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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





In the Dedalus household, Stephen sorts through the pawn tickets that have in recent weeks provided money in order that the family might buy the essentials for survival.

The stress is evident on both Stephen’s parents. His mother nags him to leave for University so that he is not late for his class whilst his father accuses him of being lazy. 

Stephen leaves this squalid existence and sets off to his world at the University.  There, the reader sees that Stephen is not totally committed to his studies. He is bored at his English Literature class and finds it difficult to concentrate. He engages in one of his favorite pastimes of considering certain words and establishing their Latin derivatives.  This is the start of Stephen formulating his own general principles in his chosen field of literature and art.  He longs to leave behind him the ugly and tasteless world that has surrounded him throughout his growing years.  He has still has much to add to his theory of aesthetics and he uses his friends and University teachers as sounding boards in order to develop his own artistic character.

He meets McCann who is a “self-proclaimed Democrat” and he wishes Stephen to sign his Petition which seeks equality among the classes and sexes in the United States of Europe. Stephen does not agree with McCann’s aims. He is not the least bit interested in democracy and McCann calls him anti-social. 

Stephen next meets with another student, Davin.  He is a rustic lad with a strong Irish accent and he is an activist pursuing the cause of Nationalism. Stephen admires Davin for his athletic ability, but mocks him for his association with “the sorrowful legend of Ireland”.  Davin recalls an incident he had with a young peasant woman, which is similar to Stephen’s experience with the girl standing in the stream.  The contrast is that Stephen remembers the scene with the girl purely as an artistic experience.  He paints the picture with his eloquent words, whereas Davin’s recounting of the incident concerning the peasant woman is full of crudity and lacks subtleness.

The next scene deals with a discussion between Stephen and the Dean of Studies. Stephen soon realizes that the Dean cannot match him concerning artistic enlightenment.  The Dean is an English Jesuit Priest and is a purely practical man and believes that the arts should be applied accordingly.  He lacks Stephen’s philosophical insight and Stephen informs the Dean that he has been inspired by the writings of Aristotle and Aquinas. Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who founded the science of logic.  He was a student of Plato.  St. Thomas Aquinas was an Italian theologian and philosopher.  He became an authority on the philosophies of Aristotle and argued that faith and reason are two complementary realms.  Both are gifts of God, but reason is autonomous. 

After this discussion with the Dean, Stephen takes part in a boisterous discussion with a group of his fellow students.  He meets Cranly who, like Stephen, is somewhat of a loner. However, he fears isolation and will later try and persuade Stephen not to leave Ireland. Cranly has a distinctive face, pale and priest like, “the lips that were long and bloodless and faintly smiling”.

McCann is still urging students to sign his Petition for world peace, but some of the students wish to discuss this topic. Cranly tries to persuade Stephen to sign the Petition, but he wishes to keep his independence and not be one of the crowds.

Another student, Temple, admires Stephen and follows him like a disciple.  He agrees with Stephen’s decision not to sign the Petition. However, Stephen is annoyed at Temple who is always trying to ingratiate himself with him.

Lynch joins the discussion.  He is a crude individual and is only a fair-weather friend to Stephen. Stephen tries to explain to Lynch his theory of aesthetics, giving him his hypothesis on pity and terror.  We read, “Pity is the feeling which arrests the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with the human sufferer.  Terror is the feeling which arrests the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with the secret cause.” Lynch does not understand these definitions and Stephen goes on to explain the difference between static and kinetic art.  Lynch is bemused by Stephen’s pronouncements, but that allows him to continue his philosophizing as he finds it quite entertaining. 

The pair continues to discuss this topic until Stephen observes Emma Clery, his childhood “sweetheart”.  She now becomes the object of his attention.  He wonders what her life is like and what she thinks about.

Next day Stephen awakens refreshed having experienced a passionate dream about Emma.  He is moved to write a poem, a villanelle, in her honor. 

Stephen’s dreaming on the steps of the Library is interrupted by the discussion group that he had left yesterday - still bickering about political and religious ideas. The discussion slowly breaks down and becomes a battle of insults.

He sees Emma again, and she seems to be calling to Stephen to leave his life at the University.

Later Stephen talks with Cranly concerning problems at home. His mother is pressurizing Stephen to come with the family for the Easter Day Mass.  Stephen does not wish to be a hypocrite as he has no respect for the Roman Catholic rituals.  Cranly finds it hard to believe that Stephen should go against the Church after being brought up and educated inside the fold of Roman Catholicism. Stephen has an overwhelming urge to rebel against his family, the Church and Ireland.  “I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church.”

The Chapter ends with entries from Stephen’s diary from March 20th to April 27th.  This deals with Stephen’s preparations for his departure from Ireland.  The first entry recalls his last conversation with Cranly. The following entries deal with his feelings concerning leaving his friends and life in Ireland. We sense Stephen’s growing anticipation as the day of his departure approaches. There is an element of hope in his words and the final entry has a mythical tone where we read, “Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.”


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