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Literature / A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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Front cover of the first edition, published by B. W. Huebsch in 1916

"The soul is born, he said vaguely, first in those moments I told you of. It has a slow and dark birth, more mysterious than the birth of the body. 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, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets."
Stephen Dedalus, actually James Joyce.

A mostly autobiographical novel by James Joyce, centred on a young Irishman, Stephen Dedalus, and his struggle to express himself. The story takes us from his early life as a boy through his relationship with the church and with the institutions of Irish society in general, to his becoming a young adult. The crux of the plot is Dedalus's struggle with his autonomy against the wishes of the Roman Catholic Church.

The novel was published in serialized form from 1914 to 1915, then collected in book form in 1916. The story started life as a novel to be called Stephen Hero, which Joyce was working on from 1904 to 1906. Joyce was not satisfied with the earlier work, and re-wrote it from page one after Dubliners was published. Stephen Hero only exists in incomplete form, but it was published in 1944, following the author's death.

Tropes Used In The Novel Include:

  • Animal Motifs: birds, cows and goats.
  • Author Avatar: Stephen Dedalus is James Joyce if he hadn't become famous.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Stephen can't do his schoolwork after his glasses get broken, which Father Dolan refuses to believe was an accident.
  • Break the Cutie: Stephen gets a taste of this during the Father Dolan episode.
  • Coming of Age Story
  • Determinator: Stephen, whose basic independence of mind saves him from being targeted at school by a sadistic teacher and, later, from joining the priesthood.
  • Did Not Do the Bloody Research: The English priest who is ever-so-patronising about Stephen's use of the word "tundish", not knowing that it's a regular English word.
  • Dinner and a Show: The Dedaluses' Christmas dinner early in the novel soon degenerates into an angry debate about Charles Stewart Parnellnote  and the role of the Catholic Church in Irish politics between Stephen's father and his aunt.
  • Dog Latin: In the scene where Dedalus discusses the necessity to sign the petition for the peace in the whole world.
  • Evil Smells Bad:
    • When Stephen goes to a sermon, the priest gives a sermon/rant about the horrors of hell, such as the eternal smell of decaying corpses.
    • Subverted rather humorously with Stephen himself. When trying to mortify his senses in penance, he gets stumped because bad smells don't really bother him.
  • Fear of Thunder: One of Stephen's fears.
  • Fire and Brimstone Hell: Stephen regains his religion after hearing a fiery sermon about this very topic.
  • The Fundamentalist: Mrs. Riordan, a.k.a. Dante, the Dedalus children's governess. She's an Irish patriot until Parnell has an affair with a married woman, and then as far as she's concerned he's a "devil out of hell", which doesn't go down well with either Simon Dedalus or his ex-con friend Mr. Casey.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Stephen's friend Cranley says "sugar" when he means something else (this is actually a very common tic among native Irish). Lynch says "yellow." Stephen tells him "It was a great day for European culture, when you made up your mind to swear in yellow."
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Early on in the first chapter, the narrator describes a washbasin with "cocks with printing on it", which is "queer".
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Stephen loses his virginity to one of these at the end of Chapter II, when he's temporarily flush with money after winning academic prizes.
  • Inner Monologue: Deconstructed. The book starts in the third person and stays that way almost until the end, when it takes the form of Stephen's diary.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Stephen all the way.
  • Meaningful Name: Stephen is named after both St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and Daedalus, the legendary Greek architect.
  • Multiple Narrative Modes: The book is almost entirely told in the third person, but lapses into first-person diary entries at the very end. Some sections also flirt with a form of stream of consciousness.
  • Professional Sex Ed: Practically forced on him.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The rector of Clongowes, and he's about the last one you'll meet in the book.
  • Sadist Teacher: Most of them, but especially Father Dolan, who beats the hell out of Stephen's hand after refusing to believe that Stephen's glasses were broken by accident. Averted in Clongowes's rector, who is kind enough to help Stephen after he's unfairly punished.
  • Separated by a Common Language: One of the major themes of the book (some critics say the major theme) is Stephen's relationship with the English language. Although he's Irish, like most Irishmen of his generation he can't actually speak the Irish language, but all the way through the book he is given constant reminders that he is not really at home in the English language either. This is lampshaded when he's a college student and has a discussion with an English priest, who uses the word "funnel" to refer to a thing that Stephen calls a "tundish"; the priest quietly makes Stephen feel like an ignorant provincial for using such an Irish word. Stephen then looks "tundish" up in a dictionary and discovers that it's a common English word which is actually older than "funnel".
    The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine.
  • Twisted Christmas: Mrs. Riordan ruins the Dedalus family's Christmas dinner with her Holier Than Thou attitude towards the fallen Charles Stewart Parnell.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Stephen throws up after having a vision of hell, while he's on the retreat.