James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Yong Man” Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: May 7th, 2019

There are several rather important motifs in “A Portrait of the Artist as a Yong Man” by James Joyce, but one of the most critical ones is the development of the character and morality. It serves as the key to the whole story as everything that takes place is seen from Stephen’s point of view, so his perception and understanding of the surrounding social and personal environment is instrumental in understanding the story itself.

From the very first lines, it is possible to see how Stephen values his memories, and the seemingly insignificant recollections of his childhood.

He remembers the feeling of his bed sheets and characterizes them as cold. This is critical because a child recalling his bed as cold is really saying that there were some major limitations in his life, and there was no real choice that could be made by the child. When Stephen remembers his mother and the way she smelled, it is notably important because it speaks about his connection with his mother and the affection she must have given him.

The applause that he received from Dante and Uncle Charles is significant of his development as an artist (Joyce, 2011). It also hints to the fact that from an early age he appreciated attention and praise for his art. This is the beginning of the formation of a character who will be sensitive to the surroundings, artistic and appreciative of specific stimuli received from the immediate world.

There is a direct link to the author of the novel, as Stephen’s character represents Joyce’s individuality. This is why there is a distinct difference between Stephen’s reality and that of other people. From his early years, he has been thinking that he was created for something else, a higher purpose which he will eventually accomplish and people will praise him for it (Bloom, 2009).

A further analysis of Stephen’s character reveals that he is not like other children. Starting with his childhood memories, the talks of his relatives that he has overheard and his own contemplation of the world, are all pieces of the puzzle that make up his character. Even though his memories are important to him, he focuses on the present. He remembers himself as trying to portray Count of Monte Cristo in real life.

The times he was emerged in the novels of Dumas, he was in a dreamy state where he was separate from reality. His unique character is seen throughout his childhood, teenage years and early adulthood. From the very beginning there is reference to God and cosmos, and Stephen’s philosophizing on what is the reality and where he fits in. This is indicative of the inner battle that was going on for such a long time.

In school, he was always thought of as an outsider, but he did not mind to stay separate from others. When he heard conversations on God or politics, he developed his own opinion and refused to follow in the footsteps of those who made themselves out to be wiser and more knowledgeable. In the process, his morality and ethics grow, only to realize that even though there have been some mistakes, he is wiser because of them, and he eventually chooses the right path.

The development of Stephen’s personality is an interesting journey into the inner workings of any person. The battles that go on within an individual are characteristic of the victories that morality has over absurdity and senselessness.


Bloom, H. (2009). James Joyce. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing.

Joyce, J. (2011). A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man. London, UK: Interactive Media.

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