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Free Study Guide-A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 2

Summary (continued)

It is the night of the Whitsuntide play. Stephen is in the dressing room looking out the window at the lawn where Chinese lanterns are set up. He watches the visitors coming down from the house and entering the theatre. The theatre is set up in the gymnasium. Stephen imagines all the props set up in the gym, the large bronze shield, the vaulting horse, and he pictures all the gym equipment pushed to the side. Stephen is the secretary of the gymnasium, elected to this position by virtue of his reputation for essay writing. He had no part in the first part of the program, but would play the part of a farcical pedagogue in the second part. He is now at the end of his second year at Belvedere.

A bunch of young boys come down from the stage and into the chapel. The vestry and chapel are full of excited boys and masters. The plump bald sergeant major is testing the springboard of the vaulting horse. A young man who will give a display of club swinging stands nearby and watches. The rattle of the dumbbells sounds out as another team gets ready to go on stage. Then, a prefect hustles the boys into the vestry. A group of boys dressed as Neapolitan peasants practices at the end of the chapel. In a corner of the chapel, an old lady kneels, but when she stands up, it is clear that there is a golden haired figure dressed in pink beside her. The boys are curious about who this is. A prefect goes over to her and asks "Is this a beautiful young lady or a doll that you have here, Mrs. Tallon?" Then, he says he realizes it is instead little Bertie Tallon after all. Stephen hears them all laughing. He feels impatient. He walks out into the chapel and goes out to the shed beside the garden. He can hear the sounds from the theatre. The side door of the theatre opens and Stephen can hear a burst of music. When the door shuts, he can hear the music faintly. The sentiment of the music "their languor and supplied movement," evoke Stephenís "incommunicable emotion" that had been with him all day. Suddenly, he hears a noise like a "dwarf artillery." Itís the applause that greets the dumbbell team when they get on stage.


Stephen notices a speck of pink and walks towards it. Itís two boys smoking. One of them is Heron who announces Stephenís presence as "noble Dedalus" and then bows and laughs. Heron says he was just telling his friend, Wallis, how funny it would be if Stephen satirized the rector with his part of the schoolmaster. Heron makes a poor attempt to imitate the rectorís voice and then asks Stephen to do it. Just as he is saying "He that will not hearaa the churcha let him be to theea as the heathena and the publicana." The impersonation is interrupted by Wallis who begins lightly to curse the mouthpiece of his cigarette holder. Upon hearing that Stephen doesnít smoke, Heron assures Wallis that Stephen is a model youth, that he doesnít smoke, go to bazaars, flirt, "damn anything or damn all." Stephen laughs at Heronís joke and thinks about how odd it is that Heron has both a birdís name and a birdís face. The hair on his forehead is like the birdís crest, and a hooked nose stands out between prominent eyes. Stephen and Heron are rivals and friends. They are the virtual heads of the school since they excel so much in studies. They often go to the rector and ask for a free day or speak on behalf of boys who are in trouble.

Heron says he saw Stephenís "governor" (father) go into the theatre. This makes Stephen stop smiling. Any time a classmate or a master mentions his father, he always loses his calm. He worries what Heron will say next, but Heron says he is a "sly dog." He says he and Wallis saw a girl accompanying Mr. Dedalus and asking questions about Stephen. Stephen feels a moment of anger. For him, there is nothing amusing in a girlís interest in him. All day he has thought about her when he parted with her at the tram at Haroldís Cross and the poem he had written about it. He had felt the "old restless moodiness" again which, on the night of the party, had not been released by writing the poem. It has been two years since that night. It was these emotions that had made him impatient when the prefect joked with Bertie Tallon. Heron jokes again and hits Stephen softly on the calf of his leg with his cane. Stephenís anger has passed because he knows that the adventure in his mind cannot be touched by their joking. He wears a false smile like Heronís. Heron says, "Admit!" and strikes him again with his cane, this time a little harder. Stephen bows and begins to say the confession. Heron and Wallis laugh at Stephenís irreverence.

As Stephen had said the confession, a memory was triggered in his mind. It is a memory of when he was at the end of his first term at the college and he was in number six (a grade in the school). He was still bothered by the "undivined and squalid way of life" and the "dull phenomenon of Dublin." He had been able to enjoy his free time in reverie for two years, and was now thrust into a new scene in which "every event and figure affected him intimately, disheartened him or allured and, whether alluring or disheartening, filled him always with unrest and bitter thoughts." He spent all his leisure time reading subversive writers "whose gibes and violence of speech set up a ferment in his brain before they passed out of it in his crude writings."

He spent his most conscientious time on his weekly essays. As he would walk to school, he would imagine that whatever happened to him on the way would be his fate. If he passed the figure in front of him, for instance, he felt sure that would win the essay contest that week. On one Tuesday, Mr. Tate, the English master, said Stephen had written heresy in his essay. Stephen did not even look up. "He was conscious of failure and detection." He thought of his mind and his home as squalid and he felt his jagged collar against his neck. Then, Mr. Tate laughed. He read from Stephenís essay, the subject of which was the Creator and the soul "Ďwithout a possibility of ever approaching nearer.í Thatís heresy." Stephen had responded, saying that he meant to write "reaching" rather than "approaching." Mr. Tate was appeased and passed him his essay. Stephen remembers that even though Mr. Tate was appeased, the class kept thinking of it. A few nights later, he was walking with a letter along Drumcondra Road and he heard someone say, "Halt!" It was the boys from his class, Heron, Boland, and Nash.

When they turned onto Clonliffe Road, they started up the subject of books and writers, comparing the number of books in their fathersí bookcases. Boland was the dunce and Nash was the idler in the class at school, so Stephen was surprised at their talk of books. Nash said Captain Marryat was his favorite writer. Heron asked Stephen who the greatest writer was and Stephen replies that in prose, the greatest writer was Cardinal John Henry Newman. Heron said Tennyson was the greatest poet. Stephen burst out that Tennyson was nothing but a rhymester. Stephen said Byron was the greatest. All the three boys laughed scornfully. Heron said Byron was only a poet for uneducated people. When Boland piped in, Stephen told him to shut up, that he knew nothing about poetry but what he had written on the slates in the school yard "As Tyson was riding in Jerusalem / He fell and hurt his Alec Kafoozelum." This silenced Boland and Nash, but Heron continued, saying that Byron was a heretic and immoral. Stephen said he didnít care about that. Nash could not believe Stephen has said this. Stephen accused him of never having read any poetry. Boland said he did know that Byron was a bad man.

Heron told the others to catch hold of Stephen, the heretic. They reminded him of Tate calling him a heretic the other day. Boland said he would tell Tate tomorrow about Stephen. Stephen said he would be afraid and Heron told him to watch out and hit at Stephenís legs with his cane. Nash held his arms back and Boland grabbed a long cabbage stump off the ground and began hitting Stephen. Stephen struggled to get loose and was pushed back against the barbed wire fence. Heron said, "Admit Byron was no good." Stephen refuses. Heron keeps repeating, "Admit" and Stephen keeps saying, "no." Finally, he got free of them and the three of them ran toward Jonesís Road laughing and jeering at him. Stephen was left with torn clothes, blinded by his tears, "clenching his fists madly and sobbing."

In the present scene, as he is still citing the Confiteor (the confession) for Heron and Wallisís amusement, he wonders why he doesnít feel any malice toward Heron any more. He had not forgotten any of the scene of their cruelty, but he does not feel anything about it now. In light of this fact, when he reads scenes of fierce love and hatred in books, they seem unreal to him. Even that night as he went home, he felt that some power was relieving him of his anger like a fruit losing its peel.

Stephen stands with Heron and Wallis listening to them talk. He thinks of E.C. sitting in the theatre. He tries, but canít remember what she looks like. He only remembers that she had worn a shawl over her head and that her eyes had "invited and unnerved him." He wonders if she has thought about him as he has thought about her. In the dark, he rests the fingertips of one of his hands in the palm of his other hand, but remembers the pressure of her fingers being lighter and steadier. Suddenly, the memory of their touch sends a warm wave of sensation through his brain and body.

A boy comes running toward him. He says Doyle is very upset about him because he is to go in and get dressed for the play. Heron haughtily tells the boy that Stephen will come in his own time and that the boy should tell Doyle that he, Heron, damns his eyes. Stephen says he will go in. Heron advises him not to. He is annoyed that Doyle would be so rude as to send for a senior boy in such a manner. Stephen is not seduced by Heronís "spirit of quarrelsome comradeship" into being disobedient. He does not trust this kind of comradeship. It seems to him to be a "sorry anticipation of manhood." The question of honor that Heron has raised seems trivial to Stephen.

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