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Stephen's Spiritual Development In A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man

1025 words - 4 pages

A Tortuous Path: an examination of Stephen's spiritual development in A
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Joyce divides A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man into five
chapters. At the end of each chapter exists somewhat of a revelation,
or a climatic moment and realization that Stephen has. These five
poetic moments in the novel mirror Stephen's artistic and spiritual
development, as he gradually shifts from being brought up in a devout
Catholic family to deciding to embrace life to the fullest, combining
both the realms of the spirit and the world- the respective realms of
Plato and Aristotle.

The events leading up the conclusion of Chapter 1 lead Stephen to
question to omniscient correctness of his religious overseers in
Clongowes, and by extension, the Catholic Church. When he is unfairly
accused and punished for breaking his glasses, Stephen responds with
confusion. Dante taught Stephen as a child that the priests were
always correct, since they represented the Church, and "God and
religion [should come] before everything" (282). Dante's philosophy is
that "The bishops and priest of Ireland have spoken and they must be
obeyed" (274). However, the situation that Stephen becomes embroiled
in when the priest unjustly "pandies" Stephen's hands seems to
completely contradict all the dogma of the infallible Church that
Dante preaches to Stephen throughout his early childhood. "The prefect
of studies was a priest but that was cruel and unfair" (297). The
situation that causes Stephen to doubt the priestly infallibility is
not abstract or unrelated to Stephen's everyday life, such as the
Parnell issue that causes Mr. Dedalus and Mr. Casey to doubt the
church. Rather, the situation is of immediate importance to Stephen,
since Father Dolan physically chastised him with a pandybat and shamed
him before his classmates, and plans to do so again. At the end of
Chapter 1, Stephen's classmates reward him for questioning the
authority of Father Dolan and complaining to rector Conmee, who
absolves Stephen from further unfair punishment for accidentally
breaking his glasses. Hence, Stephen's reward encourages him to
continue questioning the infallibility of authority and the Catholic
Church.

At the end of Chapter 2, Stephen willfully embraces a mortal sin by
consorting with a prostitute, reflecting his turn away from the
dictates of the Church. Stephen gives himself up to the prostitute,
"surrendering himself to her, body and mind" (353). Stephen also
surrenders his soul to her and to the lifestyle she represents,
forsaking all but the most formal religious devotion after his becomes
thoroughly caught up in the sin of visiting prostitutes. His
submission to the prostitute is poetic moment at the end of Chapter 2,
and mirrors religious devotion, especially devotion to the Virgin
Mary. "In her arms he felt that he had suddenly become strong and
fearless and sure of himself" (352-353). In this manner,...

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