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A Portrait of an Artist


Family Life
Chap 1 - Summary
Chap 1 - Interpretation
Chap 2 - Summary
Chap 2 - Interpretation
Chap 3 - Summary
Chap 3 - Interpretation
Chap 4 - Summary
Chap 4 - Interpretation
Chap 5 - Summary
Chap 5 - Interpretation
Themes - Beytrayal
Themes - Imagery





This Chapter marks the progression from childhood into adolescence.  Bolstered by his success at Clongowes over the Father Dolan affair, he looks forward to an enjoyable summer with his family. Stephen has more hope for the future and perhaps at last he can come out of this miserable time he has had, but his family’s social situation is about to drastically change, as his father’s financial affairs worsen.

Joyce provides us with a detailed analysis of Stephen as he passes through the years from 11 to 14. Any male will be able to relate to the mood swings and confusion over girls that Stephen goes through.  Like any typical teenage boy, Stephen tends to over-react to certain situations. He is excited that a young girl has come to see his performance in the play, but wishes he had a more impressive part in order to show off to the girl.  Like many a young man, he finds the opposite sex a mystery.  He has seen women in many different forms – the strict religious nurse, the caring dutiful mother, and then there are the romantic women he has read about, in particular Mercedes from “The Count of Monte Cristo”.

At the end of the Chapter his innocence is lost when he submits himself to a prostitute.  This marks the climax of the Chapter and Stephen has come full circle from na've boy to an experienced adolescent on the verge of manhood.  This final experience provides Stephen with the full picture of womanhood, as the prostitute has different facets of all the other women he has come in contact with.  Although the prostitute is herself young, she is still able to “mother” Stephen by calling him “a little rascal”. He feels guilty about consorting with this prostitute and he is reminded of his nurse and the fact that this act is sinful. Remember the nurse is sometimes called Aunt Dante symbolizing Dante’s inferno (hell).  At the end, Stephen gives in to the temptation and allows himself to be immersed in the lust that he has felt for so long.  His visit to the prostitute’s bed is a means for escaping the poverty of his Dublin life. At this stage he wonders if he will ever be able to escape this way of life. Perhaps if his father had been a better role model, he might not have felt it necessary to take the action that he did at the end of Chapter 2.

Joyce is at pains to show the irony of the relationship that Stephen has with his father.  The relationship between Daedalus and Icarus was that of a devoted father to his son. Joyce explores the relationship between Simon and his son and it is in stark contrast. The only real gift that Simon has given to his son is a good education. In all other respects he has failed Stephen and we sense that he has never really grown up. His irresponsibility regarding his financial affairs has led his family to near ruin and it has come at a particularly bad time for Stephen as he is at a vulnerable stage.

Stephen feels betrayed by his father and this is illustrated through a number of incidents. When Stephen changes schools he hopes to forget the past, but he learns that his father has insensitively joked about Stephen’s episode with Father Conmee. His father perhaps does not appreciate that Stephen is growing up fast, and now recognizes when he is being patronized by Simon and ridiculed in front of others in the local pubs of Cork.  What is sad about the situation is that Simon does not realize how communication has broken down between father and son, and Stephen feels in some regards sorry for his father.

Joyce’s writing style is both intricate and descriptive and in order to absorb its full intensity, the reader requires having a high degree of concentration. The reader should also note that Joyce does not waste his words, and all his phrases have a purpose and meaning, although sometimes it is not clear what Joyce is driving at in some of the passages:-

“Stephen shook his head and smiled in his rival’s flushed and mobile face, 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.  A shock of pale hair lay on the forehead like a ruffled crest: the forehead was narrow and bony and a thin hooked nose stood out between the close set prominent eyes which were light and inexpressive.” There is much in this passage where we again have the symbolism of a bird as mentioned in Chapter 1, and a sample of Joyce’s descriptive writing.

We now begin to appreciate the consequences of Stephen’s isolation from his father and his contemporaries at school. He had though that his preoccupation with sex was unnatural, but after his visit with his father to his father’s old college where he saw the old graffiti in particular the word ‘fetus’ scored on a desk, he realized that his sexual urges were not unique to him.  Perhaps this was the closest that his father could get to having a man-to-man chat with him. Another consequence of his isolation is Stephen’s problem with women as described above.  To him women were comprised of several species - saints, martyrs, mothers or sinners. At this stage in his life, Stephen is bound to be submissive to women having been smothered by them throughout his childhood, by both his dominating nurse and his overbearing deeply religious mother.

Finally, Stephen’s isolation attracts bullies and this is repeated again in Chapter 2, but the emotional effects of this bullying are not so important.


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