A Portrait of the Artist as a
by James Joyce
“A day of dappled seaborne clouds.
The phrase and the day and the scene harmonised in a chord. Words. Was it their colours? He allowed them to glow and fade, hue after hue: sunrise gold, the russet and green of apple orchards, azure of waves, the greyfringed fleece of clouds. No, it was not their colours: it was the poise and balance of the period itself. Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and colour? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing sensible world through the prism of a language manycoloured and richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose?” ― James Joyce, A Portrait of The Artist As A Young Man
I first read this novel during my participation in the Four-year Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults at the University of Chicago. I have since read and reread this classic work by James Joyce. It is a portrait in words of the coming-of-age of a young boy in Ireland. As a portrait its words resonate with the ideas of Aristotle and the faith of Roman Catholicism and the spirit of music. Music, especially singing, appears repeatedly throughout A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Stephen's appreciation of music is closely tied to his love for the sounds of language. I remember being told by a close friend that Father Arnall’s sermon on Hell was the same sermon she heard while a youth in a catholic neighborhood in Chicago more than fifty years later. Stephen is attracted to the church for a brief period but ultimately rejects austere Catholicism because he feels that it does not permit him the full experience of being human.
From the opening lines, “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo”, Stephen grows in awareness and towards his artistic destiny through the words that delineate the world around him. Joyce's use of stream of consciousness makes A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man a story of the development of Stephen's mind through words as he grows through experience. Stephen's development gives us insight into the development of a literary genius. Stephen's experiences hint at the influences that transformed Joyce himself into the great writer he is considered today. Stephen's obsession with language; his strained relations with religion, family, and culture; and his dedication to forging an aesthetic of his own mirror the ways in which Joyce related to the various tensions in his life during his formative years. In the final moment when he goes "to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience" of his race he raises a banner that seems emblematic of the life of the author of this inspiring novel.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. Penguin Books, 1987 (1916).