James Joyce’s novel ‘A portrait of the artist when he was young’ is a ‘bildungsroman’, which deals with the development of its main character, Stephen Dedalus. Compared to the previous version of Joyce, ‘Stephen Hero’, we see that he has cut out all the strange material about other characters and presented an up-close and detailed account of Stephen’s character development from infancy to manhood, the ground previously covered. in ‘Stephen Hero’ it is compressed into chapter 5 of ‘A portrait of the artist when he was young’.
The most important aspects of Stephen’s early development occur internally, and Joyce brings us directly into his mind so that we can see the intellectual and emotional development unfolding behind the surface. The first chapter portrays Stephen as an individual alienated from his social environment and experiencing encounters with authorities that will reappear in various guises throughout the book. We see the beginnings of this process on the first page and a half, and the patterns of behavior and relationships shown here are repeated throughout the chapter. The opening section is almost a microcosm of the chapter and perhaps the entire novel.
Stephen has an intuitive drive toward rebellion. As a boy he plans to marry a Protestant girl from his neighborhood, and when his mother and Aunt Dante scold him for this, he defiantly hides under the table. This instinctual drive remains with him throughout the book, until, in the fifth and final chapter, he presents his defiant attitude in mature intellectual terms with his definitive statement beginning “I will not serve.”
The opening paragraphs, written in children’s language to reproduce Stephen’s experience at the time, represent one of Stephen’s earliest memories. It is a memory of a story that his father told him.
‘Once upon a time and in a very good moment, there was a moocow coming down the road and this moocow coming down the road met a cute little boy named Baby Tuckoo’
The story represents the image of the life that his father gives him: that Ireland, the church and the home are peaceful and abundant like a cow. The father says that the moocow “met a nice little boy”, meaning that Ireland and the church have a favorable disposition towards Stephen, and this is what Stephen believes at this stage.
In contrast to the benevolent world image presented by his father, Stephen is subject to threats, particularly from his aunt, Dante, against whom he has to take a defensive position.
He hid under the table. His mother said
Oh Stephen will apologize
Oh, if not, the eagle will come and gouge out his eyes.
Stephen’s first conscious step toward rebellion is taken at school when he confronts Principal Conmee to complain about his unjust punishment, an act that sets him apart from his peers. Here Esteban is portrayed as a martyr in the cause of justice.
Chapter 1 ends with Stephen feeling that he has succeeded in his cause of making the school admit its injustice, but in reality he has not succeeded. All Conmee will admit is that a mistake has been made, and when he suggests that it was largely Stephen’s fault for not telling Dolan about the letter he wrote to his parents, Stephen immediately agrees. In this way, Stephen has come back to accept the order and security of church / school authority, which, at this stage of his development, he needs.
Chapter 3 continues the theme of rebellion against authority and, as in Chapter 1, Stephen experiences a lot of fear. Authority is God and the Church, and fear is hell as punishment for sin. The general pattern from Chapter 1; Detachment and questioning are repeated, followed by a gesture of rebellion, followed by fear and acceptance of authority.
The chapter begins with Stephen going through experiences that the church identifies as capital sins. Esteban leads a double life, one as a young man visiting prostitutes and another as a prefect in the ‘Congregation of the Blessed Virgin Mary’. You are casually exploring the dilemma you are in, unconsciously pushing yourself toward a resolution of your conflicting needs.
Intellectually he can defy the petty logic of the church. This is not an attempt at rebellion, but rather an acceptance because you are arguing on the church grounds. But after the sermon on the horrors of hell, Stephen experiences excruciating terror. The only escape from the torments is an “apology”; confession and repentance.
God had promised to forgive him if he regretted it. He was sorry. . . Sorry! Sorry! Oh sorry! ‘
Hell in Chapter 3 is equivalent to the eagle in Chapter 1, and with these words Stephen apologizes, just as his mother and Dante said he would. He is not yet ready to risk eternal damnation for his acts of rebellion, as he is at the end of Chapter 5.
While Stephen thinks his acceptance of the church will be permanent, his motivation is purely emotional and his willpower is not involved. Your emotional state is transitory, and once your fear has subsided, you will no longer need church.
Throughout the book, each chapter ends with Stephen feeling himself on the threshold of a “new dawn,” and that the next chapter begins with a demonstration that the “new dawn” was largely self-deception. We see Stephen stumbling in his childhood through a series of painfully miscalculated but unavoidable steps. In the end, he may not reach full maturity, but he does achieve a degree of freedom from what he sees as the ‘nets’ launched by society and its authorities.
“When a man’s soul is born in this country, nets are thrown at him to prevent him from fleeing. You talk to me about nationality, language, religion. I will try to flee through those networks.
At the end of Chapter 4, in what is truly the climax of the novel, Stephen has a vision to become an artist. Joyce presents this view in a way that clearly associates it with the Icarus myth, and that shows that Stephen’s ideas have the usual mix of insight and misconceptions. Your ideal vision is associated with calm and beautiful images of the water. His real life from home and Dublin is associated with stagnant and dirty water. His dislike for Dublin manifests itself in many other ways, for example warped characters, static clocks, and the garbage trail, with the result that he finally calls Ireland “the old sow that eats her farrowing”.
In Chapter 5 we have a picture of the type of person Stephen has become by following him through a series of dialogues with his friends from college. These friends do not complete themselves as characters, but serve as a means of extracting Stephen’s ideas and challenging them for the benefit of the reader.
In the last of Stephen’s dialogues Stephen makes his hopes, doubts and ambitions clear. Here we have the clearest and most mature statement from Stephen in the entire novel.
“ I will not serve what I no longer believe in, whether it calls itself my home, my country, or my church; and I will try to express myself in some way of life for art as freely as I can and as completely as I can. I can, using for my defense the only weapons that I allow myself to use: silencing exile and cunning.
Choose silence, exile and cunning to counter language, nationality and religion. He has to go into exile from Ireland not only to avoid the ‘nets’, but also because of the hostility of the Irish people towards his artists.
No matter how much we may criticize Stephen for his prudishness, immaturity or coldness, we must admire his unwavering independence of spirit, as he has the unanswerable last word:
“And I’m not afraid to make a mistake, even a big mistake, a lifetime mistake, and maybe even eternity as well.”
Here, by including “eternity,” we see that although he claims that he no longer believes, he does not cease to firmly believe. It seems that the shadow of the eagle will haunt him forever.
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