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Othman Jacob Ali

Throughout the essay, we noticed that Stephen’s many-sided crisis results from the conflict between two opposing forces: the first is the life force within Stephen and the second is the outer forces trying to contain the first.








Linköping University

Department of Language and Culture





                           A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN





                                                                                      Othman Jacob Ali

                                                                                      C-Course: Literary Specialisation

                                                                                      Autumn term 2006

                                                                                      Supervisor: Norman Davies





Table of Contents


 Introduction                                                                               3


 Chapter 1: Stephen and Disillusionment                                   6


 Chapter 2: Conflict and Resolution                                         18


 Conclusion                                                                               25


 Works Cited                                                                             27








James Joyce (1882-1941) is without doubt considered as one of the most brilliant authors at the international level. This is not only due to his innovative technique but also due to the topics he dealt with in his works. The interior monologue, side by side with the stream of consciousness, is the most remarkable characteristic of his literary technique. Many novelists delved deeply into this technique after Joyce but Joyce’s dealing with the issues and concerns of the Irish people and the role of the Irish individual in bringing about social and political changes drew the attention of many critics. Apart from other themes presented in his works, Ireland and the Irish people remain the central issues that Joyce dealt with.

     Perhaps Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which was first published in 1916 in the United States, is not his greatest novel. His novel Ulysses is his masterpiece where Joyce uses powerful language and a fertile imagination. In evaluating it, Robert Humphrey thinks that Joyce “utilizes schemes never found in literature before his novel” (87). Yet A Portrait remains Joyce’s most perfect and wonderful novel and most critics agree unanimously on its importance, despite the fact that they may have different ideas concerning whether it is more concerned with Stephen as a young man or as an artist. Thematically, Thomas Connolly thinks that “the evolution of the artistic soul is represented as a three-way struggle toward fulfilment of sexual, religious, and aesthetic desires . . . ” (4).

     The original draft of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is called Stephen Hero in which Joyce tries to fictionalize accounts of his own life. This is the reason why we see many episodes in the novel similar to those we find in his biography. Jeri Johnson points out that “both Stephen Hero’s Stephen Daedalus and Portrait’s Stephen Dedalus live lives similar in many respects to Joyce’s own”(xii). Perhaps Joyce himself had suffered the same crisis as Stephen Dedalus. In the course of dealing with Joyce’s life, his lifelong friend, J. F. Byrne, says that “in his youth and early manhood his attitude towards older people, generally, was distant, unresponsive, unwelcoming, guarded and cold to the point of frigidity”(87). We will see that Stephen is in the same difficult position and that Joyce’s Portrait differs from other biographies “by its emphasis on the emotional and intellectual adventures of its protagonist” according to Harry Levin’s James Joyce (86).

     This essay will concentrate on Stephen’s difficult positions from his infancy to the point where he becomes aware of his vocation as an artist. To Stephen, this vocation has much to do with his obsession with language and his strained relations with family, religion, and culture. From the very beginning of the novel, Stephen is aware of this obsession, so he refuses to bind himself to a world where he cannot fulfil his vocation. Here lies the core of the crisis he suffers from. My goal in choosing this area is to bring into view Stephen’s sufferings and his way of standing up to the social and religious concepts that his family, the Church and society try to impose on him because his crisis is still the crisis of today’s young people. So the core of my argumentative point can be summed up in one sentence: Stephen wants to be the product of his “self” and not the product of his surroundings. This perception seems odd to his family, to the Catholic Church and to society in general. So he has to choose between binding himself to traditional ties and refusing them, and he chooses the second option.

     The essay consists of two chapters. The first chapter deals with Stephen’s crisis from the point he becomes aware of it to the point where he is near to giving in to disappointment and submitting to the traditional concepts he has been refusing. The chapter traces Stephen’s crisis in relation to his family and the Church. The more he grows, the more conscious he becomes of his crisis. The conflict between social norms and Stephen’s struggle for independence gradually becomes hard until it gets to the point where Stephen is about to make the final decision of adopting an attitude against his desire. The second chapter deals with Stephen’s crisis in relation to Father Arnall’s sermon, after which he makes his confession. In this chapter we see him meditating more on his crisis even after his confession. The duality in the attitudes of the Jesuit priests and also the contradiction between religious beliefs and traditional norms on the one hand and Stephen’s desire for independence on the other hand is clearly shown before he makes his final decision to leave his family, his country and religion for the unknown.

      Many critics, for example Hugh Kenner, Harvey Peter Sucksmith and Harry Levin, have increased our understanding of Joyce’s Portrait as regards its elements, its symbols, its setting, and its mythological content. Some critics view Joyce’s Portrait as a truthful portrait of Joyce’s earlier years of his life. J.F.Byrne’s Silent Years in which, being Joyce’s lifelong friend, he recalls the stories of his childhood and his remembrance of things in the world of Joyce and Ireland was helpful in this respect. Other critics consider the novel as a satire on an artist’s feeling isolated or excluded, especially from society at large. However, I found Frank Collingwood’s notes to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and David Seed’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man of great value when trying to understand Stephen’s problems.











Chapter 1


Stephen and Disillusionment



This chapter deals with the early stages of Stephen’s childhood and his awareness of his crisis through his relations with his surroundings including his family, his neighbours and religion. The crisis begins with language. Then questions of faith in Catholicism, social norms and also nationality interfere to deepen his crisis. The most powerful scenes concerning his crisis are the Christmas dinner scene and Stephen’s sexual experience with a prostitute. The chapter also shows Stephen’s struggling with questions of faith, nationality and traditional norms in his attempt to reach independence.

     The first two pages of the novel give us a clear statement of Stephen’s sense of oppression by society and his rebellion against it. Here Stephen is introduced as an infant trying childishly to respond to his senses in order to get knowledge of the world. Peter Coveney thinks that “the childhood of Stephen is a brilliant instance of Joyce’s technique because it conveys the disconnected, sporadic quality of the infant’s sensation, the grotesque, exaggerated and passionate appearance to the child of the world of adults, and the deep and painful impression of that adult world upon the child’s emotion”(308). If we consider the opening pages of the novel which begins with “once upon a time”, we see that this beginning gives us subjectively the sense impressions of Stephen’s infancy. It also unfolds Stephen’s awakening faculties and mental activities, which help to reveal his consciousness of the world around him and his response to it. After hearing the fictional story, we find him imagining he”was baby tuckoo” (5). To identify with a character in a fictional story implies that he is aware of his existence at this young age. Moreover, the childish words of “moocow”, “tuckoo” and “nicens” used in the opening pages are sounds. They indicate that Stephen is interested in the sounds of language, which are important in his artistic vocation. Hugh Kenner finds impressions of the five senses on the first page of the novel (29). He finds the sense of hearing in the moocow story, the sense of sight in his father’s face, the sense of taste in lemon platt, the sense of touch in warm and cold and the sense of smell in the oil sheet and his mother. Kenner puts ‘hearing’ first which will remain the most prominent of all the senses that explain Stephen’s sensitivity to sound rhythms. But John Coyle goes farther when he explains that “throughout Joyce’s work, the senses are symbolically disposed. Smell is the means of discriminating empirical realities; sight corresponds to the phantasms of oppression, hearing to the imaginative life while touch and taste together are the modes of sex” (53).

        Thus the novel begins on a high and happy note, with a story, a song, and a dance:

             His mother had a nicer smell than his father. She played on the

         piano the sailor’s hornpipe for him to dance. He danced:

                                  Tralala lala

                            Tralala tralaladdy                                  

                            Tralala lala                                                                                

                            Tralala lala. (5)

This overture to the novel indicates that the child is at this time free from conflict. It also indicates that he is open to change and is willing to receive ideas favourably. But we soon have a change in the mood when his family, including his father and mother and Aunt Dante, interfere and spoil his state of feeling. It is obvious that the family is a sort of social authority. So Stephen’s crisis, at first, arises from his relationship with his family,   especially his father. Frank Collingwood explains this as follows:

The problem of paternity is a major theme in all of Joyce’s writing. His heroes,     especially Stephen Dedalus, invariably suffer because of their relationship to a   father figure, whether it is priest, teacher, or actual father. Simon Dedalus,   Stephen’s father, is a continual source of humiliation to his son . . .  and Stephen   remains to the end, the unforgiving son who views his father, Simon as an   improvident foster-parent. (43)

This idea is also affirmed by Levin’s Introduction when he says that Stephen “feels that he is scarcely of the same blood as his mother and sister, but stands to them` rather in the mystical kinship of fosterage, foster child and foster brother´” (53).

     Stephen’s crisis grows worse when the neighbours are added to the family. The Protestant Vances, whose daughter, Eileen, Stephen thinks to marry when he grows up, throw light on the possibility that Stephen may fall prey to another form of servitude to sex and marriage which he will later reject. On hearing his mother and Aunt Dante declare that he must apologize for thinking of marrying the Protestant Eileen, or else “the eagles will come and pull out his eyes” little Stephen hides himself under the table(6). This behaviour of Stephen indicates four important points. First, he has violated the norm of behaviour and has to be punished. Second, his hiding under the table is avoidance or perhaps a clear refusal of a hostile force, which is going to spoil his independent world, i.e. his childhood. Third, family authority, which is the child’s first contact, is to be obeyed, and the final important point is that the episode introduces the theme of fear and punishment to Stephen’s world. This fear, as we see later, plays a great role in Stephen’s decisions. Eileen is his playmate. She is pretty, playful and likable. Stephen, at this age, is unaware of doing anything bad in his relation with her because his senses are still in the process of awakening. It is his mother’s seriousness and that of Aunt Dante that make the child think of marrying Eileen as a sin deserving punishment. What is established out of this fear is Stephen’s sense of insecurity in a world whose norms of behaviour he is still too small to understand.

     Another sort of authority that threatens his independency is that of his Jesuit school masters. Stephen comes to feel this authority at the age of six when he is sent to a Jesuit boarding school. Like the first one, this authority is also powerful, large and impressive, but the community he finds there is quite different from that of home and family. Everything is new and strange. In the playground of the school “all were shouting and the prefect urged them on with strong cries . . . He kept on the fringe of his line out of sight of his prefect, out of reach of the rude feet, feigning to run now and then. He felt his body small and weak amid the throng of players  . . .” (6).

     The language of the boys that he is mixing with seems different and the meaning of words is obscure to the miserable Stephen whose mother has told him “not to speak with the rough boys in the college” and not to use bad expressions, and his father has added “never to peach on a fellow” (7). In his attempt to direct his mind towards life, Stephen has to understand the meaning of words and their sounds and how they are related to each other and also the way they are made. “Language” as Coyle, citing Kenner, sees it “is a Trojan horse by which the universe gets into the mind” (55).There are the “strong cries” of the boys, the “thud” of their feet and bodies and even the references found to the names of things. The child apprehends all names through their intimate and honest connections with reality, otherwise, it will be difficult to get the universe into the mind. When his friend, Nasty Roche, says that Stephen’s name seems to be “queer” and asks what his father is, Stephen answers that his father is a gentleman though his father is not a magistrate like Roche’s father. As a matter of fact, Stephen, at this stage, does not know the meaning of such words as “magistrate” and “gentleman”.  Later, when Stephen enters the school infirmary, he thinks of his father and feels sorry for him for not being a magistrate like the other boys’ fathers. The question, however, fills the child with doubt and uncertainty about his father’s social status. This, to a great extent, has its impact on his attitude towards his surroundings and more particularly towards his father. Kenner thinks that “it is neither sufficient nor even initially accurate to say that by naming things Stephen acquires power over them. On the contrary, the names of things are already given, and it is through their names that they have power over him” (34).

     In considering language to be the creator of reality, Dorothy Van Ghent goes so far as to say that “Joyce’s Portrait is also an investigation of this kind . . . and the shape of reality that gradually defines itself for Stephen is a shape determined primarily by the associations of words” (112). He becomes more and more puzzled when Wells asks him:

          “Tell us Dedalus, do you kiss your mother before you go to bed?”

          Stephen answered:

           “I do.”

          Wells turned to the other fellows and said:

          “O, I say, here’s a fellow says he kisses his mother every night before he goes

          to bed.”

          The other fellows stopped their games and turned round, laughing. Stephen

          blushed under their eyes and said:

          “I do not.”

          Wells said:

          “O, I say, here’s a fellow says he doesn’t kiss his mother before he goes to

           bed.” (11)

As we see, the boys laugh and Stephen blushes and becomes confused. What is the right answer to this question, he asks himself? Is it right to kiss his mother or wrong? The little child gives two answers, and Wells and the other boys laugh at him. The problem remains unsolved. From the psychological point of view, adults, to little Stephen, seem to possess the secret of what the world really means and know what everything is and know how to control the whole. This is the reason why he thinks, “Wells must know the right answer for he was in third of grammar” and so do the rest of the boys who seem to know things better (11).

     If we consider Kenner’s idea, mentioned above, we can conclude that Stephen’s relation with the universe is established through language and we find him trying to establish this relation at this age. At Clongowes Wood, “there was a picture of the earth on the first page of his geography: a big ball in the middle of clouds” and Stephen has written his name and where he is on the flyleaf of the book:

          Stephen Dedalus

          Class of Elements

          Clongowes Wood College


          County Kildare



          The World

          The Universe (12)

Through this hierarchical order in which Stephen Dedalus is connected with the universe, Stephen wants to show his position in relation to the world. But the striking point here is that this connection goes through Ireland. This implies that Stephen, being aware of his position, wants to show his insistence on proving not only his personal identity but also his national identity. This is the only way towards a better understanding of the world about which his doubts and uncertainties still exist.

What was after the universe? Nothing. But was there anything round the universe to show where it stopped before the nothing place began­­? It could not be wall but there could be a thin thin line there all round everything. It was very big to think about everything and everywhere. Only God could do that. (12-13)

These inquiries and others create bewildering impressions on Stephen’s mind, at this    stage of his growth and development and make him restless and isolated from others. When alone, he dreams of holidays at home. He finds the school environment dry and unfriendly, so he longs to lay his head on his mother’s lap. However, a few incidents take place, which shatter his trust in his elders, his parents, his Jesuit masters and the other boys in school.

      The first of these incidents takes place in school. One day, Wells shoulders him into a ditch of dirty water. However, Stephen possesses such good manners that they enact him to deal intelligently with such conditions and pave the way for establishing a powerful and impressive personality. In addition to this, he has a great power of endurance despite his sensitive nature and the awkward social position he is conscious of. He remembers his father’s warning not to peach on anyone. He falls ill and enters the school infirmary. He is then told by the boys not to spy on Wells who comes to apologize but Stephen is able to see that Wells’s apology is false and that he is “sorry because he was afraid” (17).These older boys, who according to him” know the meaning of things”, must be true, just, perfect and consistent but to his surprise, he sees them as quite the opposite of what he thinks them to be.

     When Stephen is at home for the Christmas holiday, he is very happy to sit down to his first Christmas Dinner with the adults in the family. However, his happiness is, unfortunately, destroyed when a political discussion turns into a savage quarrel between Aunt Dante, Mr. Casey and his father on the subject of Parnell, the Irish nationalist leader, whose downfall and death Mr. Casey blames on the Roman Catholic hierarchy which Aunt Dante feverishly defends. Aunt Dante, the devout Mrs. Riordan, is true to the Catholic Church in denouncing the disgraced nationalist leader. Stephen’s father does not remain neutral in this heated discussion. He disapprovingly criticizes the involvement of the Catholic Church in Irish politics. Mrs. Dedalus softly rebukes him:

          “Really, Simon,” said Mrs Dedalus, “you should not speak that way

          before Stephen. It’s not right.”

          “O, he’ll remember all this when he grows up”, said Dante hotly “the

          language he heard against God and religion and priests in his own


          “Let him remember too,” cried Mr Casey to her from across the table,

          “the language with which the priests and the priests’ pawns broke

          Parnell’s heart and hounded him into his grave. Let him remember

          that too when he grows up.”(27- 28)

This discussion, according to Arnold Goldman, “establishes the political and social background of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. This background – of a missed opportunity for some form of Irish political independence from England, missed because the Irish people could not agree among themselves to support the policies of Parnell – is behind Joyce’s novels”(19). The explosive discussion indicates many facts to Stephen. It indicates that the family harmony has been destroyed and with it the personal dignity and respect of its members. It also indicates that Ireland is an afflicted land and that its religion, represented by the Catholic Church, interferes enthusiastically with political issues in Ireland. These are things that young Stephen learns from the argument along with the fact that he learns that politics is such a charged subject that it can cause serious disagreements and separations even within a single family.

     Stephen, who has dreamt of being at home, finds out that the warmth and security he is expecting to find are absent. Instead, he finds dispute, disrespect and feelings of bitterness. The ideal picture of the adult world is completely destroyed, and his consciousness is now to experience another shock caused by another group of elders, whom he often thought of with reverence and admiration. The shock is very great to him because his consciousness has never experienced a situation which subjects him to questioning and he has never before witnessed ideas raised being discussed in such a hostile way: “Why was he (Mr. Casey) against the priest? Because Aunt 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 Alleghenies when her brother had got the money from the savages for the trinkets and the chainies . . .Who was right then?” (29). These questions remain unanswered. When he goes back to school, he is more doubtful and more confused.

     In his second term at Clongowes, Stephan breaks his glasses by accident and the prefect of studies, Father Dolan, unjustly punishes him for not doing his lessons. Here, he receives another shock, which is perhaps more serious than the previous ones. The prefect of studies is a priest but “it was cruel and unfair to make him kneel in the middle of the class” (43). A number of questions entirely take up his attention. Why doesn’t he believe a child who tells him that he has written home to his father to send him a new pair of glasses? Why doesn’t he believe him when he tells him that the doctor has told him (Stephen) not to read without glasses? Why does he call him “lazy idle little loafer” and “a schemer” (43). These questions raise doubts about the credibility of the prefect of studies. This is, perhaps, the first serious encounter Stephen experiences with unjust authoritarianism outside his home. The prefect of studies, being a Catholic priest, stands not only for the school authority, but also for the Church he respects. The child’s immediate feeling of shame and fear gives way to the feeling that he has been betrayed by that in which he believed. Grieved and humiliated, Stephen resolves to appeal to a higher authority; he goes to the rector and complains to him about Father Dolan’s unfairness.

     Religion has a great impact on Stephen as he has been raised under the strict principles of a Catholic family. His parents try to raise him to be a good Catholic man. The priests have spiritual influences and their teachings should be followed. They are symbols of religious intolerance. No one can criticise them or doubt their sermons. But he realizes that these principles are not true or good even when he is following the principles of his Catholic school, and he shows that when he complains about the “unfairness” of Father Dolan. In spite of this, he still has respect for priests, but he has lost his blind sense of acceptance. He is clearly confused when he makes his complaint:  “He was happy and free: but he would not be anyway proud with Father Dolan. He would be very quiet and obedient: and he wished that he could do something kind for him to show him that he was not proud” (49). This behaviour of Stephen is a turning point for him because he has overcome the obsession of fear in daring to speak to such a highly-honoured man as the rector. When Stephen leaves the rector’s office, he is happy and free. He is much delighted to be praised by the other boys for his boldness. In spite of this, his acceptance into their community does not last long for he soon finds himself more and more isolated.

     The secret talks of the “big” boys about “smugging” in the square and about stealing the altar wine introduce a moral chaos, which confuses Stephen’s sense of conformity to the standards of politeness, respect, decency or morality conventionally accepted by society. The boys’ frivolous cruelty reveals more of the falsehood and stupidity of his immediate community. He is beaten by two of his schoolmates for “heresy”, for saying that Byron is a better poet than Tennyson. Stephen is now about ten years old and there is too much pride in him to make refuse him to submit:

           “Admit that Byron was no good.”





              “No, No.” (69)

 The quarrelsome relationship of friends and the injustice of the school authorities make Stephen lose enthusiasm for or interest in mixing with people around him whether at school or at home. Furthermore, the duality in the nature and attitude of these people makes him lose faith in them. ”The question of honour here raised was, like all such questions, trivial to him . . . the constant voices of his father and of his masters, urging him to be a gentleman above all things and urging him to be a good Catholic . . . had now come to be hollowsounding in his ears” (70).

     Stephen’s growing indifference to all these urgings is intensified by his father’s financial decline which he feels in a variety of ways, such as his failure to return to school and the shabby conditions of his home and surroundings. Owing to his father’s financial difficulty, Stephen accompanies him on his trip to Cork so as to sell some of the family’s property. The trip is significant to him because he gains some clear knowledge of his father’s past life and becomes more familiar with his father’s character and personality. This reawakens his childhood memories and he reconsiders that stage of his life carefully. He sees that his father has lost touch with the world because of his inability to talk to the hotel waiter about common acquaintances, his inability to keep up with time. He feels that his father is deluding himself and appears to him irresponsible. His father seems to look back with longing on the old days and likes to glory in his past.

     But Stephen does not see his father’s past as honourable. Once an old man who was drinking with his thoughtless father had said to him that “his father was the boldest flirt in the city of Cork in his day” (79). Feeling that his father’s identity is crumbling, he thinks it necessary to assert his own identity in an attempt to separate it from his father’s by saying, “I am Stephen Dedalus” (77). Stephen is able to see clearly that his father who says he “had mixed with gentlemen” is unable now to be like any of those “gentlemen” he mentions to him:

When you kick out for yourself, Stephen ــ as I daresay you will one of these days- remember, whatever you do, to mix with gentlemen. When I was a young fellow I tell you I enjoyed myself. I mixed with fine decent fellows. Every one of us could do something. One fellow had a good voice, another was a good actor … another was an oarsman or a good racket player and another could tell a good story and so on. (76-77)

But the fact, beyond dispute, is that Stephen’s father is now no more than someone living on his memories and Stephen is aware of his father’s inability to provide a decent life for his wife and children. When Stephen answered Roche’s question by saying that his father was a gentleman, he didn’t have a clear idea of his father’s social status, but now he has discovered more about him. He is no more than someone living in the past and this is a threat to his inner ambitions. So Stephen sees himself as completely different. They belong to different generations. To Stephen, his father represents the whole of society, so when the image of his father is finally corrupted, the image of society also suffers further damage.

     In addition, Stephen’s relationship with religion is gradually causing him trouble, especially when he is developing into an adult. First the girl, Emma, captures his romantic imagination. He is excited by her presence, but Emma remains a shadowy figure that never dies away in Stephen’s imaginative life. She lives more in his idealized fantasies than in reality. He even writes a poem to her. The poem which starts with “For the Greater Glory of God” and ends with “Praise to God Always” reveals many important points about Stephen and the crisis he is suffering from (58,59). To identify himself with Byron means that he is getting closer to poetic art. The interesting thing in the poem is his merging both religion and art, and this is where the heart of the conflict lies. Another important point is that Stephen is beginning to appreciate beauty and use art to express his feelings about beauty though he has not a clear idea about it. As a result, he creates many questions to which he finds no answer, but we see him for the first time using art as a means of expression and relief. In addition, we see him associating feminine beauty with the beautiful woman, Mercedes, the heroine in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo:

Outside Blockrock, on the road that led to the mountains, stood a small whitewashed house in the garden of which grew many rosebushes: and in this house, he told himself, another Mercedes lived . . . there appeared an image of himself, grown older and sadder, standing in a moonlit garden with Mercedes who had so many years before slighted his love . . . (52)

Mercedes is, after all, the product of Alexandre Dumas’s imagination but the feelings and emotions that she stirs in Stephen are true and real. ”As he brooded upon her image, a strange unrest crept into his blood” (54). This transformation shows Stephen’s attitude towards women, which will finally run contrary to the Church’s view of women. On the other hand, it indicates the development of Stephen’s attitude towards literature because The Count of Monte Cristo is a work of literature after all and literature reflects the aesthetic aspect of language. There is, however, something else that should be considered. When the protagonist of a novel imagines himself as the Count of Monte Cristo, it reflects his spirit of adventure. The Count of Monte Cristo wanted to right something wrong and Stephen is also worried about the unfairness he sees around him.

     According to the teachings Stephen gets from the Church, the Virgin Mary is pure and holy. This purity and holiness makes him idealize the Virgin Mary, which comes to deepen his bewilderment. She is described to him as a “Tower of Ivory” and “House of Gold” (35). As an adolescent, he finds it difficult to understand the meaning of these metaphorical phrases. He believes exactly what he is told. For this reason, he is surprised how a woman could be a tower of ivory or a house of gold. To describe a woman by referring to her as something different and suggesting that she has similar qualities to that thing is a confusing equation to him. The components of the two phrases are physical objects relating to the real world while purity and holiness and also beauty are abstract things that one cannot touch or see. Stephen is unable to understand this abstraction, so it creates confusion in him. To say something and mean something else is something obscure to him. However, he has his own way of explaining things that he does not understand. The phrase “tower of ivory” reminds him of Eileen’s hands which are “long thin cool white hands too because she was a girl. They were like ivory; only soft. That was the meaning of Tower of Ivory” (35). Similarly, Stephen attributes the phrase “House of Gold”, which Mary is described with, to Eileen’s “fair hair” that “had streamed out behind her like gold in sun” because he generalizes the idea to all women (36). This contradicts the religious dimension he learns from his tutor, Dante, when the latter tells him not to play with Eileen because she is a Protestant. Now neither Eileen nor the Virgin Mary is within his reach. The Virgin Mary is divine and Eileen, being a Protestant, is out of his reach. He is beginning to connect things within a rather logical framework, and this certainly paves the way for a major conflict in him. On the other hand, Stephen’s appropriation of the religious phrases “Tower of Ivory” and “House of Gold” to stand for his playmate, Eileen, indicates how his mind is doing well with language because he is using language terms in their metaphorical sphere.

     Things become more complicated for Stephen who is developing more and more into adolescence. With it he becomes more aware of his sexuality and grows angry about his relationship with the world around him. Stephen’s major transformation comes when he is kissed by a prostitute. I stress the verb form”is kissed” because, at first, Stephen shows hesitation in doing this. He does not move towards the prostitute, but instead waits in the middle of the room until she comes to him and he does not even bend to kiss her. The way the prostitute lures him in and bends his lips to hers gives the impression that Stephen is an innocent and the prostitute is the sinner.

He closed his eyes, surrendering himself to her, body and mind, conscious of nothing in the world but the dark pressure of her softly parting lips. They pressed upon his brain as upon his lips as though they were the vehicle of a vague speech; and between them he felt an unknown and timid pressure, darker than the swoon of sin, softer than sound or odour. (85)

Michael Seidel says that Stephen’s discriminatory powers dissipate as he goes into a kind of shock and his senses become a primordial soup when, as an adolescent, he gives in to the kiss of one of the Nighttown prostitutes (64).

     Despite the fact that the above-mentioned scene “is clouded with decadent incense, it is clear that Stephen is still a child and that the woman plays the part of a mother” according to Levin’s Introduction (58). From the practical point of view, this episode, however, is the first thing that makes Stephen consciously aware of his confusion and disappointment about life, religion and even family. The importance of this scene, apart from awakening a sense of freedom, is that it creates a new perspective about the holy image of women for Stephen. A power deep within him begins to oppose the social authority of society. For the first time he finds himself hesitating over whether to take the religious instructions he has been taught seriously and apply them or to yield to his bodily lusts. This conflict makes him angry and bitter, as he does not know how to control it. He feels he has become a hypocrite in his own world by saying the right things and yielding to the wrong ones. This hypocrisy contradicts clearly those ideas of holiness and purity that he has of the blessed Virgin and even the image he has of Mercedes. So he cannot help thinking of the overwhelming guilt he now suffers.

      It is quite clear, psychologically speaking, that Stephen is suffering from different problems. The chaotic atmosphere of his family, the chilly and cold community of his school and the corrupt surroundings make his position extremely difficult, so he has either to give in, to right all the wrongs or to seek relief somewhere else. He may have some other alternatives as well, but how does he actually behave? The next chapter has the answer.   

Chapter 2

Conflict and Resolution


This chapter will deal with Stephen’s endeavours to come back to the fold after his sinful actions. The chapter shows the role of Father Arnall’s sermon in Stephen’s determination to become a strong supporter of Catholicism. In an attempt to overcome his crisis, Stephen even thinks of joining the priesthood so as to be closer to God. But we see him refusing this when he finds that he must give up his independence. In making such a decision, he is much under the influence of a scene with a girl he views on the shore and the works of Aristotle and Aquinas and also his new perception of the world around him. Finally, we see him escaping from family, country and religion.

     Stephen’s mere sensation that he has committed a sin makes him suffer severely. What adds fuel to the fire is his deep meditation on his sin. This makes him go beyond the limits of the sin itself and think of some other sins he in fact has not committed but blames himself for. “From the evil seed of lust all other deadly sins had sprung forth: pride in himself and contempt of others, covetousness in using money for the purchase of unlawful pleasure . . .” (89). This extreme anguish over his sins indicates that he is quite aware of the nature and the grossness of his sins. It also marks the beginning of a change in the line of his reasoning and his view of affairs. So when the rector talks to the students about a three-day retreat, Stephen decides in the depth of his heart to attend it. His attendance is clear evidence of his desire to disentangle himself from the crisis of conscience. Practically, he fulfils his desire through making confession after the rector urges the students to do so although this attitude will be sheer hypocrisy. To Stephen, however, being a hypocrite is not something unfamiliar since he “stooped to the evil of hypocrisy with others” and learned to be “sceptical of their innocence which he could cajole so easily” (88).

     It is obvious that literature, especially the novel, owes much to the unconscious     mind, which was described by Freud. Joyce is one of the novelists who make use of this   discovery by the revelation of the thoughts and feelings stored in the unconscious and activating them at suitable times in order to reveal aspects of their characters. This is what happens to Stephen when he sits in front of the bench facing Father Arnall on the retreat day:

The figure of his old masters, 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. (91)

The very recollection of these things at this time indicates his unconscious and immediate   reaction towards doing what the Church, represented by Father Arnall, will order him to do. But Father Arnall’s “pale face” and “broken voice” together with the”heavy cloak about his shoulders”, signify that Stephen is going to fall into a more unsettled state of mind (91). Even this transformation or the mere thinking of it can be taken as evidence that he will never let his crisis defeat him. So when Father Arnall calls the boys to”do God’s holy will and to save [their] immortal souls”, Stephen is psychologically ready to accept the situation despite the fact that the religious obligations required will force him to put away worldly thoughts from his mind (92). What makes him wish to comply with the Christian teachings, apart from Father Arnall’s effective words, is the feeling that “his brutelike lust had torn and trampled upon [Emma’s] innocence” (97). This is apparent when a flood of shame overwhelms him. Therefore, on hearing the sermon, we expect him at least to imagine himself standing in front of God or the Blessed Virgin. David Seed goes further when he thinks that “[t] emporarily the collective voice of the preacher erases all others in Stephen’s consciousness and therefore suspends his separate identity as an individual” (97).      

     However, we see him avoiding God and the Blessed Virgin. Instead, “he imagined that he stood near Emma in a wide land and, humbly and in tears, bent and kissed the elbow of her sleeve” (98). Even if we consider this vision an indirect reference to Stephen’s confession of his sin, it indicates that he is still holding on to Emma’s image in his mind. On the other hand, the image indicates also that Stephen wants to show that his love for Emma is pure when he imagines himself in heaven with Emma as “children that had erred”. The image of childhood reinforces the concept of innocence. So he wishes the Virgin Mary would bless his love for Emma. This is shown when Stephen imagines the Blessed Virgin speaking to their hearts: “Take hands, Stephen and Emma. It is a beautiful evening now in heaven. You have erred but you are always my children. It is one heart that loves another heart” (98).To make things clearer, we can say that Stephen wants the Church to create a world where he could find calmness, freedom and peace of mind.

     It is clear that, at this stage of his development, Stephen is able to see things better and have a better understanding of what is going on. But from the practical point of view, Stephen’s first reaction to the sermon is “wrapping the blankets closely about him, [covering] his face again with his hands” (115). This behaviour reflects the highest point of his crisis. Accordingly, the nightmare he has after the sermon and the image of hell that appears to him in the form of “goatish creatures with human faces, hornybrowed, lightly bearded and grey as indiarubber”, place him in the position of making the hard decision to confess (116).

     The application of the knowledge of the sermon, to Stephen, means the mortification of his senses because his senses have been besmirched by the sin he has committed. The only way to free his soul from the sin is to make his senses work within the bounds considered religiously acceptable, i.e. he has to restrain his senses lest they should be driven to other sins. In order to mortify the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch respectively, he “made it his rule to walk in the street with downcast eyes, . . . made no attempt to flee from noises which caused him painful nervous irritation . . . , found in himself no instinctive repugnance to bad odours, . . . sought by destruction to divert his mind from the savours of different foods (127). In addition, “[h] e never consciously changed his position in bed” (127). However, Stephen’s confession does not come from his consent to give up his independence and yield to the terms that others dictate. Seed thinks that” on the face of things, the confession signals an acceptance of conformity to the forms of the Church” (74). It comes due to his fear of being punished in Hell where all was “dark flames and dark smoke of burning brimstone, amid which the bodies are heaped one upon another without even a glimpse of air” (101). As we have noticed through tracing Stephen’s life, he always deals with reality, not with imaginary things. To him, however, Hell may be a figment of his imagination because he has not experienced the torture of it, while the pleasure he has taken in visiting prostitutes and even the pleasure he takes in thinking too much of Emma is something real. This comparison casts doubt on the presupposed existence of Hell.

     Even his refusal of the idea of his priesthood occurs as a result of the fact that he has some experience of the Church. It is true that at first the idea fills him with pride since the priest has a significant spiritual role in society: “A flame began to flutter again on Stephen’s cheek as he heard in this proud address an echo of his own proud musings” (133). But since he has experienced the Church through the unjust treatment he has received at the hands of one of the Jesuit priests at Clongowes Wood and also through Father Arnall’s sermon, he is sure that accepting the idea means spoiling his freedom. The mortification of his senses is also a contrast to his tendency to independence. It means the triumph of the outer world over the life forces and desires within him. Therefore it worsens his crisis. At one time he had used his senses to understand what was around him, as previously pointed out. But now, according to the sermon, he has to hold them back. This is difficult for him, so we see him fail in the first test when he responds to the sense of touch:”He seemed to feel a flood slowly advancing towards his naked feet and to be waiting for the first faint timid noiseless wavelet to touch his fevered skin . . . a new thrill of power and satisfaction shook his soul to know that he had not yielded nor undone all” (128). This is clear evidence that the validity of his confession is in doubt from the very beginning.

     The confession that Stephen makes causes him another problem. In the past, he tried to connect the words and their meanings in order to gain mastery over them. But now, he has to make every effort to distance himself from using or even hearing certain words because they evoke a feeling of guilt: ”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” (131). On account of this, Stephen becomes too careful in his relation with his surroundings.

     Joyce is brilliant in choosing names for his characters. The name Stephen Dedalus, in this respect, is connected with the mythical name of Stephanos Dedalos. As Caroline Gordon indicates, “Joyce’s story is based on a Greek myth, the story of Dedalus, who created the labyrinth in which King Minos of Crete confined the Minotaur. Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s hero, has for his surname the name of the pagan artificer. But his first or Christian name is that of the first martyr, Saint Stephen” (140). The association between this mythical dimension and Stephen’s crisis is clear when, walking to the shore, Stephen hears some of his friends say his name in Greek. Stephen is glad to hear his name and the variation of it because his strange name seems to him a “prophecy of the end he had been born to serve” (142). At that moment his eyes fall on a girl bathing. Her “slateblue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her” (144). The image of the girl “had passed into his soul for ever and no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy” (145). This shift is significant as it implies Stephen’s new perception of life. To him, the girl seems a totality of beauty:

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 bosom was as a bird’s soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some dark plumaged dove. (144)

The emotion kindled in him by this girl is a calm emotion which clears his mind and brings him to rest in contrast to the emotion that he felt for the prostitute. That the image of the girl has taken possession of Stephen’s mind is stressed by Harvey Peter Sucksmith when he says,”that the wading girl is a projection of something within Stephen is suggested by the fact that she too is alone and is wading like him, and is at the same time likened to a creature which can fly” (19).At one time the Blessed Virgin had power over him and was his ideal of purity, but now the beauty of a girl captivates him. To be captivated by the beauty of a girl signifies the achievement of freedom from religion on the part of Stephen. The more significant thing is that this achievement of freedom occurs in Stephen’s mind, but this would have never occurred if Stephen had not the desire to achieve it in reality.

     Stephen makes every effort to put an end to his crisis and to make his “self” free from conflicts. His entering the university can be interpreted as another attempt on his part to realize such a goal. The attitudes he adopts at university indicate this inclination; for example, one day, walking to the campus, Stephen realizes that he is missing his English lecture, yet he does not worry about it. This attitude has important indications. Firstly, it indicates his refusal of English culture and his devotion to Irish culture. The image of “the heads of his classmates meekly bent as they wrote in their notebooks the points they were bidden to note”, indicates that Stephen does not pin so much hope on a university education (149). So far he has also despaired of his family when his father has called him a lazy bitch, “Is your lazy bitch of a brother gone out yet?”(147). Secondly, the attitude indicates that Stephen is gradually turning into a rebel. On his way to the campus, he remembers his friend, Davin, who told him one day how he had spent a night with a married woman. Evoking this memory at this time indicates that Stephen still takes pleasure in worldly life. In addition, we see him contemplate the aesthetic theories of Aristotle and Aquinas. This, however, reinforces the idea that he does not pin his hopes on university education and that he has become determined to free himself from all limiting pressures.

     Stephen’s rebellious streak is made more obvious when he uses the Irish word “tundish” in his conversation with the dean of studies who does not know the meaning of the word: “Is that called a tundish in Ireland?” asked the dean. ”I never heard the word in my life” (158). This episode indicates that Stephen does not want Irish culture to melt away and that he thinks the English have no consideration for Irish culture. In addition, the episode shows that Stephen and Irish culture are different from the dean of studies and his English culture. The two cultures cannot be intermixed. English is not Stephen’s own language. To him, English “will always be . . . an acquired speech” (159). Through his conversation with the dean of studies, who is an Englishman, Stephen meditates on the language he uses:

   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. (159)

He is bold enough to express this opinion when he discusses the aesthetic question with the dean of studies. “If you mean speculation sir,” said Stephen, “I also am sure that there is no such thing as free thinking inasmuch as all thinking must be bound by its own laws” (157).

     As we notice, Stephen frankly refuses all laws whether positive, social or canon laws because the aesthetic theory he is looking for and the art he wants cannot be developed under such laws. So he wants to “work on at present by the light of one or two ideas of Aristotle and Aquinas” (157). The reason why Stephen speaks so frankly to the dean of studies is that the dean represents the dominant culture that Stephen refuses. He even refuses to respond to his friend, Davin, who tries to claim him for the Irish Nationalist Movement. He expresses himself very clearly when he tells him:”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, and religion. I shall try to fly by those nets” (171). The preposition ‘by’, according to Johnson, “can mean either ‘past, beyond’ (I shall fly beyond, fly past and so escape those nets) or (and this meaning is the older of the two) ‘through the agency, means or instrumentality of’ (those nets will be the very means whereby I shall fly)” (xxxv). But we know for a fact that nets prevent flying. Stephen also refuses the international pacifism that his friend, McCann calls for.

     The conclusion we can draw from all this is that Stephen is not only discontent with university life but also with every ideology imposed on him by his friends in the same way that he has refused to be guided by his mother or the Virgin Mary. Stephen’s purpose is to lead a life which permits him to express himself freely. This freedom requires a certain attitude and courage which Stephen has acquired at this stage of his development. He tells his friend Cranley: “I don’t fear to be alone or to be spurned for another or to leave whatever I have to leave. And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake, and perhaps as long as eternity too” (208). So we can conclude that his flight, about which he has talked to Davin, is an act of asserting himself, his own rights, claims or opinions. He bravely frees himself from the hostile forces that are preventing his development. He has been ready to take the risk and pay the price of his freedom and self-identity before flying to the unknown.





     As stated in the introduction, the aim of this essay was to show Stephen’s suffering and how he stands up to social and religious norms. The core of my argumentative point was that Stephen wanted to be the product of his “self “and not his surroundings.

     Chapter One explained Stephen’s gradual awareness of the social, familial and religious constraints to reach independence. It was made clear that his struggle was gradually becoming hard especially after his first sexual experience, which gave way to the feeling of sin in him. Chapter Two showed Stephen’s confession after he had come under the influence of fiery sermons about sin and hell. However, we noticed that he did not give up his desire for independence. He found the religious norms incompatible with his love for sensual beauty, so he made his final decision to leave his family, his country and religion for the unknown.

     Joyce uses Ireland as the setting for his novel. Therefore, Stephen’s ambition may be the ambition of many individuals in Ireland. However, Stephen is a human being above all and so the crisis he is suffering from is the crisis that anyone suffers from if he or she lives under the same conditions regardless of time and place. Many of the problems that Stephen faces are still with us today but their dimensions differ from country to country, according to differences in culture; for example, in eastern countries such as Islamic societies, the patriarchal society and the influence of fundamental doctrines are more evident than in Western countries, so the quest for individual independence, in these countries, is an important issue that occupies young people’s minds.

     The essay also showed Stephen’s crisis in his childhood. This is significant as it shows that imposing traditional concepts belonging to an earlier generation leads to rebellion. When we are born, we have no will to refuse the beliefs or the principles with which our parents may influence our childhood. They tend to decide our way of life according to those beliefs and principles. In our childhood, we take all that we hear to heart. But the situation may become serious when we grow up because we cannot live up to these principles. So we have to refuse them as Stephen did. Again I see that children in European societies are less familiar with this situation than children in eastern societies. Consequently, Stephen’s crisis has an international dimension.

     Throughout the essay, we noticed that Stephen’s many-sided crisis results from the conflict between two opposing forces: the first is the life force within Stephen and the second is the outer forces trying to contain the first. The first force represents the ambitions of the individual, which can be summed up in freedom and peace of mind, while the outer forces, represented by family and Church, try to shape Stephen’s character within limits acceptable to his surroundings. Politically, we can say that the other side of this conflict is between the individual on the one hand and the political authority embodied in religious beliefs on the other hand. In this respect, we can say that Stephen’s crisis is one of the significant crises of our time.




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