It is universally acknowledged that childhood and adolescence are the formative years of a person. Our family, the language we learn, and the culture that props out from it, our schooling and all other areas of formal socialisation, all of it, condition the kind of person we turn out to be. Our individuality relies on the virtues and vices we imbibe into us, and the ones we deem fit to abandon. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a testimony to these formative years. Told through the perspective of Stephen Daedalus, we journey through his childhood to his university days. The novel depicts what it is like to grow up in a modern world.

Stephen grows up in the backdrop of 19th century Ireland, bewildered by the modern world. Joyce, a master of stream of consciousness technique, documents Stephen’s growth by capturing the processes and rhythm of his thought. At various points, he takes unannounced leaps into the past in his narration, exploring Stephen’s spiritual history. Since the narration is limited to Stephen’s consciousness, it is at times difficult to differentiate between subjective and objective realities.

Joyce draws heavily from literature, he alludes to great writers like Byron, Yeats, Alexandre Dumas and his Count of Monte Cristo, Aristotle, Aquinas, and not to forget the allusion to Daedalus, a craftsman and artist in Greek mythology, after whom our protagonist is named.

James Joyce


The last part of the novel takes form of a journal, the tone changing from an innocent story telling in the first pages of the book, to fragmented, estranged in the final section. Throughout the novel, Stephen was looking for a voice of his own, and in this last part we see him not imitating or quoting anyone, but only offering his own perceptions, dreams and insights.

The book is autobiographical to an extent, and Stephen has been called Joyce’s alter-ego. By the end of the book, Joyce presents what it means to be an artist – an isolated figure refusing all conventional political and religious pathways.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is an intertwining of life and literature. It depicts how the “artist” and the “young man” – one who creates art, and one who lives, complement and reinforce each other.


His heart danced upon her movements like a cork upon a tide. He heard what her eyes said to him from beneath their cowl and knew that in some dim past, whether in life or revery, he had heard their tale before.


He wanted to cry quietly but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music.


The object of the artist is the creation of the beautiful. What the beautiful is is another question.


To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life. A wild angel appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory. On and on and on and on!

His eyes were dimmed with tears, and, looking humbly up to heaven, he wept for the innocence he had lost.


[Smriti Choudhary studies English literature at Patna women’s college. She is a promising Poet and one of the very few young people left in the city who turn to literature without ulterior motives. She can be contacted at The Image has been taken from google]


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