I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church
James Joyce's novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) is entirely concerned with the development of its main character, Stephen Dedalus. By comparison with Joyce's earlier version, Stephen Hero , we see that he has cut out all extraneous material concerning other characters, and presented a close and detailed account of the development of Stephen's character from infancy to young manhood, the ground previously covered in Stephen Hero being compressed into Chapter 5 of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
The most important aspects of Stephen's early development go on internally, and Joyce takes us right inside his mind so that we can see the intellectual and emotional development going on behind the surface. The first chapter portrays Stephen as an individual alienated from his social environment, and experiencing encounters with authorities which will reappear in various guises throughout the book. We see the beginnings of this process in the first page and a half, and the patterns of behaviour and relationships shown here are repeated throughout the chapter. This opening section is almost a microcosm of the chapter and perhaps of the whole novel. Stephen has an intuitive drive towards rebellion. As a young child he plans to marry a Protestant girl from his neighbourhood, and when his mother and Aunt Dante scold him for this he defiantly hides under the table. This instinctive drive stays with him throughout the book, until, in the fifth and final chapter, he presents his defiant attitude in mature intellectual terms with his statement 'I will not serve . . . ' (p.247)
Stephen's rebellious attitude is necessary in order for him to preserve his own beliefs and values in the face of authorities which try to make him conform, but there is also a strong flavour of martyrdom about his attitude which is shown in an early fantasy in which Stephen identifies himself with the Irish politician Charles Parnell. We are also reminded of this throughout the book when we remember that Joyce chose the name Stephen to associate him with Stephen the first Christian martyr.
The first authorities Stephen encounters are father, mother, Dante, and Uncle Charles. He associates his mother with a nice smell, and his relationship with her might be described as one of artistic response; she plays the piano and he dances. Dante, his Aunty, is a colder, sterner, more aloof figure. She is authoritarian and cruel, like the church he is later to encounter, and his relationship to her is one of obedience, fear, and passive defiance.
The opening paragraphs of the novel, written in child-like language to reproduce Stephen's experience at the time, represents one of Stephen's earliest memories. It is a memory of a story his father told him, and it is significant that while he associates his mother with a smell, he connects with his father through vision. Throughout the novel we find that vision is not a reliable sense for Stephen.
The story represents the image of life his father gives him: that Ireland, the church, and home are peaceful and plentiful like a cow. Father says the moocow 'met a nicens little boy', i.e. that Ireland and the church are favourably disposed towards Stephen, and this is what Stephen believes in at this stage.
Stephen's father seems gentle and benevolent and Stephen passively accepts what he gives him. At the meal table Mr Dedalus offers the sauce round, and each person refuses to accept it. Then he comes to Stephen.
Here, Stephen, here's something to make your hair curl. He poured sauce freely over Stephen's plate. (p.31)
But in fact Mrs Dedalus and Uncle Charles hold more authority in the house than does Mr Dedalus.
- Yes, yes, said Mr Dedalus quickly. (p.31)
Here Stephen sees his father dominated by two stronger, more assertive authorities, and feels sorry for him, just as earlier 'He thought about his own father . . . and felt sorry for him that he was not a magistrate' (p.9). Stephen always feels sorry for defeated authorities; for Wells when he is frightened, for Father Arnall after Dolan's intrusion, and for father Dolan himself at the end of the chapter. At this stage in his life Stephen craves order and does not like to see authority defeated.
In contrast to the benevolent world-picture presented by his father, Stephen is subjected to threats, particularly from his Aunt, Dante, against which he has to adopt a defensive position.
He hid under the table. His mother said
O Stephen will apologize.
O if not the eagle will come and pull out his eyes.
Pull out his eyes
Pull out his eyes
Here we see fundamental aspects of Stephen's character which will not change. He is inwardly determined to follow his own course, (here, to marry Eileen, a Protestant), and has to hide away from authorities, (mother, Dante, the church) who demand that he apologize and threaten him with a fearful punishment from the 'eagle' (Hell) if he does not conform. At the same time the budding artist in him responds by making a poem from the rhyming words. In this early scene we see Stephen avoiding the 'nets' (p.203) which he will come to identify when he formulates his aims in Chapter 5, and the beginning of the tactic which he will later consciously adopt, of 'silence exile and cunning'.
Stephen wants to believe in his father, and in other authorities, and at the same time he is seen to be continually seeking 'truth' (one of his strongest motives throughout the book), so he needs to try and justify the actions of the school and church when they don't appear to fit in with his world-view.
He tries to cling to his blind acceptance of authority, but his ability to do so is disturbed by the argument at dinner at home, and later by the unfair punishment he receives at school. When he is punished it is too much for his scheme, and his confusion and disappointment are emphasised by the way he thinks the priest is going to shake hands with him.
His confidence in the world-view his father has given him is badly shaken. It is as if the 'moocow' has bitten him. In fact the 'moocow', the benevolent supplier of needs, and the punishing 'eagle' are the same animal, but Stephen does not yet realise this.
Stephen's first conscious step towards rebellion is taken when he confronts rector Conmee to complain of this unjust punishment, an act which sets him apart from his fellow pupils. Here Stephen is portrayed as a martyr in the cause of justice, being encouraged to take this step by a statement 'a fellow out of the second grammar' makes about him, 'The senate and the Roman people declared that Dedalus had been wrongly punished.' (p.53)
The opening section of Chapter 1 also shows us Stephen becoming aware of his separateness from his father:
his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face. (p.7)
All through the first chapter Stephen seems fascinated or puzzled by his observations of separate individuals, and he is usually looking through the glass of his glasses.
He initially connected with his father through sight, and it is during the punishment, when his vision is impaired because he has broken his glasses, that he loses sight of the benevolent 'moocow' image his father had given him.
Stephen is very sensitive about his name and at school he is continually being challenged in a way he does not understand.
Stephen's name and identity and the authority of his father are being challenged by Nasty Roche, who, like Dante, represents the nasty, cruel side of the church, (roche = rock = church), and Stephen cannot answer.
Stephen frequently cannot participate in the activities of the other boys, finding himself, as he does throughout the novel, in a kind of exile.
He lacks the physical aggression needed for the competition and teamwork of football, or to cope with the banter of the other boys, and his development becomes more artistic and intellectual. He is too sensitive to cope with life outside his home and his ego is developing largely in isolation.
He develops a psychosomatic illness in order to get a few days' warmth and comfort in bed and possibly to be sent home. He even imagines he might die, showing, again, his tendency towards wishing for martyrdom.
Stephen accepts the work authorities give him, and does his best to succeed. The pleasing of authority for reward is introduced in the opening section:
Dante, who, as we see during the dinner conversation, has a blind fanatical faith in the authority of priests, rewards him for good behaviour, and for rebellious behaviour she threatens him with horrific punishment, the 'eagle' which will 'pull out his eyes' (p.8), foreshadowing the threat of Hell he will face in Chapter 3.
Throughout the novel Stephen learns to overcome the threats from authorities, and we can see something of the changes he goes through by looking at two incidents where he encounters a school-fellow, Heron. The name 'Heron' is symbolically similar to the 'eagle', a predatory bird. In relation to their school Heron is a conformist, while Stephen is alienated.
The verse-like structure, and language of this incident echoes that of the earlier incident in which Stephen, a martyr in the cause of marrying Eileen, hid under the table. Now, a martyr in the cause of Byron (an exile and heretic, qualities which Stephen shares), Stephen is older and can 'wrench himself free'. Stephen's whole relationship to society can be seen as a 'fury of plunges'; into the church, his father's background, and Dublin, from which he eventually wrenches free.
Joyce's use of the word 'plunges' is significant in that it relates to the myths of Dedalus and Icarus in which Icarus plunges into the sea, and of Lucifer who plunged from Heaven to Hell for rebelling against God with the statement 'Non serviam' (corresponding to Stephen's 'I will not serve' p.247). Joyce's portrayal of Stephen embodies elements of both of these myths.
Stephen encounters Heron again, later in his school career, and we see an even greater change. This time Stephen's pride is such that he feels disdain for Heron. Heron taps him on the leg with a stick and tries to get him to 'Admit' (repeating the word from the earlier incident) that he has a sweetheart. Stephen recites the 'confeiteur' while inwardly,
Stephen is breaking away from the influence of society in order to pursue freely 'the adventure in his mind' of being an artist.
Chapter 1 ends with Stephen feeling he has triumphed in his cause of getting the school to admit to its injustice, but he has not really succeeded. All Conmee will admit to is that a mistake has been made, and when he suggests that it was largely Stephen's fault for not telling Dolan about the letter he wrote home to his parents, Stephen readily agrees. In this way Stephen has re-accepted the order and security of the church/school authority, which, at this stage in his development, he needs.
We have seen, however, that Stephen's form of rebellion is more realistic and involves more integrity than the empty rhetoric of the other sheep-like boys who are firmly a part of the established social system, which is represented here by the sound of a game of cricket:
Chapter 3 continues the theme of rebellion against authority, and as in Chapter 1, Stephen experiences a great deal of fear. The authority is God and the Church, and the fear is of Hell as punishment for sin. The overall pattern of chapter 1; intellectual detachment and questioning, followed by a gesture towards rebellion, followed by fear, followed by acceptance of authority, is repeated.
The chapter opens with Stephen undergoing experiences which the church identifies as deadly sins:
He knows he has sinned but the fear of punishment has not yet been awakened.
At this stage Stephen is leading a double life, one as a young man visiting prostitutes, and one as a prefect in the 'Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary' (p.104). He is detachedly exploring the dilemma he is in, unconsciously pushing himself towards a resolution of his conflicting needs. His attitude towards his sin varies from indifference to a masochistic pride at being beyond redemption, but at the same time he gets some much needed comfort from the church.
Towards others he felt neither shame nor fear . . . The falsehood of his position did not pain him . . . The imagery of the psalms of prophecy soothed his barren pride. The glories of Mary held his soul captive. (p.104)
He is exploring his new awareness of himself, opening up areas of his mind which are later to be flooded with guilt and fear.
Stephen is still pursuing his intellectual quest for truth, but he is vulnerable to the emotion of fear.
Intellectually he is equal to, and can challenge, the petty logic of the church. This does not constitute an attempt at rebellion, but rather an acceptance because he is arguing on the church's own ground. He feels he is soaring in lofty intellectual heights. Then comes the bathos of the juxtaposition of Jesus Christ, God, and man, and the arrival of the rector. This is Joyce's ironic way of both making the rector look ridiculous and putting Stephen firmly in his place.
When the rector speaks, immediately asserting his authority and gaining the attention and support of all the other boys, Stephen falls from his intellectual flight into insecurity and fear. Intellectually Stephen is strong, but emotionally he is weak and has not yet reached the stage at which he can rebel.
The simplistic rhetoric of the rector's speech repels us, but at the same time shows how it was designed to make maximum impact on young boys.
Stephen is deeply affected, showing again how an authority tries to entrap him in a 'net'.
Seeing Father Arnall reminds Stephen of his earlier childhood and his innocence in the time before sexual experience and the discovery of sin within himself.
His soul may be able to return to innocence, but his mind and body cannot. He is seemingly splitting himself in two, each half being frightened of the other. The rector's speech increases in intensity, and Stephen's fear increases proportionally. After the announcement of the retreat, involving a confession, an acceptance, and an apology:
Then, after the Francis Xavier sermon:
Then comes a more insistent introduction to the retreat with an emphasis on the 'four last things': death, judgement, hell, and heaven. Stephen's thoughts and feelings start to churn and the first real pangs of guilt pierce him.
After a long sermon on the horrors of Hell Stephen's fear starts to become terror. The rhetoric of this sermon, like the others, uses very simple concrete terms, with pseudo-scientific expressions, and supposed testimonials from witnesses. 'Saint Anselm writes . . . Saint Bonaventure says . . . the devil himself, when asked the question . . . ' This simplistic presentation meshes in with Stephen's immature imagination, and Joyce emphasises this through the naive prose style. The first terror Stephen feels is the terror of judgement.
In terms of the opening of Chapter 1 it is as if he has refused to apologize and the eagle is about to pull out his eyes. Stephen seems to actually experience it, rather than just imagine it, and the short sentences convey the sense of panic.
The effect on Stephen is contrasted with the lesser impact it has made on the other boys. Stephen feels himself to be completely at the mercy of God, having lost his own independence and will power. The other boys are still represented as the mindless sheep of Chapter 1, but now Stephen is comforted by their harmless normality. He even feels ashamed of himself compared to them. His guilt, magnified by his own imagination, runs wild and consumes the whole of his mind.
He accepts the words of the rector because they provide an explanation of, and escape route from, his unbearable emotional state.
Then comes an eight page tirade by Father Arnall on the nature of Hell, this time concentrating on spiritual torments. The intricate dissection and analysis presented in these speeches emphasises for the reader the trivial hair-splitting aspect of this way of thinking, and the fact that Joyce devotes so much space to them is an indication of their huge importance for Stephen's development. Stephen's terror and need for escape become acute. Just as the rector had asked, his mind is now concentrating purely on death, judgement, Hell, and Heaven. In the evening he cannot enter his own bedroom without feeling he is facing judgement, and when he tries to sleep he has his own vision of Hell and his mental and physical sufferings reach their climax.
The only escape from these torments is an 'apology'; confession and repentance.
There are many parallels in detail as well as in overall form between Chapters 1 and 3. In Chapter 1 he is repelled by coldness and dampness in the exterior world, and now he is finding these sensations in his own body.
Just as in Chapter 1 he accepted the authority of rector Conmee during a time of impaired vision, so he is now accepting the authority of the church while 'blinded' by fear.
The impairment of vision represents the impairment of his reason. He is 'blind to the truth', and 'cannot see' where he is going.
In Chapter 1 Stephen found his way to Conmee's office with the help of an 'old servant', and in Chapter 3 he finds his way to the chapel with the help of 'an old lady with an oilcan.' These figures represent traditional peasant servility, the acceptance of church and country.
Stephen's fear of authority is represented in two similar sentences from Chapters 1 and 3:
The essence of Stephen's attitude towards authority has not changed between the two chapters. Intellectually he wants to rebel against it and become independent, but emotionally he fears it.
Hell in Chapter 3 is equivalent to the eagle and the pandybat in Chapter 1, and with these words Stephen is apologising, just as his mother and Dante said he would, to save himself from the eagle which would pull out his eyes. He is not yet ready to risk eternal damnation for his acts of rebellion, as he is by the end of Chapter 5. He has so far dealt only in shows of rebellion.
Chapter 3 ends, as did Chapters 1 and 2, with Stephen feeling that he has achieved ultimate peace of mind.
But Joyce makes it plain, through the immature prose style and the immaturity of Stephen's vision of life, that it is not going to last. All Stephen has really found is another transient state of mind which, like his pride in his martyrdom for justice at the end of Chapter 1, and his joy and relief in physical love at the end of Chapter 2, is later to be demolished.
For the time being, the solace Stephen has found in the church is emphasised by his sense of smell, which, right from Chapter 1 where 'his mother had a nicer smell than his father' (p.7), has been an important means of making intuitive judgements. Where once 'The sordid details of his orgies stank under his very nostrils' (p.116), now,
While Stephen thinks his acceptance of the church will be permanent, his motivation is purely emotional, and his will power is not involved. It is easy to be good, and he can disown responsibility for his actions by submitting to the notions of God and Satan. His emotional state is transitory, and once his fear has subsided he will no longer need the church. The part of his personality which is not transitory - his truth-seeking spirit - will soon reawaken, and the dream which he thinks is 'not a dream from which he would wake' (p.146) will become a stepping stone of his past.
A reader looking for a conventional wrapping-up of the plot in the final chapter will be disappointed, for Chapter 5 shows that the story of Stephen's development has by no means ended. Throughout the book we have seen that each chapter ends with Stephen feeling himself to be on the threshold of a 'new dawn' in his life, and that the next chapter begins with a demonstration that the 'new dawn' was largely self-delusion. Chapter 5 indicates that this process is a continuing one. In this respect Joyce's art is closer to real-life that the 'beginning - middle - end' structure of the conventional novel form. He takes his technique one step further in his final novel Finnegan's Wake (1939), which opens with the second half of a sentence begun on the last page, suggesting the ceaseless revolving progress of the earth itself.
Throughout the novel we see Stephen stumbling through his childhood by a series of painfully misjudged but unavoidable steps. At the end he may not achieve full maturity, but he does achieve a degree of freedom from what he sees as the 'nets' cast by society and its authorities. At least he learns to distinguish and define the 'nets' over which he must fly, which is no small achievement, and a necessary beginning to independence.
At the end of Chapter 4, at what is really the climax of the novel, Stephen has a vision of becoming an artist. Joyce presents this vision in a way which clearly associates it with the Icarus myth, and which shows Stephen's ideas to have the usual mixture of insight and misconception.
The repetition of the word 'seemed', the romantic style, and the question mark indicate that there is a large degree of uncertainty and unreality about this vision of the future. Stephen instinctively senses the uncertainty but he does not formulate it. His next thoughts take him further and higher in his romantic vision, and again, the fanciful prose style indicates that this passage is not be taken at face value as a realistic understanding on Stephen's part.
Here we can detect a fundamental contradiction of which Stephen is unaware. On the one hand he sees himself forging 'out of the sluggish matter of the earth', but on the other hand life to him is to soar like eagle and 'cry piercingly of his deliverance to the winds'. His concept of the artist is pure fantasy. There is a gulf between theory and practice in his relation to the world, and the contrast between the end of Chapter 4 and the opening of Chapter 5 serves to emphasise this point.
His ideal vision is associated with calm, beautiful images of water. His real life of home and Dublin is associated with dirty stagnant water. His feeling of disgust for Dublin is made apparent in many other ways, for example the deformed characters, static clocks, and the pathway of rubbish, with the result that he eventually calls Ireland 'the old sow that eats her farrow.' (p.203)
Stephen's pride and arrogance reach a peak in this chapter. Although Joyce implies that we, like some of Stephen's fellow students, should criticise Stephen for his arrogant sneering attitude we realise that it is the only way out for him; the only way he can avoid being trapped in the nets.
Through Chapter 5 we get a picture of the kind of person Stephen has become by following him through a series of dialogues with his college friends. These friends are not filled out as characters in themselves but serve as a means of drawing out Stephen's ideas and challenging them for the benefit of the reader. The first instance of this is with McCann, who, at this point, does not even appear, except in Stephen's memory.
Stephen is to reject all such political and social ideals in favour of art, as we see later from his reaction to being asked to sign a petition for universal peace.
His attitude towards political and social responsibility is being tested, and he honestly, though priggishly, shuns involvement.
Stephen's attitude towards nationalism and the Irish spirit is tested against another student, Davin.
He likes Davin for his simplicity and the music of his speech, but he eventually has to break away from him because he cannot accept his blind servile faith in Ireland.
Another student, Lynch, is a devilish character.
Lynch's continual references to sex and excrement are strongly reminiscent of Stephen's private hell, which we saw in Chapter 3, in which his guilt about sex leads him to 'A field of stiff weeds and vessels and tufted nettle bunches. Thick among the tufts . . . lay clots and coils of solid excrement.' (p.137)
Stephen's monologue on art and aesthetics is broken up by Lynch's references to sex and excrement, yet Stephen enjoys Lynch's company and they seem to understand each other well. Joyce may be suggesting that Stephen is using the sterile intellectual language as a means to escape the 'mouldering offal' in which Lynch revels, and that although they might seem to be miles apart they are in a kind of unconscious communication. The juxtaposition certainly serves to highlight the extremely pedantic lifeless working of Stephen's intellectual mind.
The process of defining Stephen by his attitude towards others continues with his attitude towards the girl E. C. Women, for Stephen, must be either ethereal, intangible, goddesses, or vulgar whores. His only attempt at friendship with a real girl results in failure. Stephen is more confused on the subject of women than on any other. He can take up reasonably firm attitudes towards subjects such as the church, and politics, but women do not fit in with his scheme. It is easy for him to reject the attitude and opinions of others, but not so easy to reject his own needs as a human being. He cannot take up an intellectual stance on the subject of E. C., his instincts will not allow it. Consequently in Chapter 5 we witness a series of rapidly changing thoughts on the subject.
She has no priest to flirt with, he thought with conscious bitterness. (p.215)And if he had judged her harshly? If her life were a simple rotary of hours . . . her heart simple and wilful as a bird's heart? (p.216)
Well then, let her go and be damned to her! (p.234)
However, he does not reject woman completely; Joyce leaves him with a glimmer of hope when Stephen momentarily seems to abandon rationalisation in favour of feeling. She is represented as good via the senses, as usual by the sense of smell.
This touch of humour and self-criticism in the closing section of the novel is a hopeful sign, in that Stephen is maturing and becoming more human.
As far as Stephen's artistic talents are concerned, Joyce leaves us in no doubt that he has a long way to go. This is made clear when we see that his highest source of inspiration is a wet dream, and that he produces a sickly, quasi-religious, romantic poem.
Your eyes have set man's heart ablaze
And you have had your will of him,
. . . above the flame the smoke of praise
goes up from ocean rim to rim (p.233)
The religious framework of Stephen's thought process shows no sign of weakening. Even though he rejects the church intellectually, it has made a permanent impact on his emotions and ambitions.
Here he is identifying himself with God, and later, in his dialogue with Cranly, he seems to be acting out the role of Jesus Christ, with Cranly as John the Baptist. This is the last of Stephen's dialogues before the diary section, and in it Stephen makes clear his hopes, doubts and ambitions. Here we have the clearest and most mature statement from Stephen in the whole novel.
He chooses silence, exile, and cunning, to counteract language, nationality, and religion. He has to exile himself from Ireland not only because of his personal disgust, and to avoid the 'nets', but also because of the Irish people's hostility towards their artists. This hostility is demonstrated to Stephen when he visits the National Theatre on its opening night.
The first subject to come up with Cranly is Stephen's refusal to bow to his mother's request. Cranly is probing to find out just how human Stephen is. How much do his mother's, or anyone else's feelings matter to him? The answer is that he feels little or nothing, other than cold defiance, towards others. There is something lacking in Stephen's psychological make-up which makes him appear different or even 'diseased' to others.
We are witnessing Stephen's complete alienation from the sphere of human intercourse. He disowned his father long ago, and is puzzled by Cranly's emotional speech on someone 'more than a friend', i.e. mother, father lover. Seemingly Stephen has had no need of a human father, having adopted the mythical substitute Dedalus. However, this final passage anticipates Ulysses (1922) which is concerned with Stephen's search for a real father figure.
To an extent, Stephen's rebellion could be seen as a form of self-defence. He has been almost entirely occupied by the rather negative activity of separating himself from society and we cannot help wondering what there will be left for him to do once the separation is complete. In the pursuit of his unrealistic ideals he is in danger of wholly rejecting society, and with it, life. He hopes to become an artist, but Joyce does not give any indication as to whether he will succeed or fail, and it is significant that in his final statement of intent his plans still seem to depend partly on the idea of 'defence', 'using for my defence the . . . (p.247).
But no matter how much we might have criticised Stephen, throughout the book, for his priggishness, immaturity or coldness, we must admire his unyielding independence of spirit as he has the last, unanswerable word:
Here, by his inclusion of 'eternity' we see that, although he claims that he no longer believes, he does not firmly disbelieve. It seems the shadow of the eagle will haunt him forever.
Chapter 5 has stated clearly the story so far, while at the same time making it clear that the end of the novel does not mark the end of the story. The chapter has an air of finality, especially in the diary section, which from Joyce's perspective, takes the form of the final dramatic form of art, and puts the rest of the book firmly in the past.
At the end of the novel Stephen feels, as he prepares to leave Ireland, that he has freed himself completely from all the ties and pressures of his past life, and is embarking on an exciting new life as an artist.
If the child is father to the man, Stephen Dedalus of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is father to the Stephen Dedalus we meet again in Ulysses.
1. Stephen Hero, thought to be part of an early draft of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, was published in 1944.
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Penguin. 1960.
© Ian Mackean, February 2005