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A Portrait Of The Deluded Artist

1717 words - 7 pages

Few novels capture the peculiarity of the human mind as well as James Joyce’s, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Frustrating and awe-inspiring at the same time, the fleeting ambiguity with which Joyce depicts Stephen’s character leave the reader often puzzled and asking the natural question, “What is this supposed to mean?” We can then remain in this state of perplexity or try to interpret the subtle clues, dispersed throughout the book, in hope of arriving closer to the hidden meaning of what the author’s intention was for his readers to comprehend. Perhaps the most unsatisfying obscurity of this novel is its ending—is Stephen successful in becoming the liberated artist he aspires to be? Is he truly released from the bounds of external forces, or is his transformation into an independent being only an illusion? As Stephen chooses to rid himself from the religious constraints, perhaps he has only deceived himself into a delusion of attaining complete freedom and, in reality, converted to a different kind religion.
Since he is little, Stephen shows a deep appreciation of esthetics as he perceives the world through his senses. He consider the way his bed “is warm then it gets cold” as he wets it and “the queer smell” of the oil sheet his mother put on (Joyce 5). He pays great attention to sounds and smells such as how the burning of a lit gas makes “a light noise like a little song” (Joyce 9). His fondness of language can also be seen early on as he contemplates on the way draining water makes a “suck” sound (Joyce 8) or when he takes the holy communion pondering on “the word was beautiful: wine” (Joyce 39). It is in these moments we see Stephen’s appreciation for beauty, feelings, and the sounds of words alike. Stephen’s sensual preoccupation with the world becomes a source of conflict with his beliefs as he discovers his sexuality. Growing up in a Catholic family and attending Jesuit school, Stephen recognizes his sexual desires as wrong and feels guilty as a result. Due to this clash between sexual morality and his desires, Stephen develops the belief, even if unconsciously, that according to God it is wrong to feel any desire at all. As a result, when he becomes radically religious, his feelings of guilt follow him everywhere he goes. In response, he persuades himself that by stripping his mind of any concept of beauty, pleasure, or desire whatsoever, he can purify himself. He goes to great lengths to mortify his senses by subjecting himself to noises which cause him “painful nervous irritation” and to odors “against which his sense of smell revolted” (Joyce 127). This type masochistic tendency of making himself uncomfortable, in belief that it is somehow pleasing to God, fails to acknowledge that his highly developed aesthetic appreciation is part of his identity. Instead of embracing this gift, perhaps given to him by God who after all would be the creator of anything beautiful, Stephen sets himself up for failure for one cannot...

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