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SELF-DISCOVERY (continued)


The boys' wordplay comes from the Greek. "Bous" means "ox"; the name Stephen means "a garland." The boys are shouting, "oxwreathed," "ox-garlanded." In part, they're showing off their schoolboy learning. The references are also linked to locale. The seawall they stand on is called the Bull; Stephen has just come from Clontarf Chapel-in Gaelic, Clontarf means "the field of the bull." And by calling Stephen a bull, by referring to him as wreathed and garlanded-as if in celebration-they contribute to the sense of triumph and victory building in this scene.

Stephen's last name is even more laden with meaning. As he's beginning to understand, he shares it with "the fabulous artificer" of Greek myth, Daedalus. You're about to see the impact this sudden understanding has upon Stephen. Daedalus, too, is linked to the image of bulls. The maze he created was designed to contain the Minotaur, half-bull and half-man; it was from the Minotaur that he and his son, Icarus, escaped by means of their wax wings. Perhaps Stephen is both bull and artificer, both menace and the means of escape from that menace, his own worst enemy and his own best hope.

As Stephen hears his names called, he has a vision of a hawk-like man flying above the sea. He understands at last that, like hawk-like Daedalus, he is destined to be a creative artist. This is the call to which all his development, struggles, and doubts have been leading. He triumphantly rejects "the world of duties and despair," and "the pale service of the altar." He will exchange the power of the priesthood for the power of artistic creation-the priesthood of art.

The moment is one of rebirth, with Stephen's soul resurrected "from the grave of boyhood" to creative maturity. It's a moment of revelation, the book's central epiphany, which Joyce describes in intensely poetic terms.

Just as Stephen is breathlessly accepting the legacy of his namesake, Daedalus, one of the swimmers cries out: "O, cripes, I'm drownded!" This ominous cry echoes the old hag (of Chapter One) when Casey spit in her eye: "I'm blinded and drownded!" It also recalls the fate of Icarus, son of Daedalus, who fell into the sea because he flew too close to the sun with his wax wings. Stephen will try to soar and escape the labyrinth like Daedalus, the father. But he may fly too high and fall, like Icarus, the son.


You'll notice how much of this scene is filled with images of water and the sea, from the bodies of Stephen's friends that "gleamed with the wet of the sea," to the waves the dim, hawk-like figure flies above, to the call, "I'm drownded!" Sea and water have played an important symbolic role throughout the book. Earlier they usually (but not always) indicated dirt and impurity. Now their meaning is changing, perhaps from the force of Stephen's revelation. Water can still be a threatening element-Icarus drowned in the sea. But it can also be a symbol of richness and life. Here Joyce seems to be powerfully linking the sea to Stephen's rebirth as an artist. It's as if Stephen has been reborn and is now being baptized.

At the height of his ecstasy, Stephen sees a girl wading on the beach. She has the appearance of a strange and beautiful seabird. The girl is physically beautiful but unashamed; she is also compared to an "angel of mortal youth and beauty." Both a bird of the spirit and a sensual sea creature, she seems to fuse together, like the females before her, Stephen's ideals of womanhood-passionate and spiritual. Only this time, the spiritual side is not totally virginal and sexless, and the sensuality is not unrestrained but natural and healthy. This angel is sturdy and earthbound. She returns Stephen's gaze calmly.


The girl Stephen sees wading is one of the most powerful images in Portrait of the Artist. "A strange and beautiful seabird," she fuses two important symbols. As a bird, she symbolizes the creative freedom represented a few pages earlier by Stephen's vision of "a hawk-like man." As a creature of the sea, she's linked to the power of the sea to give Stephen a new life as an artist.

Stephen's vision also has religious overtones. In some ways, she's a version of his worshipped Virgin Mary; her slate-blue skirts, for example, are the color associated with the Virgin. But rather than representing Catholicism, she represents Stephen's new, secular religion: art. "Heavenly God," Stephen cries out. But he cries "in an outburst of profane [ungodly] joy"- a sign his vision is not Christian but earthly.

You can also see the girl as Stephen's Muse, his artistic inspiration. And perhaps she's a symbol of the sexual joy Stephen hopes to find in his new life, a mermaid who trails seaweed and with her siren call lures Stephen toward a world of sensuality. Because Stephen calls her "a dark plumed dove," some readers feel she represents his desire for a merger of religious peace and earthly, sensual love.

Stephen walks off across the beach, singing and calling out to life. Later, he falls asleep, exhausted, his soul "swooning" into some new world.

This scene of Stephen's double ecstatic visions-the first of the creative artificer who shares his name, the second of the young girl who calls him to art-is generally considered the climax of the novel. Stephen has found his path. Notice, too, how this triumphant final scene follows the pattern established in earlier chapters. From a low point at the beginning of the chapter, Stephen has risen again to victory. He has gone from self-doubt to self-discovery. Will he plunge again into despair before he is ready at last to fly from the nest?

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