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Stephen Dedalus In James Joyce's A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man

3116 words - 12 pages

Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets

The spirit of Ireland is embodied in young Stephen Dedalus, the central character of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Like the Dedalus of Greek myth, Stephen must grow wings so that he may fly above the tribulations of his life. As he matures, Dedalus begins to understand his position in life, and decides to rise above the turbulent Ireland of the early 1900s in a rebellion against society, a struggle against his beliefs and a struggle against his heritage.

Joyce wrote A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in the decade preceding its first publication in 1916. The early 1900s was a turbulent time for Ireland, a time in which many groups and individuals were making pushes for an Independent Ireland. Joyce brings Irish politics in as a major theme for Stephen Dedalus to address. Stephen often Idolizes or admonishes different characters in Ireland's political landscape. Among these revolutionaries were the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood), Charles Steward Parnell, The revolutionaries of the 1916 Easter Rising and Sinn Fein.

In the same year A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was published, between 1000 and 1500 Irish patriots tried to capture the town of Dublin on Easter Day. The Easter Rising, as it was called, led to the death of approximately 1000 Irishmen and 500 Britons. Of the 1000 Irishmen, many were women and children, while of the 500 Britons; all were either soldiers or policemen. The Easter Rising was not a spontaneous event. Rather, it was the culmination of decades of oppressive rule.

In her paper Rebellion: Types of rebellion, Rosalie Wagner states 'Rebellion against society can also occur when people feel too oppressed or feel a need to stand out.' The political and cultural atmosphere of revolutionary Ireland was volatile and dangerous. Any opinion Stephen voiced was usually met with mixed feelings, reflective of the divided political and religious factions. Stephen felt the need to rebel: to break into a new setting-one in which he could be free to express all his thoughts.

The IRB was formed in 1858 as a group of Irish intellectuals who wanted to see an Ireland independent of British rule. The IRB put their support behind Charles Stewart Parnell, a protestant landowner with very radical nationalist ideals. Parnell is a topic of discussion during a political debate Stephen's family has over Christmas dinner, and is first mentioned while Stephen is at Clongowes Wood School, reminiscing about his Aunt, or Dante as he calls her - a holdover from when he was a baby and could not properly pronounce 'Auntie'. Stephen remembers Dante admonishing Parnell; this is Stephen's first introduction to politics.

As Stephen recalls,

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