A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man | Study Guide

James Joyce

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Course Hero, "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Study Guide," February 27, 2017, accessed September 28, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Portrait-of-the-Artist-as-a-Young-Man/.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man | Motifs


Father Figures

Viewed from one perspective, the novel is full of father figures. Simon Dedalus, Stephen's biological father, becomes a deteriorating image of family. He and Stephen are close, but Stephen clearly recognizes his father's flaws: Simon's drinking, long-windedness, social flattery, and fiscal irresponsibility. Stephen's masters and teachers at his various schools also serve as sources of familial warmth, either disciplining Stephen or indicating possible life paths to him, as when the rector at Stephen's Jesuit school suggests strongly that he join the priesthood.


Joyce uses literary quotations throughout the novel. Sometimes they are a reference to Stephen's early sincere prayers, and later they poke fun at the seriousness of university work. They also serve as a reminder that Stephen Dedalus's truest love is for the written word, even though he begins a life in the priesthood.

One of the earliest quotations in the book is a set of lines from Stephen's spelling book at Clongowes, beginning "Wolsey died in Leicester Abbey"; Stephen recognizes the words are "like poetry" because his artistic sensibility is struck by their beauty despite their purpose to teach spelling. Later, when he is at the Jesuit school and is reading a Latin passage out loud, he "[lulls] his conscience to its music," as often the meaning of words is far less important to him than their sound.

Joyce juxtaposes popular music of the time with the scholarly quotations. Traditional Irish song manifests the draw of nationality for Stephen, as the words stir love in his heart. Near the very end of the book, Joyce includes a William Blake quotation about the death of a character named William Bond. Stephen cries inwardly, "Alas, poor William!" in sympathy for William Bond and in empathy with William Blake; he also alludes to the famous cry, "Alas, poor Yorick," from Shakespeare's Hamlet—a cry Hamlet utters while staring at a dead man's skull. Words from across time stir Stephen's soul as he gathers them in preparation for his exile as an artist.

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