James Joyce

This essay has a total of 2483 words and 9 pages.

James Joyce



Stephen Dedalus, the main character in most of James Joyce's writings, is said to be a reflection of Joyce himself. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the reader follows Stephen as he develops from a young child into a young artist, overcoming many conflicts both internally and externally, and narrowly escaping a life long commitment to the clergy. Through Joyce's use of free indirect style, all of Stephen's speech, actions, and thoughts are filtered through the narrator of the story. However, since Joyce so strongly identifies with Stephen, his character's style and personality greatly influence the narrator. This use of free indirect style and stylistic contagion makes Joyce's use of descriptive language one of his most valuable tools in accurately depicting Stephen Dedalus's developing ideals of feminine beauty.

As a very young child Stephen is taught to idealize the Virgin Mary for her purity and holiness. She is described to Stephen as "a tower of Ivory" and a "House of Gold" (p.35). Stephen takes this literally and becomes confused as to how these beautiful elements of ivory and gold could make up a human being. This confusion is important in that it shows Stephen's inability to grasp abstraction. He is a young child who does not yet understand how someone can say one thing and mean something else. This also explains his trouble in the future with solving the riddles and puzzles presented to him by his classmates at Clongowes. Stephen is very thoughtful and observant and looks for his own way to explain or rationalize the things that he does not understand. In this manner he can find those traits that he associates with the Blessed Mary in his protestant playmate Eileen. Her hands are "long and white and thin and cold and soft. That was ivory: a cold white thing. That was the meaning of Tower of Ivory" (p.36). "Her fair hair had streamed out behind her like gold in the sun" (p.43). To Stephen that is the meaning of House of Gold. He then attributes Eileen's ivory hands to the fact that she is a girl and generalized these traits to all females. This produces a major conflict for Stephen when his tutor, Dante, tells him not to play with Eileen because she is Protestant and Protestants don't understand the Catholic faith and therefore will make a mockery of it. His ideas about women being unattainable are confirmed. The Virgin Mary is divine and therefore out of reach for mortals. Now Eileen, the human representation of the Blessed Mary, is out of reach as well because Stephen is not allowed to play with her.

In chapter two an amazing transformation takes place in Stephen from a young innocent child who believes women are unattainable and who idealizes the Virgin Mary, into a young teen with awakening sexual desires. As Stephen matures into adolescence, he becomes increasingly aware of his sexuality, which at times is confusing to him. At the beginning of the second chapter in A Portrait, we find Stephen associating feminine beauty with the heroine Mercedes in Alexander Dumont Pere's The Count of Monte Cristo. "Outside Blackrock, on the road that led to the mountains, stood a small whitewashed house in the garden of which grew many rosebushes: and in this house, he told himself, another Mercedes lived….there appeared an image of himself, grown older and sadder, standing in a moonlit garden with Mercedes who had so many years before slighted his love…"(p. 62-3). These fantasies about Mercedes are the first real step for Stephen in challenging the church's view of women, but again he feels as though this image of women is out of his reach. She is a fictional character in a Romantic Adventure novel and he can only imagine himself with her. Although Mercedes may not be real, the feelings that Stephen has and the emotions she provokes in him are very real. "…As he brooded upon her image, a strange unrest crept into his blood." (p.64). "…but a premonition which led him on told him that this image would, without any overt act of his, encounter him… and in that moment of supreme tenderness he would be transfigured. He would fade into something impalpable under her eyes and then in a moment, he would be transfigured. Weakness and timidity and inexperience would fall from him that magic moment." (p.65). Stephen realizes that some transformation is going to take place, and Joyce emphasizes the words "transfigured" and "moment" to indicate the kind of impact it will have on Stephen. At this point in the novel, Stephen attributes this "premonition" to his attraction to young Emma Clery. "…Amid the music and laughter her glance traveled to his corner, flattering, taunting, searching, exciting his heart." "…Sprays of her fresh warm breath flew gaily above her cowled head and her shoes tapped blithely on the glassy road." (p. 69). As they wait for the last tram from a Christmas party "His
heart danced upon her movements like a cork upon a tide." Joyce carefully
uses these words to ease the reader into the transition to sensual imagery to
portray females. These words convey Stephen's feelings of excitement, and a
new conflict arises within him. He who still believes in the Catholic view of
divine women now feels troubled over his growing sexual drives. Stephen
realizes that she is flirting with him by the way she "urges her vanities" yet he
is tempted to call her on it. He wants to hold on to her and kiss her and he
associates the whole situation with the way in which Eileen had suddenly run
down the path in a peal of laughter hoping he would chase her. The conflict
within Stephen whether or not to kiss Emma stems from his continuing
religious beliefs that women are holy and not to be defiled, and like with
Mercedes, he is forced to be content in fulfilling his wishes only in his head.
This encounter with Emma does place females at a slightly more attainable
level for Stephen and we are able to see how it begins to shape his ultimate
ideals of feminine beauty. However connected to the church Stephen feels, it
is impossible for him to just push these feelings away from himself and ignore
them. He decides to write a poem about Emma Clery and for the first time,
we see Stephen successfully use art as a means of expression and relief. In
his poem which is modeled after one from his favorite poet, Byron, he acts
out what he wishes he would have done and that is to give Emma a kiss.
Again this illustrates a side of Stephen that is not comfortable with
abstraction. He has not yet come to the realization that he is not unlike other
boys his age. This poem which is addressed to E____C____, starts out with
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriem, a Latin phrase meaning, "For the Greater Glory of
God" and ends with Laus Deo Semper meaning, "Praise to God Always".
This is especially interesting because the poem merges both religion and art
without Stephen's knowledge that this is where the heart of the conflict lies. It
becomes an even greater conflict for Stephen when, as time passes, he finds
it more and more difficult to resist the temptations of his sexual urges. He
mentally defiles

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