A Portrait of The Artist

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Stephen Dedalus is born of a woman, created of the earth; pure in his childhood innocence. From this beginning stems the birth of an artist, and from this the novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce recounts Stephen's story. His journey is followed from childhood to maturity, and thus his transformation from secular to saintly to an awakening of what he truly is. The novel evolves from simple, childlike diction, to sophisticated, higher ideas and thoughts as Dedalus completes his transition into an artist. In the beginning, Dedalus sees the world in an almost sing-song nursery rhyme sense, with a "moocow" coming down the road. By the end of the novel, Dedalus is mature and worldly; a man who stands tall and who feels confident with "Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead." (238). Through the use of the symbols of woman and earth, and white and purification, Joyce gives his novel depth and wonder. These symbols follow an array of transformations, changing throughout the novel much like Stephen himself.
The figure woman goes from the mother figure, to that of the whore, and finally to the representation of freedom itself. As a child, the image of the mother figure is strong. It is nurturing and supportive, that of "a woman standing at the half-door of a cottage with a child in her arms . . ." (10) who shelters and protects and makes Stephen afraid to "think of how it was" to be without a mother. As Stephen grows, however, like any child his dependency of him mother begins to dwindle, as does his awe for her. He begins to question his relationship with her and she is suddenly seen as a dirty figure, beginning the transformation of Stephen's image of women; from that of mother to whore. He first begins to questions the purity of his mother, his creator, his earth, when confronted by class mates, who taunt and confuse the innocent act of kissing his mother. He suddenly wonders, "Was it right to kiss his mother or wrong to kiss his mother? What did that mean, to kiss? You put your face up like that to say good night and then his mother put her face down. That was to kiss." (24) However, later in the novel the image of the pure and novel mother appears once more, but not in the figure of Stephen's own mother. Rather, it is in the image of the Virgin Mary: the ultimate symbol of purity, nurturing, and creation. She is the giver of life to man as earth is to nature, creating the tie between earth and women: the bearers, the creators of life. Jesus, "He was born of a virgin pure, Mary the virgin mother." (110) Why can't the rest of man kind born as pure?
The figure of the whore physically begins with Stephen's first sexual encounter. From childhood he has heard of women like that of the whore, their names unspeakable at the dinner table, mistresses of highly noted figures. "But what was the name the woman had called Kitty O'Shea that Mr. Casey would not repeat?" (36) Stephen, however, is unaware and unable to comprehend this symbolic image until he reaches the real, physical whore who was "dressed in long vivid gowns" and "traversed the street from house to house." (88) In the actually encounter, Stephen felt "the warm calm rise and fall of her breast, [and] all but burst into hysterical weeping." (90) He feels this out of happiness, but it is also a symbolic loss of innocence, which he later weeps for consciously, because "His childhood was dead or lost and with it his soul capable of simple joys and he was drifting amid life and like the barren shell of the moon. The whore is she who takes innocence, she represents not only an evil of the flesh, but that of Eve herself. She was "the weaker vessel" and because of her temptation, Eden fell and the innocence of man was lost. "She ate the apple and give it also to Adam who had not the moral courage to resist her." (124) This scenario parallels Stephen's encounter with the whore. He is caught up in it all, he "weeps"