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An Introduction to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Based on Hugh Kenner’s introduction. Narration.

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An Introduction to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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an introduction to a portrait of the artist as a young man

An Introduction to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Based on Hugh Kenner’s introduction

  • The narrator is different than expected. Not first person- no “I”. So it must be third person, but third-person narrators are supposed to be reliable; they give us the truth; they don’t tend to talk about moocows and hairy faces in childish ways; they don’t tend to evolve as the protagonist grows and develops adding literary sophistication each chapter. So why? Why would Joyce choose to do this? Who is narrating? What does an evolving (therefore imperfect) narrator suggest?
a good editor
A Good Editor
  • The first draft was 913 pages and 25 chapters long. The entire finished product took 10 years to complete
Rembrandt would fix his gaze in the mirror to the world behind the mirror as he painted. Joyce’s use of the title may suggest the following chiasmic structure:

Background Painter Mirror Painter’s Image Background Image

Dublin Joyce Stephen “Dublin”

  • Biblical Poetry Structure
  • ABBA or ABCCBA or ABCDDCBA… A mirror image.
  • Portrait is riddled with chiasmus, (“Apologise, pull out his eyes, pull out his eyes, Apologise.”)
  • Even the structure of the novel itself is chiasmic. (Parts two and four both end with images of women; parts three and five end with men.) I
  • In the center of the middle chapter lies the passage: “The preacher took a chainless watch from a pocket within his soutane and, having considered its dial for a moment in silence, placed it silently before him on the table.”
  • Could it be silence at the center? Time? Some combination of the two? What is the mirror? (Joyce used silence as a chiasmic center in Finnegan’s Wake)
  • Are books inherently silent? How does a book compare to a painting? Which one is more silent? What other reasons might he have chosen to fixate on silence? Why are we asking so many questions? What time is it? Where are my car keys?
developmental progress
Developmental Progress
  • Progression of senses in chapter one:
  • Hearing: the story
  • Sight: the father’s face
  • Taste: lemon platt
  • Touch: warm and cold
  • Smell: the oilsheet
  • Why are they in this order? What is the significance of their development?
development of gradation
Development of Gradation:
  • First warm then cold
  • “His mother had a nicer smell than his father”
  • “Uncle Charles and Dante were older than his father and mother but Uncle Charles was older than Dante”
  • “The Vances lived in number seven. They had a different father and mother. They were Eileen’s father and mother. ”
  • “When I grow up I’ll be a father, when she grows up, she’ll be a mother.”
  • “When he was grown up, he was going to marry Eileen”
  • Why does Joyce highlight this relationship-oriented development?
male female chapters
Male/Female Chapters:
  • Odd-numbered chapters appeal to a father. Even-numbered chapters end with women
  • Chapter two ends with Stephen’ s loss of virginity to an anonymous harlot. Chapter four ends with Stephen looking at a girl standing in the water, “alone and still, gazing out to sea.” Right after he has realized that the priesthood is not for him.
  • “A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane’s and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon her flesh. Her thighs, fuller and soft hued as ivory, were bared almost to the hips where the white fringes of her drawers were like featherings of soft white down. Her slate blue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her. Her bosom was as a bird’s soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some dark plumaged dove. But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face.”
female analysis
Female Analysis
  • Notice how he creates her. He doesn’t just describe her; he fashions a beautiful creature from the bottom up as he looks at a real-life girl being natural. Why create a bird-like creature? How might this tie to the mythology to which he is attached? Why did he take great pains to give her the body of a bird, but then use “girlish” twice before describing her hair and face? Also, we see here Joyce’s ability to mirror the rush of a juvenile crush- the overstatement and rhapsodizing of a teenager (a talented teenager, but still obviously young.) Is he romanticizing her (as Gretta Conroy in “The Dead”?) or is he seeing a woman as she truly is for the first time (epiphany)?
dedalus name choice
Dedalus Name Choice
  • Joyce grew up watching a Professor Fitzgerald’s failed attempts at flight. Around that time, he learned about the stories of Ovid’s Daedalus (Daidalos in Greek: “cunningly wrought”)- the famous inventor. There are 3 main stories:
  • Queen Pasiphae of Crete was under a spell, and desired to couple with a bull so she hired Daedalus to build her a wooden one she could hide inside. The plan worked and she gave birth to the Minotaur.
  • Daedalus created a labrynth in which the Minotaur could be confined.
  • Daedalus ends up locked in the labrynth himself. He and his son Icarus escape on wings Daedalus creates from wax and feathers. Icarus ignores Daedalus’ advice not to fly too close to the sun, and Icarus drowns before Daedalus can save him.
  • What kind of man was Daedalus? What kind of man chooses this to be the name of his alter-ego?
the male figures
The Male Figures
  • The last line of the book is a diary entry of Stephen’s written on the eve of his departure from Ireland to Paris. It reads:
  • “Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.” Compare to John 17:5 “And now, Father, do thou exalt me at they own side…” from the Vigil of Ascension Day where the Son addresses the Father.
  • …and compare to the section in chapter 4…


  • “Now as never before, his strange name seemed to him a prophecy…Now, at the name of the fabulous artificer, he seemed to hear the noise of dim waves and to see a winged form flying above the waves and slowly climbing the air. What did it mean? Was it a quaint device opening a page of some medieval book of prophecies and symbols, a hawklike man flying sunward above the sea, a prophecy of the end he had been born to serve and had been following through the mists of childhood and boyhood, a symbol of the artist forging anew in his workshop out of the sluggish matter of the earth a new soaring impalpable imperishable being?”


  • Has Stephen selected a substitute father? Is he speaking to the Greek Daedalus, or Simon Dedalus, his father, in the final entry? If he is speaking to the Greek, what is the tyrannized island from which he is fleeing? Who or what is the drowned Icarus? Why the allusion to a Biblical father and son? What might that suggest about the relationship? What about the first line of the book and the moocow present in it? His father told him about the moocow…compare to the wooden cow built by Daedalus- the one that started his woes. And what about all the other Fathers he will encounter: Father Dolan beats him, he protests to Father Conmee, a nameless father delivers a scathing sermon that has Stephen confess to another nameless Father? So at the end of the book when he speaks to the unnamed Father- are we correct to assume that it is his own biological father?
james joyce at age 2
James Joyce at age 2

I’m already smarter than you.

joyce at age 6
Joyce at age 6

How do you like me now?


The Minotaur

George Frederick Watts, 1885.

Tate Gallery, London.


Theseus slaying the Minotaur. Stamnos by the Kleophrades Painter, c.500-450 BCE. British Museum, London.


Daedalus watches Icarus FallSolis designed 178 woodcuts in all for this version of the Metamorphoses.