The Artist as Hero in A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man
A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man by James Joyce is a partly autobiographical account of the author's life growing up. The novel chronicles the process through which the main character, Stephen, struggles against authority and religious doctrine to develop his own philosophies on life. Stephen is not necessarily rebelling against God and his father as much as he is finding his own person, creating his own life. He is an artist, not because of the outcome of his life, but because of the process he goes through to achieve that outcome. The artist is a hero because of the sacrifices he makes, the persecution he endures, and the risks he undertakes merely to set foot towards his vision.
Joyce demonstrates that whether or not Stephen achieved his vision is insignificant to the actual journey itself. First of all, the novel concludes not with the outcome of Stephen's life but with the beginning stages of his journey. "Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead," he writes in the last sentence of the novel. Joyce purposefully ends the book before Stephen's sets off, to emphasize that the process he undergoes to reach that point where he can reject the very foundation upon what his life was based is where the importance lies. The infamous hell scene spans over twenty pages not to frighten the reader as much as to show how difficult it is to even become an artist and fight conformity. All process towards breaking away is lost after the preacher's sermon on hell, as shown in the following passage:
He beat his breast with his fist humbly, secretly under cover of the wooden armrest. He would be at one with others and with God. He would love his neighbor. He would love God Who had made and loved him. He would kneel and pray with others and be happy. God would look down on him and on them and would love them all. It was easy to be good.
Stephen has just thrown away a slow but obvious rebellion and endured a life of humiliation and ridicule, only to end up back where he started. His 'easy' retreats back to conformity and accepted doctrine are used to demonstrate how all the more profound his ultimate evolution into an artist is. It also shows how the artist, like Hercules or Superman, is a hero; not because of the arduous physical tasks, but rather, because of the more difficult mental and spiritual changes and challenges that need to be overcome.
Secondly, Stephen's decision to pursue his life as an artist, over his family, his country, and in some ways, God, shows that he is not being selfish and self-centered. He chooses a potential life of loneliness, poverty, and exile over a less grueling life of conformity and obedience. Stephen decides to lead such a life not because he is masochistic, but because he realizes the corruptness of the world he lives in. Even at an early age, he experiences...