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'whenever We Look At Texts From The End Of The Nineteenth And The Beginning Of The Twentieth Century What We See Is Masculinity In Crisis'("Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man" James Joyce)

1625 words - 7 pages

Masculinity and the male finding his place in society or the world play an important role in literature of this period. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man we are confronted with a depiction of masculinity at its worst. Through the character of Stephen Dedalus, confused and unsure of where he fits in to his society, we are presented with an often uncomfortable journey of discovery and self realisation.Stephen's life works through many stages. He leads an unsettled life and the novel takes us through many of the processes of his growing up. His life can be divided in to five phases: Ignorance, sin, religion, reason and renaissance. Throughout the novel Stephen constructs his life around various aspects of these phases. Once he discovers sin he embraces this with everything within himself. He is comforted by the fact that he can sin so much and remain seemingly undiscovered and unpunished by God: 'No part of body or soul had been maimed but a dark peace had been established between them. The chaos in which his ardour extinguished itself was a cold indifferent knowledge of himself.' His hypocrisy makes him feel superior. He copes with his fear of God, retribution and life by pushing the boundaries to their limit; to see how far he can go before God pays attention to him.One theme that is common in literature which addresses the idea of masculinity is the need that the male has to live in a very clearly defined world. The need to live in black and white. Both sin and religion give Stephen this clarity. To be able to classify himself as a sinner helps him to accept himself. Stephen is emotionally stunted; he reacts to his inability to deal with emotional situations by living in extremes. When he sleeps with prostitutes he knows that this is wrong and sinful but it makes him feel so much more accepted than any other part of his life. The experience is described as 'In her arms he felt he had suddenly become strong and fearless and sure of himself,' (p.77). There is no other part of his life that can give him this confidence. Compared to the confusion he experiences trying to decide whether it is acceptable to kiss his mother goodnight: 'was it right to kiss his mother or wrong to kiss his mother,' (p.9). This demonstrates how extremes clarify Stephen's life for him when he is not equipped to deal with it himself.These phases that he experiences can also be loosely linked to history in general. During the period in which the novel was written, Ireland was in a mixture of the last three stages: Religion, reason and renaissance, this turbulent and rapidly changing society is one of the factors that adds to this feeling of crisis. The style of the narrative is disjointed and we are only presented with moments in Stephen's life, the pivotal moments which shape his decisions later on. This also draws us back to the style in which history is written. Within Stephen not only is the life and history of the artist told, but the whole of human social...

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