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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man | Discussion Questions 1 - 10

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What sense do readers get of Stephen's personality from Chapter 1 of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?

From the details in Chapter 1 readers can deduce Stephen is curious about and observant of the world around him. His wonderment at the cow near his home, his parents' smell, and the musicality of the word apologize all indicate the young Stephen's high sensitivity. When he is discussed by his mother and governess, a folk rhyme introduced by Dante gets his attention through its cadence and sound. Stephen also is independent for a child, as demonstrated by his early crush on Eileen, his young Protestant neighbor. While he may be unaware she is of a different faith, the adults in his family make it clear he is not to mingle with Protestants.

What is Stephen's relationship with his fellow students at Clongowes in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and why is it significant?

As depicted in Chapter 1 Stephen's relationship with his fellow students at Clongowes is both tortured and distant. Frequently, he is bullied by them because he is shy and not as muscular or physically aggressive as they are; early on a student pushes him into a drainage (sewer) ditch. The students also tease him for kissing his mother before he goes to bed at night. Stephen is alienated from his peers not only because their teasing heightens his awareness that he doesn't fit in, but because he understands that he is, in fact, different from them. His alienation is significant because it points up his distinctiveness from other young men his age and because the aspects that make him different also make him an artist.

In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man how does Stephen's relationship with his mother shape his behavior and character?

Stephen's mother nourishes and encourages all that is most virtuous in him. Mothers in Ireland are revered, put on a pedestal, and seen as supporters and caregivers; Stephen's mother is no different. For example when she scolds him for talking to bad boys at school, it is because she wants him to keep himself clean and pure. When she is upset because he decides not to pursue the priesthood, it is because she represents the figure of woman as spiritual guide. Stephen is affected by this relationship in two ways: he tends to idealize and exalt women in his mind, yet his relations with them are at other times quite sordid. Because his mother is a pillar of virtue, he either holds women at a distance or debases himself with prostitutes; he could never behave in a crass manner with a "sainted woman" like his mother.

What does Stephen's reaction to the football game in Chapter 1 of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man tell about him?

Stephen's shyness in relation to the game indicates that he is more of a cerebral person, less interested in sports than his schoolmates; it also indicates he is an introvert. He thinks he would rather be inside, resting in front of a warm fire, than watching sports. He does not feel connected to the game progressing around him or passionate about its outcome. In a sense the football game is symbolic of life itself. Stephen does not feel he is a part of this kind of life at this point in his emotional development. This feeling of otherness, or alienation, will persist throughout the novel until he finally makes a choice that sets him apart from his family, his country, and his religion.

In Chapter 1 of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, what is the significance of Stephen's image of a green rose?

Stephen's class has academic teams based on the War of the Roses: Lancaster is represented by the red rose, and York, Stephen's team, by the white rose. His considering the possibility of a green rose points to the whimsy at the heart of Stephen's thought process. As his mind drifts from the competition, the idea of a green rose amuses him as a contradiction in terms; is a rose without its rosy hue still a rose? This tells readers that Stephen is beginning to develop his thinking about beauty, or aesthetics. As the novel unfolds Stephen will live with similar conflicts in which he holds two opposing ideas in his mind. He is torn between his desire to be a priest and his desire to write, and between his passion for the various love interests who surface throughout the book and the reverence he has been taught toward women.

What does Stephen's musing on the name of God in Chapter 2 of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man suggest about him?

Stephen's musing suggests that even at this early point in his development he is highly interested in words and language. In this case he is more interested in the name of God than in praying to God or experiencing God's protection. Instead of seeking spiritual enlightenment he focuses on the meaning of the word God in different languages and creeds and in understanding all God's manifestations. Stephen is unaware of the implications of his own interests. He is still young, and he is not yet aware of his boredom with the vocation of the priesthood or his love of the English language.

How does his mother's scolding in Chapter 1 support the idea of Stephen's alienation in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?

His mother's scolding suggests Stephen is someone who misbehaves. His misbehavior initially takes the form of the sort of mistakes made by an observant child who occasionally transgresses. For example he is scolded as a boy because he declares his love for a Protestant neighbor girl; he scolds himself as an adult, and even feels sufficiently guilty to go to confession, because he visits prostitutes. Both actions can be seen as forms of misbehavior in the eyes of the Catholic church, and both make Stephen feel separate from others. As Stephen grows older, he learns to stand up for himself, but this only solidifies his sense of alienation; as he measures his sense of rightness against that of others, he finds the comparison does not benefit his growth as an artist.

How is Cranly a foil for Stephen in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?

Stephen and Cranly's bond is built on Cranly's intellect, respect for, and willingness to listen to Stephen and tolerate his behavior, no matter what. He might chide Stephen, but he doesn't ridicule him. They both disdain low-quality instruction, and their occasionally dim-witted peers in college and university. Friendship and competition also exist between the two. Stephen takes a serious and practical approach to becoming an artist. Cranly sees no need to separate from church, country, or family, and tries to show Stephen the folly of his ways. Stephen has a wide-ranging imagination and passions that take him at times far away from his studies and the realm of his fellow students' curiosity; he feels he has a unique calling to create. Cranly, on the other hand, shares more tastes with his classmates; he's a bit lazy, standoffish, and quite critical of others. He also is focused firmly on the academic path he has chosen and seems unlikely ever to question or leave it—hence his strong reaction to Stephen's decision to pursue the artist's life. Cranly is not interested in grappling with complex issues of the soul; he is much more interested in making a good wage, following religious forms even if he doesn't believe them, and cutting an interesting figure in a crowd.

In Chapter 4 of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, how does Joyce use stream of consciousness to describe Stephen's rejection of the priesthood?

Stephen realizes he has no desire to be a priest shortly after a schoolmaster tells him he might have an aptitude for the priesthood. At this moment Joyce uses several striking images—a building front with numerous mysterious windows, the voice of Stephen's superior, a swinging thurible for burning incense—to communicate the drama and extremity of the thoughts running through Stephen's mind. Joyce uses the imagery to capture the range of thoughts and associations inherent in a mind as complex as Stephen's. The effect of this reproduction of Stephen's thoughts is twofold. It shows his nonlinear thought patterns and also helps readers understand the extent to which the power and significance of the moment overwhelm him.

What is the role of the "saintly" women in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?

To Stephen Dedalus women are either saintly images viewed and admired from afar, or flesh and blood women who can answer a physical need. As objects of worship, the saintly women serve as Stephen's personal psychological symbols. They represent beauty, about which Stephen is highly curious, as evidenced by his numerous unrequited longings for connection with Emma Clery. They also represent a higher standard of behavior, one against which Stephen measures his own behavior. For example near the end of the novel Emma says she hopes Stephen does what he says he's going to do. Her remark comes across as a form of approval for readers and Stephen alike. Also, when Stephen's mother scolds him for not choosing the priesthood, Stephen will take it as a sign of motherly love and how he has failed in his duty to her.

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