Essay On Stephen’s Heroic Quest In Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man

3035 words - 12 pages

Stephen’s Heroic Quest in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

      

...His mother said:

-O, Stephen will apologise.

Dante said:

-O, if not, the eagles will come and pull out his eyes.

 

This utterance, which comes at the climax of the short first passage that Joyce presents to us, defines the heroic quest that Stephen (and/or his latent identity as mythic Daedalus) must undertake. He is, in this instance, bound by a strict commandment from "above" (from the towering grown-ups above him, from the air-borne, attacking eagles), from the poets of the past , and - most superficially  from his elders, to perform an act of "apology". Stephen seals this cosmic agreement with his little song:

 

Pull out his eyes,

Apologise,

Apologise,

Pull out his eyes.

 

Apologise,

Pull out his eyes,

Pull out his eyes,

Apologise.

 

Stephen internalizes his predicament  or legacy - by chanting the words that descend to him from layers of higher authority. He shapes the received words with his own voice (whether it be "out loud" or only inside his head), compresses /extractions phrases from the longer syntax, and utilizes rhyme in a patterned repetition. (In short, he has applied a "craft".)

 

If his mother, a temporal and merely parental figure, initiates young Stephen's artistic covenant in a mundane way, "Dante" (whose "real" identity in Stephen's world is sparsely revealed in this passage) is the accidental and incidental avatar of an old poet, or the "poetic tradition", or the artist-creator that Stephen (or Joyce, if we treat this work as autobiographical) must become. The implied historic Dante serves as a representative, for Stephen and Joyce, of the poetic craft (Daedalus is a craftsman in myth), and a link across time with the Classical world; the latter being a world that the grown and almost fully adult Stephen in Ulysses and his compatriots would feign inhabit. ( His comrade, dissatisfied with Ireland, instructs to Stephen, "Hellenise it." (p 6) ).

 

Eagles are the sacred birds of Zeus (and not indigenous to Ireland). As the voice of "Dante" speaks from another time (14th century Italy), so he also speaks of a far away land and kosmos in which this foreign bird exists, and on another level, where Zeus is the most powerful god of an ancient pantheon. (It cannot be coincidental that "Thunder"  the natural phenomenon associated with the Zeus deity - is the last name of a little boy in the following "section" of part I (p 21), presented as an ironic [as this is a tussle between school boys] but over-powering, unbeatable foe.)

 

These two "shots from the blue" (flashes of dialogue from mother and Dante on the page before Stephen rains out his song), both introduced by an archaic, inspired, and elevated "O" (or, a mere interjective, colloquial "O", if we read these lines mundanely, as in common speech; both levels, mundane and elated, are surely implied by...

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