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Free Study Guide-A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
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Stephen devotes every day of the week to some aspect of his faith "Sunday to the Holy Trinity, Monday to the Holy Ghost, Tuesday to the Guardian Angels" and so on throughout the week. Each morning he stands before some spiritual image to renew his sense of holiness. He divides his daily life into devotional areas. He prays for souls in purgatory. He worries that he is not praying enough, so he prays more than is necessary. He divides up every part of his day. He feels as though his soul is pressing the keyboard of some great cash register. He says his rosary over and over throughout the day. He prays for one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit each day of the week. He worries that he does not know the sense of love or hate. He tries to realize that God had loved his soul individually for eons. The world becomes a "vast symmetrical expression of Godís power and love." It no longer exists for his soul. He wonders why he needs to keep living, but humbly accepts this necessity as a part of Godís plan.

He makes sure he doesnít leave off performing even the lowest devotions. He brings each of his senses under rigorous discipline. He tries to mortify all his senses. He finds a smell that makes him sick and takes every opportunity to smell it. He refuses to look up as he walks through the streets, and especially avoids looking at women. He keeps away from the fire and leaves his hands out of his pockets to mortify his sense of touch. He feels no temptation to sin mortally, but wonders at the ease of this will. He finds it most difficult to merge his life with "the common tide of other lives." He uses the confessional to repent all the subtle ways he has failed at living a pure life. He feels the strange attraction to the idea of going back into the life of sin, just to show how much power he has to undo all that he has worked to accomplish. Yet, he always saves himself with a prayer from falling again. Then he wonders if his first confession was even valid, since he did it out of a fear of hell. He reassures, himself, however that he has amended his life, and is therefore safe.

The director of his school has called him for a meeting. Stephen waits for him, wondering what the meeting will be about, but half-suspecting its subject. The director finally comes into the room. Stephen half listens to him as he goes on and on in a long preamble to the subject of his speech. He tries to mirror the directorís emotions. Stephen thinks of the Jesuits he has known in his school years. He thinks of them "as men who washed their bodies briskly with cold water and word clean cold linen." He has great respect for them. He had only been punished twice in all his years in school even though he had often escaped punishment. He had always been obedient to the priests, never following his friendsí rebellious talk or ways. Lately, he had had some doubts about the priestsí certain knowledge. He had heard a priest make some ignorant comments about Victor Hugo and felt shame at the priestís revelation of his thoughtlessness. He has felt as if he were leaving a familiar world behind and hearing its language for the last time.

The director finally gets to his point. He asks Stephen if he has ever felt the calling to the priesthood. Stephen answers that he has. Stephen hears a strong note of pride in the priestís voice as he tells Stephen of the wide and far-reaching powers of priesthood. Stephen feels the same shame that he felt for the other priest who made the ignorant remarks. He realizes that he has had the same sense of pride in thinking of himself one day as a priest. He thinks of all the images of himself as a priest that he has harbored. He thinks of hearing all the peopleís confession. He thinks of being free from sin as he handled the Eucharist. The director finally tells him he will dedicate his mass the next morning to Stephenís process of thinking about joining the priesthood. He holds his hand out to Stephen as if to an equal. At that moment, Stephen hears the song of a group of four boys walking arm in arm. It makes him smile. As he looks up at the priestís face, though, he sees only "a mirthless reflection of a sunken day."

As he leaves the college to walk home, he thinks of the "grave and ordered and passionless life that awaited him." He sees the dormitory where the priests live and wonders which window would be his if he became a priest. He thinks of his name with the letters of the Jesuit order following it. He sees himself leading the cold and ordered days of this life. He realizes that he will never become a priest, that "his destiny was to be elusive of social and religious orders." He realizes that he will fall again into sin. As he turns onto the lane of his home, he thinks of the man who gardens in the vegetable patch behind his house. He always looks in the four directions and then regretfully plunges his spade into the earth. As he enters his kitchen, he sees his brothers and sisters finishing a very poor meal. He asks them where his parents are and is told that theyíve gone once again to look at another place to move because the landlord is turning them out. He laughs to think that he is choosing the disorder of his fatherís life over the order of the priesthood. His brothers and sisters start singing songs and, after a while, he joins in.

He gives up in his wait for his father outside a pub. His father is inside speaking with Dan Crosby, a tutor, to find out about getting Stephen enrolled in college. Stephen walks away toward another pub, hoping his father wonít call out to him to stop and come back. He knows his mother doesnít approve of the idea. He sees that she has grown much more devoted to religion as he has lost his faith. He feels as if she is disloyal to him. He feels a momentary antagonism toward her and then returns to his customary sense of duty toward her. He realizes he is separating from his mother.

He looks forward to university as an adventure and feels happy to have escaped the call to the priesthood. He turns toward the sea. As he passes over a bridge, a squad of priests, walking two by two passes him. He feels a tinge of shame and hides his face from them. He whispers a phrase that he has lately written "A day of dappled seaborne clouds." He thinks about words. He thinks about the color of words. The way to name the colors of the world. Then he thinks about the poise and balance of the sentence. He wonders why he is more drawn to the form of a perfectly balanced sentence than what kind of story of the sensible world that it relates.

He leaves the "trembling bridge" behind and returns to land. The air is suddenly cold. He looks out over the water and sees a storm is starting. He feels his old repulsion of the cold of the sea. He thinks of Europe beyond the waters and feels that "a voice beyond the world was calling." Suddenly he hears his schoolmates calling him, playing with his name "Stephanos!" The others have been swimming. They call out roughly with threats to duck him under the water. Stephen is chilled just by looking at their "wet nakedness." He stands still watching them and answering their calls. Without their usual clothes on, they all look more like adolescents than usual. He stands apart from them and remembers with dread that he stands "in the mystery of his own body." As they call out his name in its Latinate forms, he feels suddenly proud of his strange name and remembers the Dedalus of legend who tried to fashion a pair of wings out of wax, flew too close to the sun, which melted them, and was plunged to the earth. He realizes it is a "symbol of the artist forging anew in his workshop out of the sluggish matter of the earth a new souring impalpable imperishable being."

He feels elated at this revelation. He feels as though his soul is soaring. He wants to call out like a bird. He feels as if it is the call of his soul, not the call of the lifeless world of the priesthood. He feels like his soul has risen from the grave of boyhood. He calls out "Yes! Yes! Yes! He would create proudly out of the freedom and power of his soul" just as the legendary Dedalus, the artificer, had done. He would create something that was living but also imperishable. He feels a lust to wander. He looks out over the water and takes off his shoes, to wade into it. After wading a while, he notices a girl standing in midstream. She looks like a bird with thin legs, skirt lifted like a birdís down, and long hair of her youth. He stands in awe of her mortal beauty. She turns and sees him looking at him and does not look away, but looks back at him quietly. He cries out, "ĎHeavenly God!í . . . in an outburst of profane joy."

He turns away and walks across the beach. He feels elated. He feels like the girlís image has passed into his soul as an emblem of his pledge to create "life out of life." He thinks of her as an angel of mortal youth. Suddenly he stops walking, realizing he has walked a long distance and it is late. He feels the sky above him is indifferent and the earth beneath him has taken him to its breast. He lies down and sleeps. When he wakes, it is evening. He feels great joy. He climbs a sandhill and looks at the new moon in the sky. The tide is flowing in quickly.


After a brief time of renunciation, in which Stephen takes seriously every question of theology and every injunction to flee from sin, he is faced with the choice of his life. He is invited to answer the call of priesthood. The director, who calls him to make this choice himself is guilty of the worst of the seven deadly sins, pride. It is not so much the directorís pride, though, that turns Stephen off to the priesthood. It is the directorís inability to feel the joy in the song the four boys are singing as they walk arm in arm over the green.

Here, Stephen recognizes the choice between the priesthood and the secular life as one between the spirit and the flesh. When he returns home and finds the poor state of the flesh in his fatherís poverty-stricken household, he ruefully accepts the flesh as the more attractive choice. However, it is not ultimately a denial of the sacred in an embrace of the profane. Stephen wants to find a way to combine the two, just as his namesake, the mythical Dedalus, the artificer, did when he attempted to fly to heaven while still in his bodily form, making wings out of wax that melted when he approached the sun. Images of this combination of the sacred and profane multiply at the end of this chapter. As his brothers and sisters sit over a poor meal of bread and tea, they sing a song "Oft in the Stilly Night." When he walks to the water and sees the girl wading in it, he feels that she embodies the new principle of his life, the bringing together of heaven and earth. In his exclamation at her beauty, he calls out "Heavenly God," but does so in a voice of "profane joy." This is the epiphany chapter. As stated above (in Literary/Historical Information), the use of this word "epiphany" was Joyceís way of describing the moment of revelation in a story or novel. Here, Stephenís life purpose is revealed to him and he answers it with a clearly affirmative "Yes!"

Stephen has answered a different call than the priesthood. At this point, he only names it as the call to create. Yet even here it is clear that he will be a writer. As he walks toward the water, he thinks of his joy in words and in the balance of sentences. He pulls out a phrase he has written, and mulls over the cadence of literary language.

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


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