Criticism Perspectives of Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce.


Criticism  Perspectives of  Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce.


                                                                       Antônio Domingos Araújo Cunha

                     Portrait of the artist, written by James Joyce, reports the way an Irish young man behave, in accordance with local convictions, specially the social institutions, like the family, the church, and the social relations Stephen Dedalus had, along the narrative, and specially the discrimination he suffered, when sharing his existence with British people, which is historically justified, by the quarrel between Roman Catholics and Anglicans, in late 19th century Ireland. We should try to portray the hero, by saying that Stephen Dedalus can be pointed as the monomythic hero on a spiritual and psychological quest, who looks for his soul, in accordance with Campbell and Jung, before discussing it farther.  As Jung said, the soul can’t live in piece till he/she finds his/her “other”, and this is Romance.1 But Stephen does not share his romantic feelings, which is ironic. In accordance with Campbell, there are culminate experiences in our lives, which Joyce called “epiphanies”. 2 Stephen can be observed along the narrative, in his raising phase, where values should be reinforced. He is essentially religious, as the family itself. As I am Catholic, I’d say I understand the way he was educated, because that’s really the way I’ve been taught about religious essential conceptions. An idea of abnegation of


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sexual life, because it’s “sin”, and the flesh is weak. Stephen has given his soul to his adored mother and father.  His psique demonstrates his interior life, and it makes him different, because from this common floor, the archetype is built, the common ideas of myths, as Jung explains.3 “ Terror is the feeling which arrests the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with the secret cause.”4 And if he can release people’s ancient about a spiritual life, without “sin”he becomes a Hero, who resists the temptations of devil. Maybe a shaman. He experiments the rite of passage: separation-initiation-return. 5

By checking some Internet sources, one will be able to find a complete page of Brandon Kershner's, adapted from the fuller treatment in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and is Copyright 1993 by Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press. This is a volume in Bedford Books' "Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism" series, and as well as a great deal of background information provides five interpretive essays following the text.

Joyce is arguably the most influential modern writer. His influence on the fictional technique of twentieth-century writers, from traditional realists to the most wildly experimental postmodernists, has been decisive. There is no doubt that A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is Joyce's most widely read work. While Portrait is among the most frequently taught Novels in modern university curricula, it is also a novel undergraduates often discover on their own. Stephen's remarkable self-involvement and his frustration under the authority of church, state, and parents rings especially true for undergraduate readers today, however different the specifics of circumstance.

So well established is Portrait as a modern classic that it is difficult to imagine the situation of the book's early reviewers, faced with writing of a sort they had not encountered


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before. Spotting literary greatness is an almost impossible task on its first appearance; Ezra Pound did it with Joyce, and so did T.S. Eliot, but even as perceptive a reader as Edward Garnett, who had encouraged Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, and D.H. Lawrence, balked at Joyce. In a reader's report for the publisher Duckworth & Company, collected with many other early reviews in Robert Deming's two-volume James Joyce: The Critical Heritage, Garnett admits the book is "ably written" but needs revision because it is too "discursive, formless, unrestrained, and ugly things, ugly words, are too prominent." The novel is too "unconventional," Garnett asserts, and "unless the author will use restraint and proportion he will not gain readers" (81). Given this sort of misjudgment by a usually sensitive reader, it is all the more surprising that so many of the initial reviews of Portrait hailed it as a major achievement, even a work of "genius." Ezra Pound's review in The Egoist, where the book had appeared in installments, stressed that it was well written--and tried to suggest just how rare that was among novels in English. Indeed, "Joyce produces the nearest thing to Flaubertian prose that we now have in English." Aside from that, "I doubt if a comparison of Mr. Joyce to other English writers or Irish writers would help much to define him." Pound stresses Joyce's realism and the book's value as "diagnosis," but otherwise says virtually nothing about the novel's content (83). Others were more struck by what they saw as the book's unpleasantness. A review in Everyman entitled "A Study in Garbage" called it "an astonishingly powerful and extraordinary dirty study of the upbringing of a young man by Jesuits" and suggested that at the end of the book Stephen goes mad (85). Similarly, H. G. Wells in a rather awe-struck essay comparing Joyce to Swift, Sterne, and Conrad, nevertheless complained about Joyce's "cloacal

obsession" (86-88). The Times protested the "occasional improprieties"; the Literary World                 

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complained of "the brutal probing of the depths of uncleanness" and the Manchester Guardian of the novel's "astounding bad manners" (89,92, 93).

Like other reviewers, the Guardian's essayist found in Stephen "a passion for foul-smelling things" (93), confusing Joyce's unusual technique of documenting odors and textures with his protagonist's tastes. Irish reviewers were, if anything, more offended than British ones. The Freeman's Journal claims that "Mr. Joyce plunges and drags his readers after him into the slime of foul sewers" (98). These critics' stress on Portrait's unpleasantness is likely to be somewhat baffling to a modern reader until we realize that the "impropriety" found on the book's "very first page" (89) can only be the reference to bed-wetting; at this point we understand what a large part of human existence in 1916 was held to be inappropriate for mention in literature. One theme not picked up in later criticism is the concern over whether Stephen and his companions are representative of Irish youth in their ideas. Wells noted that "every human being" in the book "accepts as a matter of course . . . that the English are to be hated," and adds that he thinks that picture is "only too true" (88). The Freeman's Journal on the other hand protested that "English critics, with a complacency that makes one despair of their intelligence, are already hailing the author as a typical Irishman, and his book as a faithful picture of Irish life." It would be just as accurate to see De Quincey's Opium-Eater as a typical picture of British youth, the reviewer asserts (99).

Still, Joyce's technique was so convincing that the reviewers had to admit that something beyond conventional realism was at work. A. Clutton-Brock said that "[Joyce] can make anything happen that he chooses" in his writing, and that "No living writer is better at conversations" (89). J.C. Squire agreed that the dialogue "is as close to the dialogue of life as


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anything I have ever come across" (101). Virtually all reviewers praised the writing, and some were swept away despite themselves, protesting all the while. The Manchester Guardian's writer begins, "When one recognizes genius in a book one can perhaps best leave criticism alone," and then goes on to give his reservations. Interestingly, he continues, "Not for its apparent formlessness should the book be condemned. A subtle sense of art has worked amidst the chaos, making this hither-and-thither record of a young mind and soul . . . a complete and ordered thing" (92). In noting this he is unusual, for nearly all the early reviewers complained of the book's formlessness, its abrupt transitions, its lack of plot, and its unusual demands upon the reader. Just as the term "naturalism" was used to evoke the "gutter-realism" of the notorious Emile Zola, the term "impressionism" occurred frequently to suggest an aesthetic combination of shamelessness and sensitivity in both protagonist and book. 06

There are reasons to believe that Joyce constructed Stephen in accordance with a social reality, he was living in his birthplace. He wanted to create an Irish Literature. As a realist, he combines many literary techniques so that Stephen’s situation in real life could make sense for the readers. This book represents the transition between realism and symbolism, and the novel is considered autobiographic. It was firstly printed in America in 1916.The author is extremely sensitive to report passages of rare beauty, by using a written form to represent sounds, like the scene Stephen’s family is having visitors, and the music they sang on the way to his house (Joyce, 03), the act of spitting tobacco juice, – Path!  Stephen attended the college and the author in this verse also designs his identity: “Stephen Dedalus is my name, Ireland is my nation. Clongowes is my dwelling place and heaven my expectation”(Joyce, 10) 

1,2,3 – Campbell, O Poder do Mito, p. 208, 230, 58

4,5, – Campbell, The Hero with a thousand faces, p. 26,30.

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Many expressions in Latin, and very traditional English can be read along the narrative, as well as strong connections with religious problems. Passages that criticize the position of church at that time can also be observed. Some examples are:

“O come all you Roman Catholics that never went to mass.” (Joyce, 25)

Tower of Ivory. House of Gold.” (Joyce, 31)

Stephen has political relations with friends, the rector, the governor and the society. This is the extension of his life, in chapter two. The demonstration of knowledge should be seen by the use of Latin expressions. The demonstration of sexual relations, and the connotation of what a sin was, can be observed (Joyce, 75), and the power of the poems, seduction, and a description of a kiss. (Joyce, 77) Stephen prays the act of constriction, demonstrating his respect to religious ritual (Joyce, 103) Besides religious differences, language was also used differently. An example of it, should be the word funnel and tundish. They were all British, but using different English. (Joyce, 145)

Time after time, Stephen gets an ideological position in the society, and could build up his own concepts of life and existence. When talking with Cranly, he was asked if he would deflower a virgin, because that was the ambition of most young gentlemen. Stephen answered:

“- Look here, Cranly, he said. You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do. I’ll tell you what I will do, and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I’ll try to express myself some




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mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use – silence, exile, and cunning.”(Joyce 191) Some ideas that were presented above, represent the reader-response criticism, while we were interpreting the text.

We liked the passage when Stephen speaks about his loneliness to a friend, and starts to present the pages of his diary to the reader from March 20 to April 27 and dedicates the last words, to his mother and to the old father, for whom he asks to stand him now and ever in good stead, pointing two references of time and space. There are two references: spiritual and material perspectives. Dublin, 1904, and Trieste, 1914.  It suggests a displacement of time and space. (Joyce, 196) Is that all? The end is empty itself. There must be a reason for this, but we don’t wonder the reason. But it’s hidden behind the text. It’s not transparent.

In the perspective of Historical Criticism, we would say that Joyce could show exactly how social forces acted in social life. Although he was opposed to the folkishi, event folkish, even folksy, elements of the Irish revival, he is himself a dominant figure in that movement. Officially, he stands apart, as ever. Joyce made it clear that, in his opinion, the Revival was conceding to public pressure by allowing the caricatured, but the popular, version of Ireland to become the abiding image of the Abbey Theatre. Society of urban Europe was exposed to spiritual hypocrisy and impoverishment. Ireland in that sense was very special. It lived under the domination of England and religious domination of Rome while it espoused rhetoric of freedom, uniqueness, and especial privilege. Ireland was, in fact, especially underprivileged and was, on that account, more susceptible to and more in need of an exemplary art than any other European country. It was in Joyce’s art that the interior history of his country could be, for the first time, written. So, the memorability of Dublin, is too much because of his effort to


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give to Ireland, a special identity. So, Freudian slips do not exclude Dedalus from the human desires.

Freud’s contribution to identify prototypes is in the sense of trying to bring modern insights about human behavior into the study of how fictional people act.

If we consider Psychological Criticism to help in the construction of the archetype of Stephen, we could not leave out of this analysis, the impressions of Freud. We can notice for instance, the desires of Stephen, but it is closely related with his conception of correction. We should also consider min this analysis, the importance of the nature of dreams, and the presence of parents in our lives. Stephen also becomes a poet, and as Harold Bloom, discusses, he argues in consequence, is not a man speaking to amen as a man rebelling against being spoken to by a dead man (the precursor) ultrageously more alive than himself.

If we consider Mythological Criticism, we should look for the desire to look for the recurrent universal patterns underlying most literary works. It is an interdisciplinary approach that combines the insights of anthropology psychology, history and comparative religion. If psychological criticism examines the artist as an individual, mythological criticism explores the artist’s common humanity by tracing how the individual imagination uses symbols and situations – consciously and unconsciously – in ways that transcend its own historical milieu and resemble the mythology of other cultures or epochs. Sure the center concept is the archetype. So, In what way can we outline Stephen’s archetype, by considering this manifestations of conscious and unconscious life? As Jung believes, all individuals share a “collective unconscious”, the personage should be a model of behavior in that society. Northrop Frye defined the archetype in considerably less occult terms as a symbol, usually an image,


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which recurs often enough in literature to be recognizable as an element of one’s literary experience as a whole. The discussion of context can bring us to an underlying pattern. Joseph Campbell demonstrates the similarity of myths in virtually every culture on every continent.

If we consider mythic archetypes, we would cite Northrop Frye (1912-1991). His idea is that gods enjoy beautiful women, fight one another with prodigious strength, comfort and assist man, or else watch his miseries from the height of their immortal freedom. In his opinion the presence of a mythical structure in realistic fiction, however poses certain technical problems may be given the general name of displacement. This concept helps us to identify Joyce’s book, because the central principle of displacement is that what can be metaphorically identified in a myth can only be linked in romance by some form of simile: analogy, significant association, incidental accompanying imagery, and the like. 07. Joyce focuses on important episodes that shape Stephen's artistic development and makes considerable use of the stream-of-consciousness technique, a device that renders all the thoughts, feelings, and sensations of a character with scrupulous psychological realism. For example, when Dedalus casually looks up to watch birds fly, his thoughts shift from considering their type, number, aerial acrobatics, and the sound of their cries, to the philosophical connection between birds and the intellect. When he ponders the antiquity of the act of watching the birds, the Egyptian god, Thoth, and an image of his modern, Irish equivalent spring to mind.08 Dedalus then experiences a feeling of connection with birds' migratory habits Stephen is significantly associated to the ideal Christian, who obeys the rule of an archetypal religious structure, and sustains his position firmly, as the good son, who loves parents, and does no take the trials of  love. That’s the ironic mode, because the central character is assumed to have the power of action less than that of ordinary men, one that demonstrates an

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unusual degree of futility or insignificance in human acts. The romance mode events seem to move beyond the realm of the possible. The archetypal perspective is not old fashioned and out-of-date. I do admit the world of religious imposes too much alienation, and this is one of the reasons why these communities should coexist although, irreconcilable differences are. I can’t really see many of our artists being free enough to create artistic manifestations, without touching vital inflexible points of view of the church. Michelangelo is a good example. His nudes were all covered once. I personally see this book with romantic elements, but I wouldn’t classify it like this, because Joyce is so versatile, and reports characters of realism, naturalism, and symbolism, which is closer to natural and ironic mode. I also present the following information as a revelation of Joyce’s intention present his own existence using fiction as an intermediate form to exteriorize his own conflicts.  

“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, was published posthumously in 1944, called Stephen Hero, which, although not published until 1944, was an early version of A Portrait. Joyce employed symbols to create what he called an “epiphany,” the revelation of certain inner qualities. Thus, the earlier writings reveal individual moods and characters and the plight of Ireland and the Irish artist in the early 1900s. The two later works reveal his characters in all their complexity as artists and lovers and in the various aspects of their family relationships. Using experimental techniques to convey the essential nature of realistic situations, Joyce merged in his greatest works the literary traditions of realism, naturalism, and symbolism.” 08 Reading this book, was an invitation to check my own roots. 

07 Gioia, Dana. Literature, Longman, 2002.. 2180-2202

08 "Joyce, James Augustine Aloysius". Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2002 (23 June. 2002) © 2002 Microsoft Corporation.
All Rights Reserved.




Works Cited


Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a thousand faces, Library of the Congress, 1973, USA.

Campbell, Joseph, O Poder do Mito, Editora Palas, São Paulo, 1990, BRASIL.

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, New York:

                     Modern Language Association, 5th ed.1988.

Gioia, Dana. Literature,Longman, 2002. P.2180-2202.

Joyce, James, Portrait of the Artist Wordsworth Classics1995, UK.

Smith, Lyle E. Study Material – HUX 573, CSU, Dominguez Hills, 1997, USA.






























































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