Book Review On Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man
Type of paper: Book Review
Topic: Literature, Religion, Novel, Belief, Art, Life, Students, Character
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is an autobiographical novel written by James Joys. The novel describes the character of Stephen Dedalus and his spiritual and intellectual growth. It touches such themes as the role of religion in people’s life, personal growth and self-evaluation.
Briefly summarize the plot, including a description of the climax
The novel starts with the description of main character, Stephen Dedalus, and his childhood. The author describes his life in Jesuit boarding school and the way he faces difficulties there, such as jokes and unfair treatment of his classmates. Soon afterwards Stephen was sent to Belvedere College as his family hadn’t had enough money to pay for his boarding school. He showed himself as an intelligent student and devoted a lot of his time to the thoughts about moral and religion. It should be also noted that the boy was growing not only mentally but also physically and quite soon he felt a strong desire to be with a woman. Therefore, soon afterwards he had a sexual experience with a Dublin prostitute. This event had greatly affected his beliefs as he felt himself guilty and questioned the values that he used to believe in. When becoming more mature he understood that he didn’t want to connect his live with religious matters and moral values and decided to cross the boundaries of his faith. This moment may be viewed as a climax of the story. Thus, the main character does not feel connection with his faith any more. He absolutely changes his beliefs in spite of the values that were imposed on him by his family, school and church. He doesn’t want to face any limitations and that is why he enters university and starts to speak about art and the way he sees it. Finally, he decides to escape from Ireland and his family and in such a way makes himself free.
List three quotes and explain their significance.
It should be also noted that the novel includes a remarkable number of ideas given by the main characters. A great emphasis in a story is put on such notions as moral values, religion, art and the depiction of himself.
When Stephen was a small child he already was curious and wanted to learn how the world works. He listened to adults who were talking about religion, politics and other concepts, but couldn’t understand a word. That is why, “It pained him that he did not know well what politics meant and that he did not know where the universe ended. He felt small and weak. When would he be like the fellows in poetry and rhetoric?” (Joyce, p. 16). From these words it is obvious that the boy wanted to understand the essence of life. He wanted to grow up so that he would be able to analyze different concepts as other adults do. Therefore, the boy was on his first steps to understand life and his role in it.
His attitude to religion and faith was constantly changing throughout the novel. However, Stephen made his final choice when he was asked to join the order and to become a reverend. This moment was crucial for Stephen as it could change his life dramatically. And in fact this very moment helped Stephen to identify himself. Thus, he stated: “His destiny was to be elusive of social or religious orders. The wisdom of the priest’s appeal did not touch him to the quick. He was destined to learn his own wisdom apart from others or to learn the wisdom of others himself wandering among the snares of the world” (Joyce, p. 200). From these words it is clear that he doesn’t believe in the concepts that were imposed by his family, school and church. He wants to cross the borders and find his own truth, his own wisdom. The importance of this quotation lies in the fact that the protagonist of the story finally determined his position. He understood what role the faith played in his life and decided what should be his number one priority – that is to find his own independent wisdom. This choice played the key role in his life.
Thus, when he rejected his religion, he entered university in order to study art. He defined this phenomenon as follows: “Art is the human disposition of sensible or intelligible matter for an esthetic end” (Joyce, 257). Stephen liked to discuss with his friends the concepts of art and beauty, such poets as Aquinas and others. He even had a book where he wrote down different questions, concerning art and esthetics and tried to find possible answers to them and develop theories. His preoccupation with art shows that Stephen completely rejected the beliefs that he had before and in such a way crossed the borders of his mind.
Describe the setting.
The story takes place in Ireland, in Dublin. The protagonist of the story spent most of his youth in this city. It is hard to say whether the main character loved this place or not. He knew that his city lacked civilization and he described it as “a maze of narrow and dirty streets” (Joyce, p. 122). It is clear that the atmosphere of the city was gloomy as it was full of riots and wrangling of drunken people. Nevertheless, the boy still could observe and enjoy beautiful nature of the city.
Describe any symbols used in the story.
The novel is also known to have a wide range of symbols. In fact, the main character of the novel, his name, to be exact, is one of the symbols of the story. When Stephen studied at the boarding school he constantly heard jokes about his name and such kinds of questions as “What kind of name is that?” (Joyce, p. 5). In Greek mythology the name signifies wreath, honor, and reward. Moreover this name plays a great role in Christian’s beliefs, as Saint Stephen is known to be the first Christian martyr.
Another symbol that plays an important role in the novel is Emma – a girl, whom Stephen adored since the beginning of the novel. This girl was unearthly for him and he didn’t speak to her but from time to time he used to imagine their heaven union. Thus, he imagined that, “he stood near Emma in a wide land and, humbly and in tears, bent and kissed the elbow of her sleeve” (Joyce, p. 142). He had also written verses to her. Therefore, it may be said that Emma in the novel is a symbol of beauty and pure feelings that Stephan had for her when he was young.
Explain the significance of the closing scene.
A special attention should be given to the closing scene of the novel. First and utmost it is important to mention that the ending of the story is given through Stephen’s diary from the first point of view. In such a way readers may learn more about the protagonist of the story and about his feelings. The reader may understand his fears and emotions as well as his own beliefs and principles. Thus, the crucial moment of the story comes after Stephen’s talk with Crunly. His friend had asked him a lot of questions about his feelings and beliefs, about what is right and what is wrong. Their conversation gave Stephen food for thought. He understood that there were still a lot of things for him to understand. And what is more, he needed to understand his own soul. Stephen wanted to make him free from any possible limitations and that is why he decided to cross the borders and to leave his homeland.
Describe two or three major themes.
One of the most important themes that is traced during the whole novel is the theme of religion’s power and its role in Stephen’s life. At the very beginning of the novel the main character of the story had faith in God. His family was very religious, he studied at religious school but it appeared that Stephen’s faith came not from his heart, but was imposed on him by his family and the society in which he lived. Later Stephen would admit, “I tried to love God. It seems now I failed. It is very difficult” (Joyce, 301). The protagonist couldn’t find a unity with God and decided to reject the religion and tried to seek for his own wisdom. However, interesting is the fact how Stephen’s friend Cranly views his friend’s attitude to religion. At this event in one of their discussions with Stephen Cranly said: “It is a curious thing, do you know, how your mind is supersaturated with the religion in which you say you disbelieve” (Joyce, p. 300). These words serve as an evident that religion still left its mark on Stephen’s mind.
Another important theme that prevails in the novel is the theme of personal development and self-evaluation. Thus, throughout the book the character of Stephen had undergone a lot of changes. At the beginning of the novel he appears in front of the readers as a curious little boy who only wants to know how the world functions. He believes in God, is afraid of sins and feels extremely guilty if he makes ones. When Stephen becomes mature he starts to see things from different perspective. The young man rejects religion and its main principles. He learns a lot about art and tries to act as a rational person. He is still a curios person and devotes a lot of his time to philosophical matters. It is possible to say that at the end of the novel Joyce represents his character as intellectually and esthetically developed adult.
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Planetebook. Web. 19 Mar. 2015 http: // www.planetebook.com