Search for Kinship in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
At the heart of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man lies Stephen Dedalus, a sensitive young man concerned with discovering his purpose in life. Convinced that his lack of kinship or community with others is a shortcoming that he must correct, Stephen, who is modeled after Joyce, endeavors to fully realize himself by attempting to create a forced kinship with others. He tries many methods in hopes of achieving this sense of belonging, including the visiting of prostitutes and nearly joining the clergy. However, it is not until Stephen realizes, as Joyce did, that his true calling is that of the artist that he becomes free of his unrelenting, self-imposed pressure to force connections with others and embraces the fact that he, as an artist, is fully realized only when he is alone.
Stephen is painfully aware of his difficulty relating to others early on— the other boys at his first school mock him about his name and his family; his body feels "small and weak" amongst the other boys’ on the football field; he is pushed into a ditch. (Joyce, 246) Frequently, Stephen appears to mentally separate from himself and observe himself from outside Earth’s confines; he writes a progression of "himself and where he was" that reads "Stephen Dedalus…Class of Elements…Clongowes Wood College…Sallins…County Kildare…Ireland…Europe…The World…The Universe". (Joyce, 255) Though Stephen demonstrates by this list that he is all too aware of his own self and his technical place in the universe, his need to solidify this awareness to himself reveals his uncertainties about how he relates to his surroundings.
"With a sudden movement she bowed his head and joined her lips to his and he read the meaning of her movements in her frank uplifted eyes. It was to much for him. He closed his eyes, surrendering himself to her, body and mind, conscious of nothing in the world but the dark pressure of her softly parting lips. They pressed upon his brain as upon his lips as though they were the vehicle of a vague speech; and between them he felt an unknown and timid pressure, darker than the swoon of sin, softer than sound or odour." (Joyce, 353) This passage chronicles Stephen’s first sexual encounter, a visit with a prostitute. The encounter comes as Stephen’s intense feelings of spiritual solitude are reaching a peak; so much so that his "blood was in revolt". (Joyce, 351) As a result of this revolt, Stephen goes in search of the immediate contact with others that he has lacked, and finds it in what he recognizes as sin. His wish to "sin with another of his kind, to force another being to sin with him and to exult with her in sin" (Joyce, 351) goes well beyond the lustful urges of young men; the true lust here is lust for companionship and an outlet to escape his torturous solitude.
From the beginning of the encounter Joyce makes it clear that while Stephen believes that...