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Free Study Guide-A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
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SHORT PLOT / CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis) (continued)

Chapter Four opens with Stephen parceling out each day to some aspect of church doctrine or to some method of penance for his sins. He usually feels sure of himself in his over-zealous adherence to church doctrine. He worries, though, that he might not be fully forgiven.

When he is called for a meeting with the director, he suspects the director’s purpose will be to persuade him to enter the priesthood. When the director presents his case, his main appeal is to the authority Stephen will enjoy as a priest and the power he will have over everyone.

As he is taking his leave from the director, Stephen hears boys singing a song, and the joy of the sound makes him smile. He is disconcerted to see no joy in the director’s eyes. As he walks away, he realizes he will not become a priest. He will not even maintain his vow to follow the church’s doctrines.

He walks toward the sea and there, he finds a group of his classmates swimming. They call out to him and he shrinks from the cold wet of the water and the look of their boys’ bodies. Yet as he walks on, he begins to realize that he wants to be an artist and he wants to write in a way that brings together the earth and the heavens. He begins to wade in the water when suddenly he sees a girl farther out in the water. Seeing her he exclaims at her beauty as a combination of the sacred and the profane. He feels sure of his choice of a life and finds joy in his revelation. He sleeps on the beach under the new moon.

Chapter Five begins when Stephen wakes up late for school at the university. His father calls down from his bedroom in abusive language at Stephen’s laziness. His mother worries on and on about his wayward life. They are living in poverty as Stephen goes to college. He is still a loner, standing apart. Now, though, he feels he is wrapped about in the beauty of language, and feels often happy in the dirty city of Dublin. Time is out of whack in this life he is leading. The school is boring and reduces the vitality of great literature to account ledgers of negative and positive criticism.


As he walks to school, he feels language is emptied of sense and made fascinating for its sound. He is working on an aesthetic theory. He sees Dublin ignorant but humbly aware of it. Mat Davin, a fellow student who has strong connections to Irish language and folklore, has told him of an encounter he had one night with a peasant woman who offered to let him spend the night with her. He refused.

A flower seller asks Stephen to buy flowers. He sees her first as guileless and then as sordid. As he nears the school, he thinks of Dublin as old and shrunken since its gallant youth as told by his elders.

At the university, he is too late for his French class and too early for Physics. In the physics theater, he sees the dean of studies trying to start a fire. Stephen tries to engage him in conversation about his problems working out his aesthetic theory, but the priest keeps slipping off to mundane and tangential questions. The physics lecture is language-centered, at least the part that filters into Stephen’s hearing. The professor makes a distinction between the words elliptical and ellipsoidal. Stephen’s fellow student, Moynihan, jokes at every possible opening.

After class another student is circulating a petition for universal peace, a petition Stephen refuses to sign. The other man pushes him on the question and Stephen demonstrates his firm commitment to being removed from any political stance despite the fact that such a position brings him scorn from others. He sees Davin outside. Davin calls him a born "sneerer." Stephen talks a walk with Lynch and tells him his aesthetic theory. He says that art is static, not kinetic. He describes art as striving to express what is seen on the "gross earth." He adds the Platonic idea of a connection between beauty and truth. He describes the phases of artistic apprehension. First there is synthesis; the spectator sees it whole. Second, there is analysis of its parts in relation to the whole. Next, there is the recognition of the art as a thing. Stephen next addresses the question of what is art. Literature is, for Stephen, the highest, most spiritual form of art, but he is bothered by literature’s tendency to mix forms. He also describes his view of the impersonal artist. Stephen and Lynch arrive at the library and take shelter there from the rain. Stephen’s "beloved" (Emma) is there.

The next morning, Stephen wakes up feeling the joy of poetic inspiration. He thinks of the night before when he was at a social in Emma’s parlor. He thinks of her with a young priest a few weeks earlier, the sight of which made him very jealous. He decides she’s the figure of womanhood in Ireland. He thinks of himself as a priest of art, transmuting the sordid life of Dublin into radiant and eternal art. The thought gives him more lines for his poem. Then he becomes warm with lustful thoughts of Emma naked and yielding to him and he finishes the poem.

Later, at the library again, Stephen stands alone looking at the swallows flying overhead. He thinks of his mother’s reproaches ad he thinks of his namesake flying to freedom. He goes upstairs to find Cranly and Dixon reading out of a book on chess. They all leave together. Stephen wants to speak to Cranly, but first Cranly gets into an altercation outside the library with a younger student, Temple. Emma comes out of the library and nods to Cranly. Stephen suspects Cranly for a moment. He walks away from the group of students. He thinks of poetry and feels good. Then his thoughts are interrupted when he feels a louse crawling on his neck and begins to feel despair in his dirty poverty. He returns to the group and watches as Cranly chases Temple with Stephen’s walking stick.

Finally, Stephen and Cranly walk on together alone. He tells Cranly of an argument he had with his mother. She wants him to take communion and he has refused. Cranly points out that Stephen’s mother has had a hard life and that Stephen should make it easier for her by taking communion. He also pints out the contradictions in Stephen’s rejection of Roman Catholicism. Stephen readily admits these contradictions, but says he is most afraid of paying false homage to such a venerable tradition. He tells of his plan to leave Ireland. He tells Cranly that he is not afraid of being alone.

The chapter ends on a series of twenty-three journal entries. The first describes his talk with Cranly the night before. He thinks of Cranly’s mother and Cranly as a child of exhausted loins. In another entry, he records his feeling of freedom now. He worries about not having seen Emma out at all. He describes conversations with his mother, his dreams, the story of a woman who lost her child to a crocodile in the Nile. He finally sees Emma. He sees Davin who urges him to stay in Ireland. He celebrates Spring. He critiques his writing. He looks up a word the director of studies, a British Jesuit, had condescendingly thought of as Gaelic and finds out it is British after all. He hears the story of an old Irish man who thinks people far off must be very queer.

He meets Emma on the street one day and tells her his plans in romantic language. She wishes him well and he realizes he likes her for the first time. He is excited at the prospect of leaving feeling as if the road is arms held out to embrace him. The penultimate entry records his mother’s hope that he will learn about the heart and the last entry addresses his father (or Lucifer) as an artificer asking him to stand him in good stead.

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