Dedalus: Don’t Fly too Close to the Sun

March 7, 2019 by Essay Writer

In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a bildungsroman, James Joyce emphasizes religious and intellectual awakening through the main character Stephen Dedalus. Through his hectic and unsatisfactory childhood, Stephen learns from his mistakes and develops into an adult with aspirations. James Joyce depicts the maturation of Stephen Dedalus by utilizing greek mythological allusions of Daedalus and bird imagery.

Through the use of a mythological allusion to Daedalus, Joyce displays Stephen’s personal growth away from his fatal flaws and towards his goal of becoming an artist. Stephen is forced to repeat his name by the dean of studies. The repetition of his name brings him to ponder on its connection to Daedalus, the greatest mythological inventor. He notices parallels between his life and the story, this provides him with hope for a brighter future. He thinks, “Now at the name of the fabulous artificer, he seemed to hear the noise of dim waves and to see a winged form flying above the waves…was it a quaint device opening a page of some medieval book of prophecies and symbols, a hawk-like man flying sunward above the sea” (Joyce 183). Joyce utilizes a mythological allusion to the story of Daedalus and Icarus and their escape from the labyrinth to further develop Stephen’s conflicted character. He alludes to Daedalus and Icarus as a way to explain Stephen’s erratic behavior in his youth and his newfound aspirations for his future. Stephen is compared to Icarus because of his fascination with the world around him. He often becomes distracted by his surroundings, which parallels Icarus’ curiosity that ultimately leads to his demise. Joyce is providing a warning that youthful curiosity will lead to someone’s fall by using the allusion to emphasize Stephen’s flaws. Stephen is also like Icarus in the sense that labyrinths or nets ensnare him and restrain him. For Icarus it is a real labyrinth with a Minotaur; however, Stephen is prohibited from moving forward with his life due to the many temptations he is faced with. Some of these temptations are his escapades with prostitutes that leads Stephen down a path filled with sin. Joyce is forewarning that these actions are going to bring about the same fate that Icarus met if there is no change in behavior. Stephen does change his behavior and that is when he is compared to Daedalus the master craftsman. Just as Daedalus created wings in order to escape his prison, Stephen will use his newfound calling of artistry to save him from his prison, or sad and disappointing life.

In addition to the use of mythological allusions, Joyce contributes to the overarching theme of a desire for freedom through the inclusion of bird imagery. Stephen is confronted by his school’s director and encouraged to consider a life as a priest. When contemplating what a life of priesthood would be like, Stephen is underwhelmed and realizes it would be a bland and cold existence. He has an epiphany, “His throat ached with a desire to cry aloud, the cry of a hawk or eagle on high, to cry piercingly of his deliverance to the winds. This was the call of life to his soul not the dull gross voice of the world of duties and despair, not the inhuman voice that had called him to the pale service of the altar” (Joyce 183). There is a repetition of bird imagery throughout the book. The motif of birds is representative of freedom: the freedom that evades Stephen during his youth. He is unhappy with the life he is living; he doesn’t want to continue to fall down the path of sin or to live the dull life of priesthood. Stephen realizes he is destined for something greater. This realization provides him with the freedom that he has longed for. He finds the courage to take “flight” and break free from the nets that were restraining him. The OED defines deliverance as an utterance; setting free. In the context of this passage, Joyce exploits the double meaning of the word by having Stephen utter his sadness to the wind. However, the underlying meaning of deliverance is to set free and when Stephen express his true feelings he is able to set himself free form his destructive childhood and move forward to become an artist. Joyce’s intention is to emphasize Stephen’s conflicts and how he overcomes them.

James Joyce uses the coming of age story of Stephen Dedalus to demonstrate the challenges of growing up and emphasizes it by comparing Stephen to the mythological characters Daedalus and Icarus. Stephen becomes stuck in a circle of poor decisions. Overtime he feels he has resolved on, he gets pulled down by another. He continually succumbs to temptation; however, he never stops trying to reform his life. This perseverance is crucial to making a change. Joyce’s claims emphasize the importance of personal growth and freedom. He demonstrates this through Stephen who had a troubled youth but did not allow that to stop him from pursuing his dream of becoming an artist.

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