fact that a word can have more than
one meaning. Stephen’s consciousness of trouble is at first vague—he is not sure what Dante and Mr. Casey
are arguing about at the Christmas dinner, but he knows that the situation is unpleasant. He is conscious of
impending trouble when Father Dolan enters the classroom and threatens to “pandy” any “idle, lazy” boys.
A little later he is also conscious that his father is in trouble of some sort, but he does not know the cause of
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Themes 60
this trouble.
Stephen develops a consciousness of the opposite sex early in his life, though that consciousness does not
translate into conscious action until the end of Chapter Two, when he encounters a prostitute. Subsequently he
is troubled by his consciousness of sin. Foremost, however, is his creative consciousness. As the novel
progresses, Joyce’s language becomes more sophisticated, matching Stephen’s growing maturity and
understanding. Simultaneously Stephen becomes increasingly conscious of his artistic vocation, until in the
last chapter he decides to devote himself entirely to his art, regardless of the consequences to his life.
Artists and Society
As the title indicates, a central theme of the book is the development of the young artist and his relationship to
the society in which he lives. The opening sentences of the book show baby Stephen’s awareness of language
and of the power of the senses. Because the novel is to a large degree autobiographical, it is not only about
Stephen’s development as a literary artist but also about Joyce’s own development. Joyce believed in “art
for art’s sake,” and A Portrait reflects this belief. That is, Joyce did not feel that art was supposed to have a
practical purpose. It was not the function of the artist to express a political or religious opinion in his or her
work, or even to teach the reader about the society in which he or she lived. To the contrary, the artist was to
remain aloof from society and devote himself to his art.
For Stephen, as for Joyce, the ability to use the language to create a work of art is its own reward. Stephen is
especially sensitive to words and to sensuous phrases, such as “a day of dappled seaborne clouds” and
“Madam, I never eat muscatel grapes.” He is not so much concerned with what sentences mean as with how
they sound and what they suggest. This musical, suggestive quality of his art comes through in the villanelle
(“Are you not weary of ardent ways …”) that Stephen writes near the end of the book. Because of his artistic
temperament, Stephen feels increasingly estranged from society. He considers the vocation of the artist a sort
of independent priesthood “of eternal imagination” that ultimately prevents him from serving the Catholic
Church, from taking part in politics, and even from participating in ordinary Irish life.
Throughout the book, Stephen records his feelings of being different and distant from his classmates, his
siblings, and even his friends. At the end of the novel, Stephen records his artistic manifesto in his diary: “I
go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the
uncreated conscience of my race.”
Coming of Age
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is not generally considered a “coming of age” novel as such. Joyce
intended the book to have a wider scope, and the novel encompasses more than the brief time-scale—often just
a single school year or a summer—that usually marks the “coming of age” genre. In Joyce’s novel, the
chronology spans approximately twenty years, as we follow the central character, Stephen Dedalus, from his
very early childhood to his college years. Nonetheless, there are a number of typical “coming of age”
elements here. Among them are young Stephen’s growing consciousness of self-identity and of family
problems, his increasing understanding of the rules that govern the adult world, and, later, his keen awareness
of and preoccupation with the mysteries of sex.
God and Religion
Religion—in the form of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church—forms a major theme of the novel.
Indeed, religion was a pervasive force in late nineteenth-century Irish life, the time in which this novel is set.
Stephen’s first consideration of God occurs early in Chapter One. While looking at his name and address on
his geography book, Stephen ponders his place in the world. This stream of consciousness leads him to
wonder about the infinity of the universe and about God: “It was very big to think about everything and
everywhere. Only God could do that….” He goes on to consider God’s name in other languages and the fact
that God can understand all languages: “But though there were different names for God in all the dif- ferent
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Themes 61
languages in the world and God understood what all the people who prayed said in their different languages,
still God remained always the same God and God’s real name was God.”
The place of religion in Ireland, and the conflict between clerical and secular authority, is the subject of the
argument between Dante Riordan and John Casey at Christmas dinner in Chapter One. The argument centers
on the Church’s treatment of the Irish nationalist politician Charles Stuart Parnell. Parnell, a member of the
British Parliament, had led the fight for Home Rule, a form of limited independence for Ireland. However, just
as he seemed on the verge of success, he had been named in a divorce case. (Parnell had been having an affair
with a married woman, Kitty O’Shea.) Because of this, the Catholic Church in Ireland denounced Parnell,
who was disgraced and who died shortly thereafter. Dante argues that it was right for the Church to denounce
the sinful Parnell, saying that the Irish people should submit to the authority of the bishops and priests even if
this means losing a chance for independence. Mr. Casey, who is also a Catholic, bitterly resents the Church’s
actions in the Parnell case. He argues that the clergy should stay out of politics, and says that “We have had
too much God in Ireland.” Simon Dedalus echoes this argument, calling the Irish “an unfortunate priestridden
race…. A priestridden Godforsaken race!”
Stephen is a silent witness to this argument, but he soon becomes embroiled in questions of religion himself.
Much of the novel concerns Stephen’s relation to his religion, and his ultimate rejection of that religion.
Although he finally rejects church authority, Stephen is nonetheless shaped by his Jesuit education and by a
powerfully Roman Catholic outlook on life.
In Chapter Four, the unnamed dean asks Stephen to consider becoming a priest. Stephen is tempted by the
invitation and imagines himself leading a religious life. He decides not to join the priesthood. He wishes to
maintain his independence and does not feel that he can be a part of any organization. His power, he realizes,
will come not from his initiation into the priesthood but from devoting himself to his solitary art, even at the
cost of losing his family, friends, nation, and God.
Sin
Sin—particularly Stephen’s sense of sin, as defined by the Catholic Church—is a major aspect of his awareness
of God and religion. Deeply disturbed by the consciousness of his own sin (including masturbation and
encounters with prostitutes), Stephen goes to confession. Afterward, absolved of his sins, he is “conscious of
an invisible grace pervading and making light his limbs…. He had confessed and God had pardoned him. His
soul was made fair and holy once more, holy and happy.” He feels that life is simple and beautiful, and that
life is spread out before him. For all his efforts, however, Stephen is unable to maintain this kind of life, and
he lapses once again.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Style
Narrative
Like many of the novels that precede it, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is written in the third person
point of view. However, this novel is anything but a traditional third-person narrative. Joyce’s narrative voice
is utterly unlike the omniscient (all-knowing) narrative voice found in traditional nineteenth-century novels.
Earlier novelists such as Charles Dickens and George Eliot concentrated on exterior detail and attempted to
give a broad overview both of the action that they were depicting and the society in which it took place. Joyce
had no interest in writing this sort of novel. His narrative is narrow and tightly focused; he does not tell what
is happening but rather tries to show what is happening without explaining the events that he is showing.
There is no plot as such in the novel; the narrative is not continuous but fragmented, with gaps in the
chronology. The focus is exclusively on the central character, Stephen Dedalus, who is present on virtually
every page. Every narrative detail is filtered through Stephen’s consciousness. Joyce uses the experimental
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Style 62
techniques stream-ofconsciousness and interior monologue to let the reader see, hear, and feel what Stephen is
experiencing as the action unfolds. One result of this focus on Stephen is that most of the other characters are
seen only in relation to him.
In the earlier sections of the novel, Stephen is very young and is not fully aware of the significance of the
situations in which he finds himself. Here the narrative mirrors the level of Stephen’s intellectual
development. For example, at the very beginning of the book, Stephen is a baby or, at the most, a toddler.
Thus, Joyce begins the book using a simple vocabulary and imitates the style of a children’s story: “Once
upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road….” A little later in
the novel, young Stephen witnesses a political argument during a Christmas dinner. The dialogue of the
argument, between Mr. Casey (a friend of Stephen’s father) and Stephen’s Aunt Dante, is reported without
comment. Stephen is not aware of what the argument is about, but he knows that it is disturbing and that it
disrupts the harmony of the Christmas dinner. However, Joyce the author knows that readers of his day
certainly would have recognized the significance of the argument, which concerns the late Irish nationalist
leader Charles Stuart Parnell. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is full of this sort of narrative duality:
Joyce the author knows what is happening, the reader might know what is happening, but the central character
through whom the action unfolds is not always aware of its full significance.
The narrative becomes increasingly sophisticated as Stephen matures. By the last chapter, Chapter Five,
Stephen is a student at University College, Dublin. Much of the chapter is taken up with philosophical
discussions of art and aesthetics. In several conversations, Stephen explains his ideas, which are based on the
ideas of Aristotle and of Thomas Aquinas. Critics have remarked that Stephen’s dialogue in this section reads
more like a nonfiction philosophy work than like fiction.
Setting
The action of the book takes place in Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century and at the turn of the
twentieth century, a span of about twenty years. Although Joyce gives specific settings for the incidents in the
book, he does not give dates for the events that he is reporting. However, critics know that the events of
Stephen Dedalus’s life mirror events in Joyce’s own childhood and young adulthood.
Specific settings include various Dedalus homes (the first outside Dublin and later ones in the city), the
schools that Stephen attends (Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare and Belvedere School in Dublin),
the chapel where Father Arnall delivers his fiery sermon, and, later in the book, University College, Dublin.
Stephen also visits the city of Cork in southwest Ireland with his father. Both indoor and outdoor settings are
used.
Regardless of the specific setting of any scene in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce gives a
minimum of external description. He is more concerned with the state of mind of his main character, Stephen
Dedalus, than with the external circumstances of Stephen’s situation. Yet without giving lengthy descriptions
of a classroom, for example, Joyce is able to create the atmosphere of a school.
Joyce himself was a Dubliner by birth and upbringing. He does not evoke the city of Dublin in as much detail
here as in his earlier short story collection Dubliners or in his later novels Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.
Nonetheless, in A Portrait, Dublin is prominent both as a physical city and as a symbol of the center of Irish
consciousness. In any case, whether he is writing about Stephen’s life at school, at home, or at large in
Dublin or in particular neighborhoods elsewhere in Ireland, Joyce’s larger subject is always Ireland—a subject
that he renders in an ambivalent stance.
Structure
A Portrait of the Artist is divided into five chapters. Each chapter deals with a different period in the first
twenty years of the central character, Stephen Dedalus. Each also addresses a specific theme related to
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Style 63
Stephen’s development as an artist.
Chapter One takes Stephen from his infancy into his first years at school. In this chapter, Stephen becomes
aware of the five senses and of language itself, and he takes the first steps to assert his independence. Chapter
Two includes his awareness of his family’s declining fortunes and his move from Clongowes Wood School
to Belvedere School in Dublin. It ends with his sexual initiation in the arms of a prostitute. In the third
chapter, Stephen is preoccupied with his sin and the possible consequences of his sin. The fourth chapter takes
place at Belvedere School. Stephen attempts to understand the precepts of his religion and to lead a life in
accordance with those precepts. However, he recognizes that his independent nature will not allow him to
serve as a priest of the Church. Instead, he will become an artist, a “priest of eternal imagination.” In Chapter
Four, Stephen takes further steps to formulate his aesthetic theory. He also makes a final declaration of
independence from his friends, his family, his religion, and his country.
Within each chapter there are several distinct, self-contained scenes or episodes. These episodes are, in effect,
“portraits.” Each episode centers around or culminates in an epiphany—a moment of euphoric insight and
understanding that significantly contributes to Stephen’s personal education. The epiphany often occurs
during an otherwise trivial incident, and is the central organizing feature in Joyce’s work. However, these
epiphanies are undercut by “anti-epiphanies”—moments of disillusion or disappointment that bring Stephen
back to earth. Each shift between epiphany and antiepiphany is accompanied by a shift in the tone of Joyce’s
language. The epiphany scenes are generally written in a poetic and lofty language. By contrast, the language
in the anti-epiphany scenes emphasizes less noble aspects of life. Taken together, Joyce uses the give-and-take
shift between epiphany and anti-epiphany to show the paradoxes of life.
Punctuation
The author’s punctuation is not normally an issue in a discussion of a work of fiction. Up until Joyce, most
English-language novelists used standard punctuation. As part of his effort to create an entirely new type of
novel, however, Joyce employed unusual punctuation. Immediately noticeable in Portrait is the fact that there
are no quotation marks. Instead, Joyce uses a long dash at the beginning of a paragraph where he wishes to
indicate speech by a character. (One effect of this technique is that the reader is not immediately able to tell
what portions of a paragraph might be part of the narrative apparatus rather than the speaking voice of a
particular character.) Joyce is also sparing in his use of commas. Many of his longer sentences appear to be
“run-on” sentences. He does this deliberately to show the “run-on” nature of a character’s thoughts—a
technique known as the “stream of consciousness.”
Symbolism
Critics have remarked on Joyce’s unique combination of realism and naturalism on the one hand and
symbolism on the other. Joyce’s realistic and naturalistic approaches are evident in his pretense that he is
presenting things as they are. At the same time, he uses symbolism extensively to suggest what things mean.
The five senses—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch—are recurrent symbols throughout A Portrait of the Artist as
a Young Man. Stephen’s reliance on the five senses is signaled in the book’s first few pages. Here we are
made aware of the way his father looks to Stephen (sight), the songs that are sung to him and the clapping of
Uncle Charles and Dante (sound), the feeling when he wets the bed (touch), and the reward of a “cachou”
(cashew—taste) from Dante. Joyce considered the five senses to be indispensible tools for the literary artist. Of
these, the sense of sight is most prominent.
The importance of sight—and its fragility— is a recurring motif throughout the novel. This reliance on, and fear
for, sight is embodied in the phrase “the eagles will come and pull out his eyes,” which Dante says to Stephen
after his mother tells him to apologize for something. Stephen makes a rhyme, “pull out his eyes /
Apologise.” (Significantly, Joyce suffered from eye problems later in his life, and was to undergo several eye
operations.) At various points in the novel, Stephen refuses to apologize for his actions and decisions, even at
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Style 64
the risk of perhaps losing his vision, metaphorically. For example, in Chapter One he listens to Mr. Casey’s
anecdote about spitting in a woman’s eye. At Clongowes school, Father Dolan punishes Stephen for having
broken his glasses. In Chapter Four, Stephen attempts a mortification of the senses to repent for his earlier
sins.
Religious symbols abound. There are numerous references to various elements and rites of Roman
Catholicism: the priest’s soutane, the censor, and the sacraments of communion and confession. Bird
symbolism is prominent too. In addition to the eagles mentioned above, there is Stephen’s school friend and
rival Heron, who is associated with the “birds of prey.” Stephen later thinks of himself as a “hawklike man,”
a patient and solitary bird who can view society from a great height but who remains aloof from the world that
he views.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Historical Context
Joyce’s Ireland: The Historical and Political Context
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is set in Ireland in the late nineteenth century and at the very
beginning of the twentieth century. Joyce does not give precise dates in the narrative, but there is a reference
to at least one historical event (the fall of Parnell) that helps to date the action. Moreover, critics agree that the
incidents in the life of Stephen Dedalus, the “young man” of the title, closely parallel incidents in the life of
Joyce himself. (In 1904, Joyce wrote an autobiographical essay titled “A Portrait of the Artist.”) Joyce was
born in 1882 and graduated from University College, Dublin, in 1902. These years approximately form the
parameters of the novel.
Joyce grew up in an Ireland that constitutionally was a part of a nation formally known as the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Located just to the west of the island of Great Britain, Ireland had its
own distinctive customs and culture. Most significantly, while Protestantism was the predominant religion in
Great Britain, most native Irish people were Roman Catholics. However, both politically and economically,
Ireland had long been dominated by Britain.
This dominant British presence in Ireland went back to the middle ages, when Norman knights from England
first arrived in Ireland at the invitation of local Irish chieftains. The British presence in Ireland grew over the
next few hundred years, for a variety of reasons. During the reign in England of Queen Elizabeth I
(1558-1603), British settlers (mainly from Scotland) went to Ireland and suppressed local Irish resistance. In
the mid-1600s, British rule of Ireland was further consolidated by the English Parliamentary leader Oliver
Cromwell, whose army scoured the Irish countryside. Cromwell drove many thousands of native Irish from
their land and persecuted Irish Catholics. The Roman Catholic Church was outlawed in 1695, but Catholic
priests continued to practice underground.
Periodically, Irish factions rebelled against British rule, but these rebellions (notably one in 1798) were easily
put down. (Ironically, many of the leaders of these Irish nationalist movements were Irish Protestants who
were descended from earlier British settlers.) In 1800 the Irish parliament in Dublin was dissolved, and the
two countries were joined under a single government headquartered in London. Nonetheless, despite British
persecution of the native Irish, a distinctive Irish identity remained strong. By the late nineteenth century
many Irish people aspired to a form of limited Irish independence known as Home Rule.
The Great Famine of the 1840s saw the deaths or emigration of some several million Irish men, women, and
children—more than half the total population of Ireland at the time. However, this period proved a turning
point in the Irish struggle for selfdetermination. In 1879 a Catholic nationalist named Michael Davitt formed
the Irish National Land League, which agitated for rights for the Irish Catholic tenants of Protestant-owned
land. Davitt is mentioned in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, along with Charles Stuart Parnell.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Historical Context 65
The action of A Portrait occurs some time after the activities of Davitt and the downfall of Parnell. However,
in the novel the memory of Parnell is still strong. Joyce, an individualist, was disturbed both by Ireland’s
nationalist politics and the strict doctrine of the Catholic Church. He regarded himself as a cosmopolitan, a
citizen of Europe if not of the world. This is made very clear in the final chapter of A Portrait, in which
Stephen Dedalus declares his intention to fly past the nets of “nationality, religion, language.” Nonetheless,
like Stephen himself, Joyce was very much shaped by the history and religion of his country. Ironically, the
Irish nationalist uprising that eventually led to Irish independence occurred in 1916, the very year in which A
Portrait was published in England. By this time, Joyce was living in Zurich.
Joyce’s Ireland: The Literary Context
By the time Joyce made his mark as a writer, Ireland already had a long and distinguished literary history.
During the so-called Dark Ages, Irish monks helped preserve classical learning, copying classical texts in
beautiful manuscripts. Poets were greatly esteemed and held high positions in the courts of Irish kings. During
the long period of British domination, some of the finest writers in the English language were Anglo-Irish
(that is, Irish of British descent). Among these were the poet and satirist Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), who
served as dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin; the poet and prose writer Oliver Goldsmith (1730?-1774);
the statesman and political philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-1797); the lyricist Thomas Moore (1779-1852);
the novelist Maria Edgeworth (1768- 1849); and the comic writers Somerville and Ross (pen name of Edith
Somerville, 1858-1949, and Violet Martin, 1862-1915), whose stories chronicled the chaotic lives of
Anglo-Irish landlords and their servants and tenants in the “big houses” of rural Ireland.
By the mid-1800s, however, sentimental stories and ballads of no great literary merit were the norm. The late
1800s and early 1900s—the time frame during which A Portrait is set—saw a movement known as the Irish
Literary Revival. Leading writers in this movement were Douglas Hyde (1860-1949, founder of the Gaelic
League), Lady Augusta Gregory (1852-1932), and the playwright John Millington Synge (1871-1909).
Unquestionably the central figure in this group was the poet and dramatist William Butler Yeats (1865-1939).
Almost single-handedly Yeats created a new Irish literature. By the time Joyce was an undergraduate student
at University College, Dublin, Yeats was the most famous living Irish writer. However, the work of Yeats and
his associates made much use of Irish themes and subjects drawn from Irish folklore and mythology.
Joyce, on the other hand, had discovered the work of French writers and of the Norwegian playwright Henrik
Ibsen. Stephen Dedalus’s statements in Chapter Five of A Portrait suggest that Joyce had already decided to
reject the celebration of Irish nationalism as a literary theme. When the young Joyce was introduced to Yeats,
he told Yeats that the poet was already too old to help him. Rather than write about ancient heroes and
legends, Joyce wanted to chronicle the lives of ordinary people in his early fiction.
There is another notable difference between Joyce and his best-known predecessors. At a time when
Protestants dominated the cultural institutions of Ireland, Joyce was the first major Irish Catholic writer. Even
though he himself rejected Roman Catholicism—a process that is detailed in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young
Man—he made his religious background an integral aspect of this novel. And although he wrote brilliantly in
the English language, Joyce was keenly aware that he wrote in the language of Ireland’s conquerors.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Critical Overview
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man attracted much attention when it was published, and also caused
controversy. The book was widely reviewed in Europe and the United States. The most enthusiastic reactions
came from other leading novelists and intellectuals of the period, who acclaimed it as a work of genius.
However, not all early critics agreed on the book’s merits. Rather than praising its originality, some critics
denounced the work as formless or as blasphemous and obscene.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Critical Overview 66
The English novelist H. G. Wells reviewed the book in 1917, the year after its publication. Writing in the New
Republic, Wells called it “by far the most living and convincing picture that exists of an Irish Catholic
upbringing. It is a mosaic of jagged fragments that … [renders] with extreme completeness the growth of a
rather secretive, imaginative boy in Dublin.” Wells went on to remark that “one believes in Stephen Dedalus
as one believes in few characters in literature.” However, Wells was also disturbed by Joyce’s references to
sex and bodily functions. Like many critics of the time, Wells felt that these subjects were best left out of a
serious work of literature. Joyce, he said, “would bring back into the general picture of life aspects which
modern drainage and modern decorum have taken out of ordinary intercourse and conversation.”
Other critics were more blunt and more scathing in their attacks on the novel. An anonymous reviewer in
Everyman called the book “garbage” and said that “we feel that Mr. Joyce would be at his best in a treatise
on drains.” Some of the reviews in Ireland were particularly harsh. A reviewer for the Irish Book Lover
warned that “no clean-minded person could possibly allow it to remain within reach of his wife, his sons or
daughters.” The reviewer for the British newspaper the Manchester Guardian was more receptive, saying that
“When one recognizes genius in a book one had perhaps best leave criticism alone.”
The distinguished British novelist Ford Madox Ford admired the book for its stylistic excellence. In a 1922
review of Joyce’s next novel, Ulysses, he paid tribute to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. He called it
“a book of such beauty of writing, such clarity of perception, such a serene love of and interest in life, and
such charity….”
The book’s impact continued to be felt in Ireland long after Joyce’s death. Although the Catholic Church
disapproved, important Irish writers saw it as the first great Irish novel of the twentieth century. In 1955, the
short-story writer Sean O’Faolain remarked that “this autobiographicalimaginative record [is] so mesmeric,
so hypnotic a book that I can never speak of it to young readers without murmuring, Enter these enchanted
woods ye who dare….”
In the decades since its publication, A Portrait of a Artist as a Young Man has continued to receive the
attention of many scholars and critics. It has perhaps suffered in comparison with Ulysses, which critics
generally regard as a much richer, more ambitious, and more complex novel. For example, Joyce’s
biographer Richard Ellmann devoted an entire book (Ulysses on the Liffey) to Ulysses but had noticeably less
to say about A Portrait.
The Oxford don J. I. M. Stewart (better known as the author of detective novels under the pseudonym Michael
Innes) appreciated Joyce’s command of language and imaginative brilliance in A Portrait, but felt that the
result was uneven. According to Stewart, “Stephen Dedalus is presented to us with a hitherto unexampled
intimacy and immediacy.” However, Stewart found that this was “achieved at some cost to the vitality of the
book as a whole.” Because the narrative focuses exclusively on Stephen’s thoughts, the reader is “locked up
firmly inside Stephen’s head.” As a result, Stewart says, “There are times when when we feel like shouting
to be let out.” Also, because the central character “is aware of other people only as they affect his own
interior chemistry, there is often something rather shadowy about the remaining personages in the book.”
Hugh Kenner has pointed out that the opening pages of the novel attempt to do something that has never been
done before. The author does not guide the reader in understanding the narrative, but leaves the reader to work
things out for himself or herself. Kenner sums up the book’s impact on literary history, saying that after this
novel, “Fiction in English would never be the same.”
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Essays and
Criticism
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Essays and Criticism 67
Joyce's Hero: Absurd or Serious
James Joyce’s first published novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), recounts Stephen
Dedalus’s struggle to understand and then break free of family, church, and country. The journey of this
representative young artist is a growing apart or wrenching away from increasingly imprisoning influences, in
Stephen’s case, from an economically impoverished home, a theologically impoverished Catholic Church,
and the politically impoverished nationalism of Irish independence. Crucial here is that familial, religious, and
national “railings” that first fascinate and guide the child increasingly become “bars” that imprison the adult.
The task of the artist, then, is to break free of these constraints and from their bars forge new and better
formations. The artist will create not only the guideposts and protective railings of the future, but in the
process will likely have to sacrifice his well-being and perhaps a bit of his sanity as well. For Joyce, the image
of the artist apart conjures up ambivalence, specifically, excitement alternating with dread.
At the beginning of A Portrait of the Artist, Stephen is not only a very young child, an “object” protected and
guided, but an object in a story, a character (baby tuckoo) “written” in by his father’s narration. Stephen is
the near-opposite of a man apart—he is the very young child whose story is being created by another. Stephen
is at once both a child shaped by his parents and a character embedded in a story he didn’t create, a
combination producing an object who is anything but apart. Later, at home and in Catholic school, Stephen is
either speechless (at Christmas dinner) or victimized (knocked down by schoolmates and beaten on the palms
by a prefect). Stephen’s only independence revolves around his sensitivities to words (“belt,” “iss,” “suck”)
and stimuli, especially temperature, moisture, and smell.
By the end of Chapter One, however, Stephen commits his first real act of independence: he protests his
palm-whipping. At the end of Chapter Two, the increasing apartness Stephen feels as the result of his
family’s sudden poverty and his sensibilities— which separate him from his father and his
surroundings—culminates in his “French kiss” with a prostitute, the prelude to a period of whoring that would
seem to break his ties to Catholicism. The social apartness created by Stephen’s whoring is less a creative,
artistic separation than a destructive, uncreative separation, a mere rebellion. Therefore, in Chapter Three,
Stephen gradually regrets his falling away from the Church until, at the end, he not only confesses but readies
himself for the Host. In this chapter, Joyce creates, after a gradual slope toward the heights of separation, a
fall: this physically central chapter of the book is a loss of Stephen’s momentum toward apartness, a reversal,
a device to create audience conflict and make final victory more sweet: the reader, cheering Stephen on
toward separation, wonders, “Can he do it, can he really break free?”
Joyce keeps reader conflict alive as Stephen decides to mortify his flesh and devote himself to prayer. But
Stephen’s movement toward separateness cannot, of course, be stopped: interior apartness is manifested
when Stephen declines an offer to join the Jesuits; exterior apartness is forced on him when his family must
move because they cannot pay the rent. Later, Stephen wanders alone on the beach meditating on his
apartness from immature peers and staring at multiple figurings of his solitude: little islands of sand amidst
the sea; the moon as a body detached from earth, solitary in the evening sky; a hawklike man confused for a
god.
Chapter Five cuts once and for all Stephen’s ties to family, religion, and nation. Leaving the house, Stephen
figuratively leaves behind the economic and spiritual poverty that make him feel apart. Then he asserts his
interior solitude. Arriving at the Catholic university, he scorns a dean for his cloistered lifelessness, attends a
boring physics class with cobwebbed windows and a droning professor, and denounces a political gathering
for its unthinking worship of hero and nation. In conversations with friends, and in a poem he writes to the
shawled girl, E. C., or Emma Clery (fully named in Stephen Hero, Joyce’s first and only unpublished novel
from which A Portrait of the Artist was taken), Stephen asserts aesthetic independence. Finally, Stephen
asserts his independence from nation when he tells Cranly he will leave Ireland. Here then, is a heroic odyssey
Joyce's Hero: Absurd or Serious 68
into apartness, one ending far from its beginning: from a character (baby tuckoo) in someone else’s story and
real life drama (his family’s) to, at the end of the book, Stephen’s diary entries, those solitary,
mini-narratives, where others become, for Stephen, characters in his story. Stephen traverses the distance from
a character inextricably interconnected to a creator apart.
A recurring debate in Joyce criticism concerns this issue of Stephen’s heroism. The question is whether
Stephen’s journey from character in a story to the creator of stories is heroic. Joyce’s brother, Stanislaus,
regarded the title he invented, Stephen Hero, as deliberately ridiculous. Wayne Booth states and asks, “The
young man takes himself and his flight with deadly solemnity. Should we?” F. Parvin Sharpless answers,
“Joyce’s classicism sees all aspects of human life as meaningful and absurd at the same time. This is true
even of things which he might be expected to value most: the creative process of the literary artist.” While
Sharpless’s answer is a good one, it might be better if Booth’s question were broken into two more specific
questions. First, Is Stephen an exciting victor or a tragic loser? Second, Is Stephen a serious or absurd figure?
Searching for an answer to the winner/loser question, readers can look back to the last name Stanislaus Joyce
invented for Stephen, “Dedalus.” Daedulus, “Old father, old artificer” as Stephen calls him in the last line of
the book, was a mythical Greek figure whose name means “cunning craftsman.” Recall here Stephen’s
declaration: “I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can,
using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use—silence, exile, and cunning.” Daedulus is an
ambivalent figure. A renowned sculptor and engineer, he apprenticed his nephew, Talos, but pushed him off a
cliff when Talos proved a greater genius than Daedulus and when it was discovered Talos was having
incestuous relations with his own mother, Daedulus’s sister. Daedulus also built several ambivalent devices.
First, a hollow wooden cow so King Minos’s wife Pasiphae could have sex with a magnificent white bull.
Second, the labyrinth, which kept in the half-man/half-bull minotaur (the monstrous product of the coupling
mentioned above) but also kept his food— humans—from getting out. Finally, Daedulus created the famous
wax wings that melted and caused Icarus’s fall.
In summary, Daedulus, the mythic character on which Joyce builds his novel’s character, is not just skillful
but deceitful or cunning. Further his devices are ambivalent, both good and bad. The depiction of Daedulus,
and other artificers in mythology, points to the idea that human creation and creations have their price, their
down side, just as valued knowledge of good and evil produced its price: the Fall from the Garden of Eden.
The reader should also recall the Latin epigraph (opening quotation) from Portrait of the Artist that Joyce
borrowed from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Here is a translation: “And [Daedulus] altered/ improved the laws of
nature,” written in the context of constructing the waxy wings. The figure of the great artist and grand
artificer are myths still having purchase on the present, on the role of the artist, but especially for our own
times, on the ambivalent state of technology: that all creations are ambivalent, not only in their effects upon
their creators, but upon nature and humanity. The artist, then, is both hero and, like Daedulus, Icarus and
Talos, victims who when approaching too close to the gods or the “laws” of nature, must either be punished
or sacrificed. This is key to understanding Stephen’s friends calling him “Bous Stephanomenos” and “Bous
Stephanoforos.” As Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch explains, Bous is Greek for bull. Foros is the bull as powerful
victor and menos is the bull as sacrificed animal. Stephen, as artist, is this bull, an ambivalent symbol of
powerful victor and tragic victim.
While the bull symbol still has application to the pagan bullfight, it has largely been replaced by the Christian
symbol of a meek sacrificial lamb. The lamb may have less magical ambivalence because it is not both strong
and weak, but it does have greater application to the more common defeat of the weaker by the stronger.
Armed with all of this classical mythology, it should be clearer why Stephen has been represented as a bull
rather than a lamb: he is strong, or resolved, and un-Christian; further he is becoming a pagan, a lover of
nature, the senses, and experience.
Joyce's Hero: Absurd or Serious 69
Now to the question of whether Stephen is absurd or serious, which may, in turn, be broken down into
multiple specific questions. Here are just three of many that could have been asked. Is the recently
self-excommunicated Stephen absurdly selfish or uncompromisingly principled when he refuses to do his
“easter duty” for his mother? Is Stephen’s villanelle to be taken by readers as an adolescent poem or a
serious work of art? Is Stephen’s own association with Daedulus, including the line, “I go to encounter for
the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of
my race,” to be looked on as the product of foolish youth, or as an inspiring declaration. There is little doubt
that Stephen views his principles, artistic output, and philosophy as serious. But, echoing Booth, should we?
This is a far more difficult question than whether Stephen is a winner or loser for this answer depends far
more on taste. While Joyce, as I hope I have shown, furnishes ample and hard hints that Stephen is both
winner and loser, Joyce does not tell the reader what his—Joyce’s—tastes are.
Some might sympathize with Stephen’s principled rejection of his “easter duty” feeling that his mother will
get over it. And some of us might like Stephen’s anti-love poem which combines images of mother, Virgin,
and Emma Clery; womb and mind; gestation and artistic creation; the child, the poem, the art object; religious
devotion, sexual attraction, and self-sacrifice. But others might view the poem and its creation as elementary.
But there is still the question of whether we readers should regard Stephen’s most famous declaration above
as absurd or serious. In other words, should we understand this line as an example of childish megalomania,
hubris, and youthful pride bound for an adult fall? Or is this serious stuff, the artist as smith of a new
conscience, new ethics, a new way of seeing and understanding the world?
Perhaps this question can have no answer, since we cannot know what Joyce meant here (unless it is stated
somewhere clearly in his letters). Without evidence we must decide for ourselves. Perhaps it is just as well.
Even if we interpret Stephen as a selfish and foolish youth, it is less the rightness or wrongness of his struggle
that is at issue than depicting the struggle itself. And, after all, if Stephen is selfish and foolish, this is, after
all, a portrait of a young man, not a mature one. Had Stephen’s principles, poems, and aesthetic philosophy
been mature and fully formed, these would not have belonged to the realist portrait of a young man.
Whether or not one likes the way Stephen handles his struggle, it does show the effects of the battle fought by
anyone refusing to act on certain received ideas or act out particular received practices: ostracism, loneliness,
self-doubt, and conversely, intolerance, selfishness, hubris. In many ways, Joyce knew these problems as his
own. Should readers fault either Joyce or Stephen—or both—if they deem Stephen’s principles selfish, his
poem adolescent, and his declaration overblown? Or should they credit Joyce for a realistic portrait of youth?
As answering involves knowing the thoughts of Joyce, perhaps it is better to shift focus from mere evaluation
of talent toward his work’s effect on the world. Perhaps we might say the following: If Stephen and Joyce can
be faulted for anything, it is far less for what they said and did than what they didn’t say or do. That is, in
Portrait of the Artist both concentrated almost exclusively on how the artist, him or herself, must suffer and
be sacrificed for freedom. On the other hand, precious little in Portrait of the Artist indicated how the artist’s
“alteration or improvement of nature,” as Ovid put it in Joyce’s epigraph, impacts upon the world.
Source: Jhan Hochman, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1999.
Myth and Identity in Joyce's Fiction: Disentangling the
Image
The Literary Revival of turn-of-the-century Dublin was much concerned with expressing Irish aspirations
through heroes. Finn and Cuchullain supplied imaginatively what Ireland had not been able to achieve in
reality: an Irish hero who vanquished all foes. Joyce’s contempt for this form of self-consolation is well
documented. In his broadside “The Holy Office” he parodies Yeats as he declares that he, Joyce, “must not
accounted be / One of that mumming company.” Stephen of Stephen Hero devotes much energy to debunking
Myth and Identity in Joyce's Fiction: Disentangling the Image 70
the Revival. What is perhaps less well known is that Joyce’s initial contempt gave way to a profound
understanding of the psychology of the Revival and of the uses of myth in the creation of identity.…
The English, having been their own masters for centuries, have created many models of the successful life; the
Irish, being colonials, have been unable to do so. As with American blacks and Indians, subjection to a foreign
culture has destroyed all authority figures in the society.
This latter point is, I think, the theme of the first episode of A Portrait. The novel begins with the beginning of
a children’s story, a moocow coming down along the road and meeting a nicens little boy, Stephen. The little
boy, who will grow up to become the “bullock befriending bard,” learns as he grows older to associate cows
with mothers and with mother Ireland. And what comes down along the road and meets Stephen in the early
part of the novel is his nationality. He goes off to Clongowes to find that his father is not as important as the
other fathers.
—What is your father?
Stephen had answered:
—A gentleman.
Then Nasty Roche had asked:
—Is he a magistrate?
Lesson: the civil officers of the English government are the important people in Ireland. He learns the Story of
Hamilton Rowan, who used the only strategy available to him, silence, exile, and cunning, to escape English
captivity. Lesson: Irish heroes are not conquerors, but people who cope cleverly with being conquered. He
gets shouldered into the square ditch. Lesson: the small and the weak must develop cunning or must suffer.
He summarizes the lessons he has learned on the flyleaf of his geography book:
Stephen Dedalus
Class of Elements
Clongowes Wood College
Sallins
County Kildare
Ireland
Europe
The World
The Universe
For now, at least, he is defined by his place. His mind will be formed by the experience of this place. And the
process of formation is what we are reading: the narrative style of this section is that of a young boy’s
internal voice explaining the salient features to himself:
That was the way a rat felt, slimy and damp and cold. Every rat had two eyes to look out of.
Sleek slimy coats, little little feet tucked up to jump, black shiny eyes to look out of. They
could understand how to jump. But the minds of rats could not understand trigonometry.
When they were dead they lay on their sides. Their coats dried then. They were only dead
things.
Myth and Identity in Joyce's Fiction: Disentangling the Image 71
Unlike the internal voice of Maria in the story “Clay,” which helps her exclude anything which might
endanger her rather fragile idea of who she is, Stephen’s voice, like Leopold Bloom’s, actively explores his
world and comes to conclusions about world and self that are scrupulously tentative. It is this scientific
approach which will eventually enable him to see his personal myths and those of his culture for what they
are: an imaginative accommodation of subject status to the creation of a significant self.
Stephen’s education in the effects of colonial status is also the theme of the Christmas dinner episode which
follows. The real tragedy of the fight between Dante and the two men, Mr. Casey and Simon Dedalus, is not
that the family does not get along, but that their ideas of themselves have been formed entirely by the
institutions that govern them. Their powerless rage succeeds only in spoiling the dinner, and is capped by Mr.
Casey’s tale of spitting in a woman’s eye, and Dante’s boast of the church’s role in killing Parnell. Injustice
of the conqueror begets the meaner injustice of the conquered. This Christmas dinner is Stephen’s first with
the adults; the children eat in a separate room. It is his initiation into the adult world, and what he learns is
that, in Ireland at least, there is no adult world. Stephen writes his complete address as citizen of the universe,
but Simon, Mr. Casey, Dante show him that Ireland will be his farthest boundary if he stays there.
Stephen encounters his nationality just as David Copperfield encounters Murdstone and Grinby’s warehouse
or as Pip gets temporarily lost in the feckless Finches of the Grove men’s club, but his is the greater hurdle.
The nationality dilemma is particularly insidious because one’s identity is derived from the very thing that is
the impediment to one’s development.
Young Stephen comes to awareness of his situation only gradually, by intuiting from small signs. There is
something about the adult males around him that affects his feeling about himself. For example, he thinks how
pleasurable it would be to deliver milk for a living
if he had warm gloves and a fat bag of gingernuts in his pocket to eat from. But the same
foreknowledge which had sickened his heart and made his legs sag suddenly as he raced
round the park, the same intuition which had made him glance with mistrust at his trainer’s
flabby stubblecovered face as it bent heavily over his long stained fingers, dissipated any
vision of the future. In a vague way he understood that his father was in trouble and that this
was the reason why he himself had not been sent back to Clongowes.
The father’s descent has apparently been precipitated, as John Joyce’s was, by the demise of Parnell and the
victory of anti-Parnell forces within the Irish Party. Stephen’s fantasies of himself as the Count of Monte
Cristo indicate that something of this has come through to his youthful consciousness. The Monte Cristo
fantasy is formed on the same pattern as the Celtic Revival fantasy. Edmond Dantès (read heroic Ireland)
languishes in prison while Mercedes (read Kathleen ni Houlihan) is forced to marry the rich enemy; Dantès
escapes, becomes rich Count, gets revenge. It is, of course, the usual fantasy of the powerless. Later Stephen
will figure himself as artist spurned by a materialist woman, and, in Ulysses, as Hamlet: characters wrongfully
cast out by philistines. The mythic formula of his life has been determined by the story of Parnell and its
aftermath in his own family. The Celtic Revivalists had resurrected Parnell as Cuchullain, but Stephen, as he
did under the table, chiasmically changes the form of the story. Parnell rises from obscurity to heroic status,
then falls; Dantès falls from heroic status to obscurity, then rises. In progressing from the Count to Hamlet,
one essential change has taken place: his youthful belief in ultimate victory has been defeated.
This habit of savoring one’s position as victim of injustice is a species of mental sin discussed by Aquinas
under the name “morose delectation.” “He chronicled with patience what he saw, detaching himself from it
and testing its mortifying flavour in secret.” It is a solitary sin, dependent for its continuance upon continued
mortification. This helps to explain why Stephen is not interested in joining societies for the improvement of
things in general:
Myth and Identity in Joyce's Fiction: Disentangling the Image 72
[W]hen the movement towards national revival had begun to be felt in the college yet another
voice had bidden him be true to his country and help to raise up her fallen language and
tradition.… [But] he was happy only when he was far from [such voices], beyond their call,
alone or in the company of phantasmal comrades.
As an alternative to his private myths the Celtic Revival is emotionally unsatisfactory: the springdayish
optimism of the civic improver lacks the kind of interesting complexity he seeks.
In choosing Edmond Dantès over Cuchullain, Stephen has chosen, with Gabriel Conroy, the Continent in
preference to Ireland. He has also chosen a literary form: he has chosen to be a novelistic hero in preference to
an epic hero. As M. M. Bakhtin has pointed out, epic heroes do not develop and they have no secrets:
The individual in the high distanced genres is an individual of the absolute past and of the
distanced image as such, he is a fully finished and completed being. This has been
accomplished on a lofty heroic level, but what is complete is also something hopelessly
ready-made.… He is, furthermore, completely externalized. There is not the slightest gap
between his authentic essence and his external manifestation. All his potential, all his
possibilities are realized utterly in his external social position.… Everything in him is exposed
and loudly expressed.
Clearly, Stephen Dedalus, he who hides under the table and composes the chiasmic word-charm, he who will
understand trigonometry and politics, cannot be a never-changing Cuchullain. Similarly, the world that he
inhabits cannot be the easily interpreted good-or-bad world of the epic and of the Celtic Revival; it must be
the difficult to interpret world of the novel. Cuchullain always knows who his enemies are. Even if they are
his son or his foster brother, there is no doubt about their enmity, and his course of action is clear. Edmond
Dantès, on the other hand, does not know who his enemies are, is not aware of all the machinations and secret
self-interests that determine his fate.
The peasant theme in A Portrait offers an example of the shifting and tentative, the novelistic nature of
Stephen’s personal mythopoeia. Stephen’s thoughts on the subject begin with a struggle between the
romantic view of peasants as picturesque and the view that associates them with darkness and bats, and,
unlike the peasant theme in Stephen Hero, undergoes a progression. Stephen, going to sleep at Clongowes,
thinks,
It would be lovely to sleep for one night in that cottage before the fire of smoking turf, in the
dark lit by the fire, in the warm dark, breathing the smell of the peasants, air and rain and turf
and corduroy. But, O, the road there between the trees was dark! You would be lost in the
dark. It made him afraid to think of how it was.
Romantic notions based on the repetition of the word fire give way as the word dark repeats in his mind.
Living with peasants would destroy his boundary line, the embryonic identity he has been constructing; the
“you” he has created, a person who, in contrast with rats, will someday understand trigonometry and politics,
would disappear in the darkness.
But his attitude is not one of simple revulsion. He likes the way peasants smell, and from the beginning he has
associated the sense of smell with his mother, who put the queer-smelling oilsheet on his bed. Mothers are
frightening too because they embody the dark womb that precedes the “once upon a time” of consciousness.
He sees the peasant seductress of Davin’s story as “a type of her race and his own, a batlike soul waking to
the consciousness of itself in darkness and secrecy and loneliness and, through the eyes and voice and gesture
of a woman without guile, calling the stranger to her bed.” The guileless Kathleen calls the stranger, a
common Irish term for the English, to her bed. The political joining of Ireland with England which took place
Myth and Identity in Joyce's Fiction: Disentangling the Image 73
in 1800 was called the Act of Union. Out of this union is born the “disorder, the misrule and confusion of his
father’s house and the stagnation of vegetable life, which was to win the day in his soul.”
Later the girl he is in love with flirts with a priest who is of the Celtic Revival persuasion. The priest, Father
Moran, has a brother who is a potboy in Moycullen, so Stephen imagines her as giving herself to the peasantry
and associates her with Davin’s seductress. Again: feminity—peasantry— preconsciousness. Stephen contrasts
himself to this peasant priest: he himself is the “priest of eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of
experience into the radiant body of everliving life.” In the logic of this metaphor the Celtic Revival is
journeying into dark chaos looking for the “radiant image of the eucharist.” And the priest is perfectly willing
to encourage the journey toward the Celtic past and toward the peasant life, knowing that it leads to Catholic
Ireland.
The peasant theme of the novel concludes with the diary entry—a condensation of a section of Stephen
Hero—about John Alphonsus Mulrennan, a Celtic Revival folklorist who has just returned with a new hoard of
material he got from an old man with red eyes; material about terrible queer creatures at the latter end of the
world. Stephen, as he did at Clongowes, expresses fear:
I fear him. I fear his redrimmed horny eyes. It is with him I must struggle all through this
night till day come, till he or I lie dead, gripping him by the sinewy throat till … Till what? Till
he yield to me? No. I mean him no harm.
It is here that the peasant theme reveals itself for what it has been from the start: a personal myth which has
changed gradually in its meaning. At Clongowes Stephen longed for some ideal life away from home and
school, a Lake Isle of Innisfree, and the peasant cottage appeared briefly in this form. Then he needed a
creation myth to explain his condition, and Davin’s Kathleen ni Houlihan seductress filled the part. Later, as
he began to see his life as a struggle for intellectual survival the peasant became the force of primordial
darkness. In Mulrennan’s account, however, he is too much the real peasant, with pipe and comic carryings
on, to sustain any of these myths. The peasant myth collapses. And with the collapse Stephen takes a step
toward achieving the classical temper he has been striving for.
The first step in the direction of truth is to understand the frame and scope of the intellect
itself, to comprehend the act itself of intellection. Aristotle’s entire system of philosophy
rests upon his book of psychology and that, I think, rests on his statement that the same
attribute cannot at the same time and in the same connection belong to and not belong to the
same subject.
Stephen’s peasant, like the Celtic Revival peasant, has been formed by the fears and desires of the beholder.
In this final passage, before he catches himself at it, he has nearly turned the peasant into the jailer of Edmond
Dantès. Stephen, like his countrymen, has been actively repairing the damage of colonial status with elaborate
mental constructions. Having begun to realize this, he rejects the Yeatsian reconstruction of the Celtic past as
the proper goal of his art: “Michael Robartes remembers forgotten beauty … Not this. Not this at all.”
According to his own esthetic doctrine he will have to learn to see through his own mental nimbus and
discover a consistent view of his subject based upon its perceivable attributes.
And A Portrait itself, when compared to Stephen Hero, illustrates this point. In Stephen Hero Stephen’s
objection to the Celtic Revival is the subject; in A Portrait the mythopoeic process itself—the human need
which results in Celtic Revivals— is the subject. “Once upon a time” signals the beginning of Stephen’s
conscious life as the be- ginning of a made-up story. “He was baby tuckoo.” All human identity is
myth-created. We know ourselves by a story we tell, or are told. Joyce has “disentangle[ d] the subtle soul of
the image from its nest of defining circumstances.” “The image,” that which will be his artistic subject in all
of his major work, is identity and mythopoeia.
Myth and Identity in Joyce's Fiction: Disentangling the Image 74
The theme is a treacherous one; to deal with it the writer must first undergo a stripping of his own self-myth.
The high-flying images of the final diary entry show that Stephen, although he has taken the first steps, is not
yet ready. In Ulysses, under the tutelage of the clear-eyed Leopold Bloom, he will complete the lesson begun
here.
Source: William O’Neill, “Myth and Identity in Joyce’s Fiction: Disentangling the Image,” in Twentieth
Century Literature, Vol. 40, No. 3, Fall, 1994, pp. 379-91.
Three Young Men in Rebellion
James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was first published forty-seven years ago, not in
Ireland but in New York, 1916. This was a year in the First World War; in Dublin the year of the Easter Week
rebellion. Joyce, then at Zurich in neutral Switzerland, was thirty-three, fifteen years younger than [Samuel]
Butler had been when he gave up his rewriting of The Way of All Flesh. The haze was not so dense for Joyce,
and he had not so far to look backward. The Portrait is also a most carefully rewritten or restyled novel, in
fact an entirely recast one. He had begun it in its original form as Stephen Hero even before he went away
from Ireland in 1904. He had carried this first form of the book forward to double the final, present length of
the Portrait, and then gave it up still incomplete so as to start his story all over. Looking back, he himself
called Stephen Hero “rubbish.” But even as it stands, the Portrait might be justly styled in part an
autobiographical revenge, for like Butler Joyce voices through his story the grievances that he still held
against his home, his mother country and most of her people. His recollections of the System, if that is the
right word here, are rather bitter ones, though the bitter tone is notably muted by comparison of the Portrait
with what survives of the earlier Stephen Hero draft. The real life prototypes are at times so thinly veiled that
any reader with even the most casual knowledge of James Joyce and his city is obliged to recognize some of
them and to sense that the Portrait as a whole is the actual life story of a gifted young man’s Catholic
upbringing in Ireland at the turn of the century. The great danger is to read it as straight third person, the entire
story comes filtered to us through the consciousness of a persona, here the young man whose artistic
dilemmas and moral strictures it re-presents. Stylistically it is the most subtle of the three novels in the
interaction of its own images and the verbal miming of its own thought. It is a literary classic of our times.
Already it shows us Joyce busy as a beaver working hard to rechannel the tradition of the novel and to dam up
the deep and dark waters of the subconscious, or unconscious. Quite explicitly he proclaims a revolution of
the word.
Rebellion, revolt, and resistance have for centuries found in Ireland a fertile soil in which to flourish. “The
Croppy Boy,” “Kelly the Boy from Killanne,” “The Rising of the Moon,” “Seaghan O’Duibhir an
Gleanna,” are a few only of the defiant rebel songs, set to traditional airs, that Joyce, a gifted singer as a
young man, heard in the air all about him in his own Irish days:
And though we part in sorrow
Still Seaghan O’Duibhir a cara
Our prayer is “God, save Ireland”
And pour blessings on her name.
May her sons be true when needed,
May they never fail as we did,
For Seaghan O’Duibhir an Gleanna
We’re worsted in the game.
Most of these are political rallying songs. James Joyce’s disenchantment with Ireland extended so far as to
make him despair of the turn taken by most of Ireland’s revolutionary politics, of her better-left-unspoken
Gaelic speech, and, as he saw it, of the fatal paralysis that left her prostrate at the portals to the realm of the
Three Young Men in Rebellion 75
spirit, “the realms of gold” that he himself most of all respected: art, the way of the artist, and in particular
the power that the word of the artist, or literature, has to help a people know itself, judge itself truthfully, and
face the chaos and possibilities that the contemplation of its own image might disclose. Thus the Portrait
becomes an artist’s, not a social reformer’s story as is Butler’s Way. Stephen Dedalus leaves Ireland at the
end of the story, but he is defiantly hopeful: “I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience
and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.” “Silence, exile, and cunning” are
the “only arms” that he now finds at hand to defend himself in the unjust warfare that has been provoked, as
he sees it, by his home, his fatherland, and his church. No one would dream from this ending that Dublin was
then a city of classical song and the center of the Irish Renascence, Lady Gregory, the Abbey Theater, W. B.
Yeats; nor might one infer readily, nor indeed at all that some few years earlier, 1886, Dom Columba
Marmion, the distinguished Benedictine, a curate in Dundrum on the outskirts of Dublin, also left Ireland to
enter a European cloister at Maredsous. Still one wonders sometimes: If those whose job it was to educate
James Joyce had been themselves more creative spirits, would his Catholic faith have become so much
unhinged? They might have opened their minds and hearts perhaps wider to what was going on in his.
Stephen Dedalus is as deeply convinced that the Church is to blame for the paralysis he finds all around him
as had been Butler’s Ernest Pontifex. Whereas Ernest blames mostly the Church of England, Stephen blames
instead the Church of Rome. For the English Establishment, for Crown and Castle, for the Anglican
Ascendancy in Ireland, Stephen has as much contempt as Ernest has for Victorian piety, but Stephen’s own
spiritual reaction has been conditioned by the Catholicism that as he sees it had made Ireland a land neither of
scholars, artists, nor of saints.
The Stephen Dedalus story, at least as we have it in the Portrait, is that of a young man’s growing up in Holy
Ireland, his discovery of himself and of his vocation, his loss of innocence and his growth in experience, his
flight to the continent of Europe. “You talk to me,” he says, “of nationality, language, and religion. I shall try
to fly by those nets.” The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, another subversive book, is the American novel
with which the Portrait has been persistently compared. Huck’s territory and Stephen’s, the wilderness and
the urban diaspora, are, however, different kinds of solitude for retreat. Hemingway’s Nick Adams, “the
town’s full of bright boys,” and Scott Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway, in The Great Gatsby, are American
cousins of Stephen Dedalus as well as is Huck Finn. This quest is age-old, as old as Homer. It sent the son of
Odysseus on his travels. Joyce calls the three opening Stephen Dedalus chapters of Ulysses his Telemachia.
The Portrait tells the Stephen story mainly in terms of the three Jesuit schools that Stephen, and Joyce
himself, attended in Ireland: Clongowes Wood, an exclusive elementary boarding-school; Belvedere College,
or high school, as we might say, Dublin; and, finally, University College, Dublin, the Catholic University that
John Henry Newman founded for Ireland in the early 1850s, which had been rescued by the Jesuits from
extinction in 1883 and carried on under their administration for the next troubled quarter-century until 1909.
Although it might look at first sight as though Stephen is as hard on his Irish Jesuits as Ernest Pontifex is on
his Anglican schoolteacher divines, this judgment would go beyond the evidence of the Portrait itself. Father
Dolan, “Baldyhead Dolan,” the prefect of studies, a priest of the Dr. Skinner type, beats Stephen at
Clongowes for having broken his glasses, but Father Arnall, Stephen’s own class teacher, is remembered as
“very gentle,” and Father Conmee, the Clongowes Rector, as a “kindlooking” man, who treats Stephen’s
protest decently. Long after this, in Finnegans Wake, Joyce alludes to The Way of All Flesh as “a butler’s life
… strabismal [or, wall-eyed, cross-eyed, and abysmal] apologia.” Jesuit readers of the Portrait, more likely
than others, are apt to take note of Stephen’s appraisal of those Irish Jesuits who in the fiction at least show
themselves eager at Belvedere to welcome the sixteen-year-old Stephen as a novice into their own priestly
ranks: “Whatever he had heard or read of the craft of Jesuits,” writes Joyce, “he [Stephen] had put aside as
not borne out by his own experience. His masters, even when they had not attracted him, had seemed to him
always intelligent and serious priests.”
Three Young Men in Rebellion 76
The central conflict that the Portrait dramatizes is that of Stephen’s vocation: Shall he be an artist or shall he
be a priest? This conflict is actually resolved in the fourth, or Belvedere, section of the novel, after the crisis
of Stephen’s high school retreat. Stephen is intellectually tempted by the prospect of a priestly vocation. His
imagination, however, is powerless to view this otherwise than as “the pale service of the altar,” “cerements
shaken from the body of death,” and in the half-vision, half-actuality of seeing the bird-like girl “in
midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea,” he makes up his mind not to be a priest but an artist, and to
follow this vision of “mortal beauty,” “profane joy,” wherever it might lead him, even unto “the gates of all
the ways of error and glory.” Unlike Ernest Pontifex, Stephen never commits himself to a priestly service in
which he has no heart: “I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my
fatherland, or my church.” Still the Portrait nowhere inveighs against the family system that brings down in
retrospect Ernest’s strictures. In fact, tried as it is, Stephen’s sense of solidarity with his family is very
strong. Stephen’s father, Simon Dedalus, is a drunkard, but on the whole he is shown as an amiable drunkard,
who flirts with the barmaids and knows how to sing. Stephen’s mother is a rather ineffectual lady, but always
a lady, a gentle lady, even when she and her impoverished brood of children are obliged, after many auctions
and house-movings, to live on the wrong side of the tracks as the novel comes to a close.
For the most part its tone is serene; at times it is very comic. It would not be easy to find in modern fiction a
more amusing and still realistic scene than the famous Christmas-dinner in the first section, when Stephen
comes home from Clongowes Wood during his family’s affluent days to celebrate with them the birthday of
the Prince of Peace. The Dedalus family and their invited guests quarrel violently about the rights and wrongs
of Kitty O’Shea’s divorce and the consequent repudiation of Charles Stewart Parnell, “uncrowned king of
Ireland”: the dinner breaks up with door-slammings, shouts, curses, clenched fists and crashes, upturned
chairs and rolling napkin-rings—a first-class Irish brawl. The much frightened little boy Stephen “sobbed
loudly and bitterly.” As Joyce closes the incident, “Stephen, raising his terror stricken face saw that his
father’s eyes were full of tears.” Whereas the wealthy, leisured aristocrat Towneley is Ernest’s hero in The
Way of All Flesh, so an idealized Parnell, blameless and broken, is Stephen’s hero in the Portrait. Neither
Stephen nor James Joyce ever forgave Ireland for throwing Parnell to the wolves. Stephen cannot follow
Parnell in person, and he cannot serve God as priest at the altar. He has no call to the drawing-room. What can
he do? He can be, he thinks, an artist. In this way he will be saving Parnell and all his people, “race of
clodhoppers” that he calls them, for the world of art: “I tried to love God, he [Stephen] said at length. It
seems now that I failed.”
Fortunately it is not any man’s business to judge of Stephen’s, or Joyce’s, failure before God. Joyce himself
succeeded admirably as artist; as he grew older, he edged far away from his symbolic identification with
Stephen Dedalus. In Ulysses, the good man is Leopold Bloom: as Joyce told his friend Frank Budgen while
Ulysses was still in the making, “As the day wears on Bloom should overshadow them all.” And in
Finnegans Wake, he is Everyman, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, H.C.E., “Here Comes Everybody,” in a
story where Everybody is Somebody Else. Stephen Dedalus did not become a priest at the altar, and neither
did Joyce. When Stephen says in the Portrait that he will become instead “a priest of the eternal
imagination,” his metaphor is meaningful, but he is talking about something else than the rite of priestly
consecration. This metaphor should not be pushed too far in Stephen’s case, and in Joyce’s own it is one that
has tended to obscure the two vocations between which he made an election; he himself chose not altar but
art. It is a choice that haunted him most of his life.
Source: William T. Noon, “Three Young Men in Rebellion,” in Thought, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 151, Winter,
1963, pp. 559-77.

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