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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man asks much of you as a reader. It seems at first like an unrelated medley of sketches, snatches of dialogue, and fragments of action, thought, and feelings. But you'll find, as you continue, that these are related in Stephen's mind. With careful reading they will come together like the pieces of a puzzle to form a "portrait" of Stephen Dedalus, a young man who is developing into an artist.
Each of the five chapters represents a crucial period of Stephen's self-understanding, and is composed of scenes that don't follow each other in obvious order. Joyce separates these scenes (except in Chapter Five) with asterisks. For easier understanding, this guide has inserted headings where these asterisks occur. Headings have also been added at the beginning of each chapter and in Chapter Five, which has no asterisks.
The first chapter has four parts, including a prelude. Each part is a different scene from Stephen's early childhood.
This brief prologue may seem at first a random jumble of childish memories. But you'll find that every word counts. Joyce always prided himself on including most of his main themes in his opening sections, and he has done that in Portrait of the Artist. Watch for hidden meanings and clues to themes and motifs you'll find again later.
A small boy, Stephen, is awakening to life. His earliest memories are fragmentary and reflect the language of infancy and early childhood. His first one is of his father telling him a story about a "moocow" coming down the road. The "hairy" father is looking down at his son, "baby tuckoo," through a glass. Stephen also remembers singing a song about a rose.
The father's "glass" is probably a monocle, although some think it may be a stein of beer, because Stephen's (and Joyce's) father is a heavy drinker. The "hairy" (bearded) father is thought to be a symbol of God, since father and God are both authority figures for the little boy. The moocow-symbol of Ireland-refers to a traditional Irish tale of a white cow that takes children to an island kingdom to train them as heroes. You'll see cows again later. The rose is an important symbol of love and beauty that recurs throughout Portrait of the Artist.
Stephen next recalls some childish sense impressions. All five senses are represented: the feel of the wetness of his bed, the smell of the oilsheet (waterproof sheet), the sound of music, the taste of lemon-flavored candy, the sight of his governess Dante's maroon and green brushes. The clarity and creativity of his perceptions already suggest an artistic sensitivity.
Now there is a serious crisis in the tot's world. He seems to have done something that angered the grownups. He must apologize or the eagles will pull out his eyes, says Dante. He turns the frightening words into a rhythmic rhyme: "Apologise,/Pull out his eyes." The threat of punishment for his sins recurs frequently in Portrait of the Artist in similar forms. Stephen will be asked again and again to "admit," "confess," or "submit"- grownup versions of the earlier "apologise." The toddler is already struggling with guilt. The threat of blindness, too, is one that will recur. Birds like the eagle will also reappear-both as threatening symbols and as symbols of creativity and freedom.
What has Stephen done for which he must atone? Why does he hide under the table? It probably has something to do with Eileen, the little girl he plans to marry. Is it a parallel situation to one in Joyce's early life? Scholars have determined that Joyce and a girl named Eileen Vance were close friends as children. The family's governess, Dante Conway (the Dante Riordan of the novel), did warn Joyce that he would go to Hell if he married Eileen, who was a Protestant.
Brief as it is, this prelude tells you a good deal. You meet some of Stephen's family and friends, whom you'll know far better before the first chapter ends. You see some of Joyce's favorite symbols, like the rose, eyes, and flying (eagles).
You are also introduced to some of the key themes to be developed later: the struggle against conformity, the revolt against parental authority, the lure of sex (Stephen is already drawn to Eileen), the political problems of Ireland (Dante's maroon and green hair-brushes are symbols of political issues: the maroon brush stands for Michael Davitt, the green brush for Charles Stewart Parnell, both Irish nationalist leaders), and the sensitive artistic personality.
The prelude combines the language and subject matter of a small boy's mind so that you see things as he does, as if you were part of the story.
Music had a great influence on Joyce. Both he and his father had fine voices. Joyce once seriously considered becoming a professional singer. Here, little Stephen sings a song-"his song"- and dances to a tune. Joyce used his musical talent, not on the stage, but in his writing, where the sound of words is often as important as their meaning and even adds to their meaning.
The three episodes that follow present Stephen as a young child at Clongowes (its full name is Clongowes Wood College), a Catholic boarding school run by the Jesuit order, at home in Bray for the Christmas holidays, and back again at school.
Stephen's years at Clongowes correspond with Joyce's own stay there between the ages of six and nine. Stephen is probably six in the opening Clongowes episode. Joyce bares a cross section of the little boy's mind as it darts back and forth between memories of home and his first school experiences.