Friday, April 4, 2008
The main character, Stephen Dedalus, in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man struggles in trying to fit in, looking for attention and affection. His inability to co-exist affectively with either men or women thrust him into a world of loneliness and a feeling of being unable to fit in. In school, the students would make fun of Stephen. Outside of school, with his father, they were never in the same level of maturity and were never able to understand each other. Then, with women, Stephen was not so much looking for lovers, as he was looking for someone to take care of him. He was searching for that motherly figure in all the women in his life and wanted to be nurtured by them. Meanwhile, he never quite knew how to fit in with all the men he encountered. All these struggles resulted in Stephen’s quest to become an artist. He realizes how freeing art is, not having to socialize with others and not having to mask his uneasiness.
One of the first times that Stephen is put on the spot and made fun of was in the beginning of the novel. His friends decide to ask him a question and pick on him regardless of the answer that Stephens gives.
“Then he went away from the door and Wells came over to Stephen and said:
-Tell us, Dedalus, do you kiss your mother every night before you go to bed?
Wells turned to the other fellows and said:
-O, I say, here’s a fellow says he kisses his mother every night before he goes to bed.
The other fellows stopped their game and turned around, laughing.
Stephen blushed under their eyes and said:
-I do not.
-O, I say, here’s a fellow says he doesn’t kiss his mother before he goes to bed.
They all laughed again. Stephen tried to laugh with them. He felt his whole body hot and confused in a moment. What was the right answer to the question? He had given two and still Wells laughed. But Wells must know the right answer for he was in third of grammar. He tried to think of Wells’s mother but he did not dare to raise his eyes to Wells’s face. He did not like Wells’s face. It was Wells who had shouldered him into the square ditch the day before because he would not swop his little snuffbox for Wells’s seasoned hacking chestnut, the conqueror of forty. It was a mean thing to do; all the fellows said it was. And how cold and slimy the water had been! And a fellow had once seen a big rat jump plop into the scum.” (25-26)
This situation was one of Stephens first attempt in trying to fit in, and instead he was humiliated by Wells and the others. He did not know how to react towards Wells question, and being the timid boy that he is, instead of sticking with one answer, he gives two hoping that one or the other would be correct. He show insecurity and no self confidence, which makes it easier for the others to pick on him. In the end, Stephen laughs along with Wells and the other students with hope of still being able to fit in.
Another one of Stephens struggle that leads to his quest in being an artist is his incapability of bonding with his father. He does not want to be like his father, and thinks low of his fathers ideas. While they were all sitting at a bar, talking to some friends, Stephen realizes how different he is from his father, and his father realizes how Stephen does not seem to enjoy the things his father’s friends talk about.
“They had set out early in the morning from Newcombe’s coffeehouse where Mr. Dedalus’ cup had rattled noisily against its saucer and Stephen had tried to cover that shameful sign of his gather’s drinking bout of the night before by moving his chair and coughing. One humiliation had succeeded another: the false smiles of the market sellers, the curvet things and oglings of the barmaids with whom his father flirted, the compliments and encouraging words of his father’s friends. They had told him that he had a great look of his grandfather and Mr. Dedalus had agreed that he was an ugly likeness. They had unearthed traces of a Cork accent in his speech and made him admit that the Lee was a much finer river than the Liffey. One of them in order to put his Latin to the proof had made him translate short passages from Dilectus and asked him whether it was correct to say: Tempora mutantur nos et mutamur in illis or Tempora mutanmur et nos mutamur in illis. Another, a brisk old man, whom Mr. Dedalus called Johnny Cashman, had covered him with confusion by asking him to say which were prettier, the Dublin girls or the Cork girls.”(90)
In this passage, Stephen is embarrassed by his father’s behavior. He does not appreciate how his fathers manners are and definitely does not fit in with the rest of his fathers friends. Once again, Stephen is feeling humiliated and lonely. He feels he does not belong in that place with those people, especially because him and his father have completely different minds. Stephen is not the only one to realize this. Mr. Dedalus’ friends point Stephen out and humiliate him also by assuring that he is nothing like his father.
“-He’s not that way built, said Mr. Dedalus. Leave him alone. He’s a levelheaded thinking boy who doesn’t bother his head about that kind of nonsense.
-Then he’s not his father’s son, said the little old man.
-I don’t know, I’m sure, said Mr. Dedalus, smiling complacently.
-Your father, said the little old man to Stephen, was the boldest flirt in the city of Cork in his day. Do you know that?
Stephen looked down and studied the tiled floor of the bar into which they had drifted.
-Now don’t be putting ideas into his head, said Mr. Dedalus. Leave him to his Maker.
-Yerra, sure I wouldn’t put any ideas into his head. I’m old enough to be his grandfather. And I am a grandfather, said the little old man to Stephen. Do you know that?
-Are you? Asked Stephen.”(90-91)
After all the humiliation of listening to his fathers friends, at the end, Stephen tries to escape the conversation. He leads to a different subject, asking the little old man more about his grandchildren so that he wouldn’t talk more about his father’s past. Unfortunately for Stephen, he is forced to always escape from certain subjects in order to continue the conversation and ‘fit in.’ Stephen feels very distant from his father and ashamed of the way his father deals with things. As a result of his feeling of loneliness, Stephen turns to a poem by Shelley.
“Nothing stirred within his soul but a cold and cruel and loveless lust. His childhood was dead or lost and with it his soul capable of simple joys: and he was drifting amid life like the barren shell of the moon.
Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
He repeated to himself the lines of Shelley’s fragment. Its alternation of sad human ineffectualness with vast inhuman cycles of activity chilled him: and he forgot his own human and ineffectual grieving.
The last sentence in this passage proves how art took Stephen away from his struggles and relaxed his mind. After repeating the poem, Stephen dazed off into another world, a world where he was the artist. A world where the rules of society don’t apply to your art.
For Stephen, dealing with women was also a struggle for him. He wanted to find that perfect woman, that would take care of him as his mother had done when he was younger. He was aiming for a woman with a similar image of the Virgin Mary. Stephen wanted her to be pure and reserved. Instead of finding that woman, Stephen ended up with a strumpet, whom he lost his virginity to and felt horribly ashamed for doing so. This yearning for love or this urge for a relationship was so immense that when he was tempted by the strumpet, his weakness covered him completely and he was forced to give in.
“She passed her tinkling hand though his hair, calling him a little rascal.
-Give me a kiss, she said.
His lips would not bend to kiss her. He wanted to be held firmly in her arms, to be caressed slowly, slowly, slowly. In her arms he felt that he had suddenly become strong and fearless and sure of himself. But his lips would not bend to kiss her.
With a sudden movement she bowed his head and joined her lips to his and he read the meaning of her movements in her frank uplifted eyes. It was too much for him. He closed his eyes, surrendering himself to her, body and mind, conscious of nothing in the world but the dark pressure of her softly parting lips. They pressed upon his brain as upon his lips as though they were the vehicle of a vague speech; and between them he felt an unknown and timid pressure, darker than the swoon of sin, softer than sound or odour.”(96)
After Stephens encounter with the strumpet, he feels miserable. From then on, his relationship with women become more complex. This leads Stephen to distance himself from women, which is another thing he has to struggle with. The confusion he has with knowing that he sinned and being so ashamed form it, causes him to further himself away from all women. The only woman Stephen finds pure and innocent is Emma. Unfortunately he is not able to win her heart, so he suffers, as the case study of Feminist Criticism states in article V. Flight from the Mother. “Unable to win the young and fickle heart of Emma, Stephen recreates her in baleful, aesthetic guise.”
The same article also explains about Stephens flight from women. His loneliness also came from him not being able to find a relationship, where he would not sin and would be nurtured by the girl. As a result, he decided to flee from the women, that way he would escape his grief.
“Through Portrait, Stephen manifests a psychological horror of woman as a figure of immanence, a symbol of unsettling sexual difference, and a perpetual reminder of bodily abjection. At the conclusion of chapter five, he prepares to flee from all the women who have served as catalysts in his own adolescent development. His journey into exile will release him from what he perceives as a cloying matriarchal authority. He must blot from his ears “his mother’s sobs and reproaches” and strike from his eyes the insistent “image of his mother’s face”(p. 194).
Lastly, Stephen finds his place, as an artist. He realizes that by pursuing his career as an artist, he will finally relax and be in control of himself. There will be no more rules of people telling him what to do and how to do it. His art will come out of his own individuality. In the last page of the novel they proclaim Stephen’s aim to be an artist.
“26 April: Mother is putting my new secondhand clothes in order. She prays now, she says, that I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the heart is and what it feels. Amen. So be it. Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.
27 April: Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.”(218)
These were Stephens last phrases. His tone is of so much happiness and excitement. Stephen’s mother states how he will learn by himself, which is what Stephen wanted. From his struggles, he entered this quest of becoming an artist, because the artist’s foundation for his work is his individual consciousness, which is what Stephen has been striving for.