|James Joyce: 1882 –1941|
“The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man” is one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. The novel is about the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, as a child, as an adult and as a grown man of twenty years. Stephen Dedalus is the son of Mr. Simon Dedalus and Clairet.
The Dedalus family belongs to the catholic Ireland and it was the time of Ireland’s nationalistic movements and their struggle for independence from Britain. Stephen undergoes various situations in his life, which awakens inside him numerous questions. The novel completely revolves in a first person perspective and stream of consciousness. The author also uses third person narratives rarely, however leaves it up to the reader to differentiate and understand the plot.
The novel initially starts with a day of Stephen’s childhood in which his mother sings the song of young men, Stephen gets confused about how different people lead their life, he keeps thinking about it, and then he is threatened by his aunt for bed-wetting that God would pull out his eyes.
“First time when you wet the bed it is warm,
Then it is cold and then God will punish you
And pull out your eyes...”
Stephen sings it rhyming “Wet the bed, pull out the eyes”. Stephen is then sent to a boarding school where his friends ask him if his father was a magistrate although he was not. He is then pushed into a dirty stream at the gutters by Naughty Wills. He is again distracted about why he was sent out of his home to a boarding school. At the night, as a child he thinks of the ghosts and to distract his thought from the fearsome dream of ghosts he thinks about his mother, his home and he awaits the Christmas vacation.
Stephen then leaves home for Christmas and his father Mr. Dedalus is very much happy about spending time with him at the dinner. Two of Ireland’s nationalists also join the dinner and they are Mr. Dedalus’ friends. Stephen’s aunt is a strict catholic and they speak of politics where in aunt supports the church and the friends including Mr. Dedalus oppose her that Paranoll must be punished for his ill deeds. Stephen is again disturbed by the thoughts of politics of which he knew nothing and about Paranoll and his sin of going behind a mean woman. Stephen is advised by aunt to adhere to Catholicism and Stephen was neither a Catholic nor a Protestant Nationalist.
He again goes to school where he keeps thinking of the arguments at home. He then thinks about death. He thinks, “What would happen if he is going to die?” Stephen is disturbed by all thoughts that he rarely listened to his classes. One day Stephen broke his glasses and Father Adlen excused him from doing his homework. However, the perfectionist Father Dolan who arrived then did not excuse him and trashed him with the ‘band’ made of thick leather on his hands. Stephen was very much upset about being wrongly punished and the small boy reports to the head of Father Dolan and he says that he would speak to Father Dolan to punish him not, even in the next days until he gets his glasses. After the rebellious success, Stephen was liked by all his friends including the Naughty boy Wills.
Throughout the chapter, we can find that Stephen speaks more of what is running inside his mind or his thought process, which is known as the stream of consciousness technique.
As Stephen grows, the financial situation of his family goes down that at one point of time his father gets bankrupt. Hence, Stephen was sent to a poor school at Jesuit. Stephen was considered as a very good and cultured student at Jesuit. He gave the money he earned as prizes through his essays to his family. Stephen as an adult thought of women. He was distracted by his bad companions that he even went to the house of the prostitutes. He sinned many occasions. One day Father Allen gave a serious speech on death, sin, hell and the fury of hell. He gave a series of sermons and said that one who fails to repent their sins would not escape from the fury of hell.
The author again brings in the stream of consciousness. Stephen is evoked by the sermon and he thinks that for all his sins he would be paid hell. He adheres to strict Catholicism and repents his sins at the church. He stops doing any more of such a sin. He is advised by his mom to take the life of a Christian monk. Stephen thinks of Virgin Mary and thinks why she was put to a situation that she can stay only as a virgin forever. He discusses with his mother about this on March 4 he says. Stephen also says, “I have understood very less and I have read a little.”
Throughout the novel we can see that the author brings before us, the plot in the way of Stephen’s thought process. The author gives us the entire novel in Stephen Dedalus’ perspective and thus it appears to readers as though we can hear Stephen’s inner voice speaking loudly. Stephen is now in the thought of what he wants to be. He is not strictly Catholic. Hence, he feels that he is not the right person to be a monk. He has interest on a girl names Emma. He has even written a poem for her. He thinks of her. He is called by his friends, who are the nationalists to join the battle against Britain. However, Stephen is not a Nationalist either. He thinks of what he wants to be and on March 16, he meets Emma. She asks him why he does not visit her and why he does not write poems anymore. He replies that he writes them only for reviews and some for income. He then says that he does not want to be in Ireland. He says that he wants to be alone. All these are Stephen’s thoughts, which question him of what he is interested to do. He wants to do something in which he can throw whole of himself into it.
Stephen wanders everywhere and the author speaks out his thoughts loudly through the stream of consciousness technique. He sees people praying for Jesus. He sees the oceans, the tides and his friends. He then sees a girl on the shore and that is the moment, that one moment where Stephen feels his interest is Art. He feels that only in Art he can express the whole of himself. On April 5th, Stephen leaves Ireland and goes to France to lead an isolated life by which his Art can be expressed to the fullest.
Thus, James Joyce has used the Stream of Consciousness technique throughout the novel to portray the life of Stephen from age five to twenty and the various change of ideas he gets into on the course of his growth.