Becoming An Artist Essay

1321 words - 6 pages

In James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man we follow Stephen Dedalus through the experiences in his life that transform him into an artist by the end. Most prominent among these experiences are the women he encounters and how his views of women in general evolve over time. It starts with his first attempts at poetry inspired by his mother and the governess of the Dedalus children Dante. Then evolves through his infatuation with Emma and later a girl he sees standing in the waves at a beach. Throughout A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen's evolving views of women serve as a catalyst that transforms him from a simple-minded, idealistic child, into the artist he ...view middle of the document...

As Stephen matures he comes to see women, and more specifically the sexual experience, as the thing that will ultimately transform him into the hero of his own tale. This belief comes from his daydreams inspired by his reading of The Count of Monte Cristo. Having read the story one summer during his stay with Uncle Charlie, Stephen would often play out fantastic adventures where he imagined himself as the Count in pursuit of his love Mercedes. Mercedes, though fictional, became the driving force which later inspired him to see sexual experience as having transformative powers. As
“the image of Mercedes traversed the background of his memory. […] and […] the soft speeches of Claude Melnotte rose to his lips [….] A tender premonition touched him of the tryst he had then looked forward to and […] the holy encounter he had imagined at which weakness and timidity and inexperience were to fall from him.” (70)

This idea of the transformation through sex is a repetition of one that had come up before during an evening ride to help deliver milk. He had “brooded” on Mercedes “image”. That “They would be alone, surrounded by darkness and silence: and in that moment of supreme tenderness he would be transfigured.”(44-45) Here the phrase “Weakness and timidity and inexperience” (45) also shows up as he firmly believes that such an encounter will cause these things to leave him. After failing to work up the courage to kiss a girl while alone with her, Stephen seeks out the services of a prostitute. He is ashamed at his own inability to initiate the experience he longs for. But even with a prostitute Stephen found that “his lips would not bend to kiss her.” It was her “sudden movement” that “joined her lips to his”, but despite his passive initiation he still felt “that he had suddenly become strong and fearless and sure of himself”. He felt that her lips “were the vehicle of a vague speech”(71) Stephen obtains the transformation he longed for but also quickly becomes addicted to the physical pleasure that sex brings. He starts to frequent prostitutes and indulge in all the other sins. However, he is also consumed by guilt over these indulgences and when it all becomes to much for him he turns back to Catholicism and to the Virgin Mary in particular for refuge and forgiveness.
For many years Stephen held a deep infatuation with a girl he barely knew named Emma. This infatuation eventually served to bring him out of his wanton indulgence. Just as he fantasized about sexual encounters with Mercedes he came to fantasize about sexual encounters with Emma. But as time went on he found himself questioning whether these thoughts were truly “boyish love”, “chivalry” and “poetry”. He felt “Shame [rising] from his...

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