“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” shows us the genius of literature the
James Joyce was. It is more then a novel or a biography; it’s a pioneer
experience in psychological fiction, where we find ourselves following the
stream of the passage of a boy to adulthood not only through is actions, but
is thoughts, emotions, reactions, personal associations against the political
and religious background. The title provides us the clue of what the story is
about: the artist, the one who creates art showing life, and the young man,
the one who lives it. Stephen Dedalus is both.
We start of with Stephen’s impressions of early childhood: the cold bed
sheets or the pleasant smell of his mother. We experience life from his child
eyes listening to a bedtime tale, getting slowly absorbed into his soul as the
story unravels and the days pass by. When he expresses his intention of
marrying a young girl and latter on during a discussion at a Christmas home,
Joyce introduces us to the Irish background concerning religion and politics.
Stephen tries hard to study, but finds himself constantly absorbed in matters
of God and the Cosmos. From a very lonely kind, he his often-submersed in
deep though about the world, people reactions, society… Even after he
becomes a hero to his fellow students by denouncing the unfair punishments
of his teacher to the rector. Here Stephen shows us that he is recluse by
choice, not shyness. Latter he substitutes the children’s stories for “The
Count of Monte Cristo” imagining himself the hero, both strong in is will and
dangerous to mess with.
He suffers a huge transformation, after wining thirty-three pounds on a
literature contest. Showers all the family with gifts, hoping to erase all the
financial problems, but perceives that nothing improves and starts to see
them in a different way. The small details, the huge differences of point of
views, ending with mum not understanding him, and father thinking him lazy.
He gives into lust in forms of prostitutes, excesses of good food and drink
that he used to condemn in his own father. In the first glimpses of his
personality we learn how he now perceives women. They are either as pure as
Virgem Mary, or dirty as the whores.
The second great break trough has its starting point during a sermon, which
gives a very real and fearful vision of hell. It is here, that Joyce once more,
details the psychological and spiritual transformations inside Stephen’s Mind
and Soul. We follow Dante’s description of Hell, and how the young man feels
the flames burning in his body. He is amazed that God hadn’t strike him dead
yet, and makes a spiritual journey that takes him from lust to asceticism. At
such extend that one day is called to a meeting where the rector asks him if
he would ever consider following the path of God serving.
So once again we have Stephen Dedalus at a crossroad in life. To follow is
first name and be like the first Christian Martyr, or his second name and be
like Dedalus the god who made wings to escape his prison. After
considerations, conversations with friends he finally understands what he was
born to be: not someone under the protection of the church, but free in the
world so that he can analyse, learn, make some changes…. Live.
Through this journey I was taken aback by my own conceptions of the world
or society and was for almost 200 pages a hero looking for my path in this