Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
When the novel opens, we are in the mind of a child; fragmented lines from a nursery story are intertwined with
sensations and associations of feeling, touching, hearing, and smelling. Joyce takes us inside the mind of a child
in order to show us how a child records and responds to the world around him. By carefully choosing language
and syntax, Joyce enables us to share what is possibly the earliest childhood memory of the novel's hero—
Stephen is only three years old when he begins to identify himself with the physical world, with members of his
family, and with the sensual world of language; he remembers his father's hairy face, his mother's sweet smell,
the uncomfortable experience of wetting the bed, and certain special and fanciful words, such as "baby tuckoo"
and "moocow." It was a good time, he says, meaning that he felt safe and secure from harm. Significantly, his
favorite song is about
roses—not tamed, cultivated roses, but wild roses. His taste for rebellion and
freedom has already budded.
Stephen’s next memory occurs about three years later, when he attempts to compete athletically with a group of
rowdy schoolmates at Clongowes Wood College, the Jesuit boarding school which he attends. By comparison
with the other boys, Stephen is small and weak, and suffers from poor vision and painful homesickness. During
these miserable days, he comforts himself with thoughts of home. As he thinks about these things, it is clear that
Stephen is a lonely, sensitive young boy, one who loves learning and relies on the strength he receives from
saying his evening prayers.
Stephen's first crisis at Clongowes occurs when Wells, a bullying classmate, pushes Stephen into the square
ditch (a cesspool), causing him to be taken to the school infirmary to recover from a fever. While there, Stephen
meets Athy, the likeable son of a racehorse owner; Athy confides to Stephen that he too has an unusual name.
While Stephen is in the infirmary, he also meets the somewhat sad but compassionate cleric Brother Michael,
who cares for sick boys and makes them feel less isolated by reading them the news in the daily paper.
Although Stephen feels depressed by his illness, he comforts himself by melodramatically imagining the beauty
of his own burial ceremony and Wells' great remorse for having caused Stephen’s unfortunate death. Then
Stephen falls into a fitful sleep; he is lulled by "waves" of light, the sounds of imaginary sea waves, and the
words which Brother Michael is reading about the death of Charles Stewart Parnell, the young, romantic Irish
Parnell's death becomes more significant in the following scene, when Stephen returns home to celebrate
Christmas. At the Christmas dinner are Stephen's parents (Mary and Simon), John Casey (a friend of Simon’s),
Stephen’s greatuncle Charles, and Stephen’s old nurse, Dante Riordan. Stephen is particularly excited because
for the first time in his life, he is sitting at the table with the adults.
The joy of the occasion is soon interrupted, however, by an argument about the Catholic Church's role in politics