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In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the author James Joyce uses the development of Stephen from a sensitive child to a rebellious young man to develop the plot of the novel. In this novel, Joyce suggests that through Stephen?s experiences is religion, sexuality and education, Stephen not only becomes more mature but these experiences also inspire him to redefine his world and his understanding of his true feelings about art.
Religion, besides the practical need for food and shelter is one of the most powerful drives in Stephen?s life. Religion serves as Stephen?s guidance and saviour yet it is also responsible for his tormented youth and distracting him from his artistic development. As a child growing up in a strict Catholic family, Stephen is raised to be a good Catholic boy who will follow the teaching of Catholism as his guidance in his life. The severity of his family is shown when his mother tells him either to ?apologise? (4) or ?the eagles will come and pull out his eyes? (4). Stephen is taught by his mother to be tolerant when she ?[tells] him not to speak with the rough boys in the college? (5). Similarly, Stephen?s father also taught him a Catholic quality by telling Stephen ?never to peach on a fellow? (6). Evidence of Stephen following the ?never to peach? (6) quality is shown when Stephen agrees not to tell on Wells for pushing him into a ditch. However, as Stephen matures into his adolescence, religion becomes his savior rather than his guidance. As Stephen?s family condition declines, he sees priesthood as a way to escape poverty and shame. In fact, priesthood is an opportunity for Stephen?s personal gain of ?secret knowledge and secret power? (172). In terms of artistic development, Stephen is bounded by his religious beliefs, which causes him frustration during his adolescence. Stephen has been raised to idolize the ?Blessed Virgin? (35) and to view women as holy and pure. On the other hand, as his sexual urge grows stronger, he receives a totally different view of women. And as a result of this difference, frustration grows and it distracts Stephen from creating art. By illustrating how religion affects life from his childhood to adolescence, Joyce has shown the reader that religion offers both positive and negative effects on Stephen?s life.
Stephen believes that women are holy and are not to be defiled. However, when Emma flirts with him by ?[urging] his vanities? (72), rather than rejecting her, he feels the urge ?to hold her and kiss her? (73). Finally, Stephen?s visit to the prostitute marks a major step in his maturation process. Stephen, by succumbing to ?lust? (113) and ?fall [from] God’s holy grace into grievous sin? (118), ?becomes strong and fearless and sure of himself? (107) because he feels experiencing life to its fullest is more important that condemnation. Stephen also encounters homosexuality and his first experience occurs when he is informed about ?some fellows [being] caught smugging? (42). Not knowing ?smugging?(42) is a form of ?amorous homosexual behavior? (288), Stephen ignorantly asks, ?What did that mean about the smugging in the square?? (42). Stephen learns the severe punishment for ?smugging? (42) and realizes it is improper. But he does not truly understand why the fellows caught are being punished because he does not realize homosexuality is an abomination that is condemned in the Bible. Ironically, later in the novel, Stephen unconscientiously displays traces of homosexual characteristic. This is evidenced as Stephen observes Brother Michael?s body while he is?[bending] down? (21). Furthermore, Stephen?s description of Brother Michael?s ?long back [as] a tramhorse? (21) supports the suggestion of Stephen displaying homosexual characteristic. By examining the influences sexuality has on Stephen?s maturation process, Joyce has demonstrated to the reader that Stephen?s understanding of his sexuality will eventually transform him into an artist.
Ostensibly, education offers theoretical knowledge for Stephen yet as he grows to become more individualistic, education also offers changes to Stephen?s views, faith in religion and his need for companion. Stephen receives both formal and informal education throughout his childhood and adolescence. And as a child, Stephen receives informal education at home from his relatives. The knowledge Stephen gains from home not only influences his views on his surrounding environment yet it offers him his first glimpse into politics. Stephen is amazed when Dante ?taught him where the Mozambique Channel was and what was the longest river in America and what was the name of the lightest mountain in the moon? (7). He finds these geographic features fascinating because it is his first experience with the outside world and by knowing some features of other country; he begins to image what the outside world looks like. By illustrating Stephen?s interest in geography, Joyce foreshadows Stephen?s later departure to Europe. It is at dinner table that Stephen quietly observes and learns ?what politics [mean]? (14). From the argument between Stephen?s father, Mr. Casey, and Dante over the ?Parnell and Catholic church? incident, Stephen learns politics when he claims:
They were arguing at home about that. That was called politics. There were two sides in it: Dante was on one side and his father and Mr. Casey were on the other side but his mother and uncle Charles were on no side. Every day there was something in the paper about it. It pained him that he did not know well what politics meant? (13-14)
Stephen?s faith in religion is challenged while at ?Clongowes? (12) receiving formal education. Stephen has been raised to be a devoted Catholic boy who is not supposed to criticize the authority of the church. Yet when he suffers from the ?unfair and cruel? (53) punishment, he challenges the authority of the church by complaining to the rector. As Stephen grows older, he has greater exposures to literature and especially aesthetic theories of ?Aristotle [and] Aquinas? (190) and his sense of isolation begins to develop. As Stephen develops his own theory of aesthetic, he begins to distance himself from his family, religion, and his friends. He suggests his need of isolation when he says: ?I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the heart is and what it feels (275)?. Furthermore, Stephen reveals his plan to leave Ireland as an attempt to ?try to express [himself] in some mode of life or art as freely as [he] can and as wholly as [he] can, using for [his] defence
the only arms [he] allow [himself] to use – silence, exile, and cunning? (226-269). By discussing how education affects Stephen from a child to a young man, Joyce has shown the reader Stephen?s development as an artist and human being.
The novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is an autobiography of James Joyce who delivers the influential aspects in his life and his artistic development to the reader through the eyes of the fictional character of Stephen Dedalus. In the novel, Stephen?s journey to maturation and to become an artist is influenced by his religion, sexuality and education. Yet, Stephen is able to overcome the obstacles result from these aspects and experience his life to its fullest.
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. 1916. New York: Penguin,1993.
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